Earlier this year I discovered the brilliant #readwomen2014 campaign and was inspired to add a new page to my blog to keep a record of the books by women that I’m reading this year. I tend to think of myself as someone who reads widely, but as the list began to grow it didn’t take long to realise that it was starting to look like #readwhitewomen2014.
A recent Guardian article discussed the lack of diversity in the UK publishing industry and suggested that only one or two black or Asian authors are championed by British publishers at any one time. Irenosen Okojie also suggested that these tend towards Oxbridge educated, mixed race women like Zadie Smith and Monica Ali, (both great writers, but the implication being that a white parent and an elite education are helpful to succeed as a black writer in the UK).
My experience suggests that Okojie has it right. I buy most of my books from charity or second hand book shops and after realising that my to read pile was almost entirely written by white women I decided to make an effort to seek out a few more books by black and Asian women writers. This made me realise that very often; at least in the shops I visit, there are barely any black or Asian women writers on the shelves. Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith and Monica Ali do crop up with reasonable regularity, but I needed to actively search elsewhere to find other authors.
I checked out some book awards shortlists and found a list of Black and Asian British Fiction Writers, then searched out some likely candidates on a book swap site and bought a couple more on Ebay. My reading list for this year is now starting to look a little more varied and I’m enjoying discovering some great new, (to me), authors. Of course this on its own isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to the publishing industry which does seem to suffer from a general overall lack of diversity and inclusivity, but it is something I can do.
I like to keep books in circulation, so instead of reading and then getting dusty on a shelf, most of my books go back onto charity shop shelves or book swap sites. I often talk about books on and offline, and I write reviews online, so while I may not be putting money directly in an authors pocket with a swap or second hand purchase, hopefully it all contributes to a bit of extra buzz about a book that does lead to more sales somewhere along the line.
If, rather than unthinkingly buying the latest recommendation, lots of people made an effort to reach outside their reading ‘comfort zone’ it could help make a wider range of authors more popular and so encourage more diversity in publishing. There’s no good reason not to try and widen your reading experience and plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea to do so, so if you find your bookshelf is looking a tad homogenous, instead of sticking to the same old same old why not try and mix things up a bit?
Diversity in reading is a hot Twitter topic at the minute with popular campaigns like #LetBooksBeBooks #BoysReadGirls and #WeNeedDiverseBooks calling out all the sexist, racist, and other assumptions of the publishing industry and showing that there is a demand from readers for books that reflect a range of views and experiences. Great authors can transport us to another world. Wouldn’t it be great if publishing was more accessible to, and inclusive of, people of all backgrounds in every part of ours?
“Reading is supposed to expand one’s horizons. It’s supposed to enable people to experience lives and cultures and people they would otherwise never get to – and maybe even discover that the people who live those lives aren’t so very different.” (Elizabeth Vail, Huffington Post HT http://www.inclusiveminds.com/)