Diversity & Books: Reading, Publishing & Telling More Stories


‘At the start of 2016, The Guardian reported a ‘survey of workforce at 34 book publishers and eight review journals in [the] US reveals 79% of staff are white’. It isn’t a surprise that bookstores around the UK tend to reflect this lack of diversity, with few non-dominant narratives or books by people of colour, making their way onto our shelves. At the same time, a survey by London Short Story Festival, argues that ‘By 2051, one in five people in the UK, is predicted to be from an ethnic minority’.

Are things beginning to change with a greater focus on diversity in books? Recently I have witnessed an unprecedented amount of focus on mainstream publishers and literary agents in their attempts to reach out to BAME (a term generally used in the UK to represent Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) authors. Popular social media campaigns began with Naomi Frisby & Dan Lipscombe’s #DiverseDecember#ReadDiverse2016. Last week, we saw the introduction of major publisher Simon & Schuster announcing the imprint Salaam Reads for Muslim children’s books. We have also just witnessed the launch of the Bare Lit Festival, a much-needed global platform, hosted in London, for celebrating talent among BAME writers. One of the initiatives of Media Diversified (the organisers behind Bare Lit & other projects) is to increase the diversity within the publishing industry since, ‘BAME people are under-represented in the media industry by a magnitude of over 300%.’

This all has personal resonance for me. I began writing my novel, Jasmine Falling a few years ago. My novel follows the journey of Jasmine; a British/Palestinian girl, who travels to Palestine in search of her missing father. I spent the last two years marketing it to the UK publishing industry. I have had a rollercoaster ride of anticipation, from rejections to full manuscript requests and promises of a contract. What became clear was an emerging pattern of responses mostly summarizing their inability to target or understand my market. A personal favourite of mine was when a response from a literary agent landed on my doormat explaining that ‘the Palestinian background [of my novel] jars with the chick-lit character.’ Did that mean my character was incapable of experiencing the same emotions as any other woman because of her heritage? I am not saying that is the sole reason my book wasn’t taken on by a UK agent or publisher. There are of course many factors that inhibit the entry of all writers, but surely the lack of diversity in the industry can’t help.’

To read more, visit Muslimah Media Watch

Published by Shereen Malherbe

Shereen Malherbe is a writer & author. Her novel, Jasmine Falling has been voted as one of the top 20 Best Books by Muslim women. Her second contemporary fiction novel, The Tower, was published by Beacon Books on April 2019. Her first children's book, The Girl Who Slept Under The Moon is out now.

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