Black writers navigate book industry

by Khrista Davis

DMU events celebrated Black History Month with an online event titled ‘Black British Writers on Navigating the Book Industry’ last week (TUEOCT19) at 6pm.

The event lasted 1-hour and was chaired by publisher Farhana Shaikh who was joined by British/Trinidadian poet and novelist Anthony Joseph, author Courttia Newland and short story writer Irenosen Okojie.

Students and the public watched from their home as the writers each read a piece they had written and discussed their writing life and the challenges of navigating the book industry as a writer of colour.

Anthony said: “I haven’t encountered hostility towards my work. But I wouldn’t say its been easy either. When I first started writing as a career in 1993 there were very few openings for black writers.

“A performance scene eventually developed in the mid to late 90s, but in terms of publishing, I don’t remember any mainstream publishers putting out work by black authors, especially experimental work. And I saw myself as an experimental writer, still do.

“But once the publishing climate shifted in the late 90s, with Tony Blair and new Labour and the whole diversity era, you started to see black writing sections in bookshops and people like Courttia and Zadie Smith started to be published, there was also X press, and independent black publishers which were very active at the time.

“From there, interest and support for black writers has grown, fuelled by economic viability, market driven, but also because our community of black British writers has developed.”

There was a consensus and upset in the way black writers were not supported and are only getting noticed now alongside other prominent issues the black community face on a daily basis.

Irenosen said: “It’s important that Black writers are financially compensated the same as their white counterparts otherwise what you have is a gross disparity in valuing those writers.

“If the playing field is to be levelled then it has to be addressed in every aspect. There should be systems in place to ensure fair practice.

“Often Black writers have to face so many barriers just to get published. Then when they do, some of them are short changed.

“There’s lots of conversation at the moment, which is good but more needs to be done, it has to be consistent.”

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