There has been much discussion around the book publishing industry’s lack of diversity in recent years. Every week there seems to be another news article about what must be done to make the industry more accessible and reflective of our society.
Several diversity initiatives have been set up to kickstart changes within the industry, but progress is happening very slowly. For some publishers, it’s obvious that inclusion, diversity and representation are intentional. That is to say, those things are core values at the forefront of what they do and not simply an afterthought. These publishers are the ones that speak directly to me as a reader.
Below I’ve listed some of my favourite inclusive publishers in the UK.
This Little, Brown imprint focuses on writing talent from underrepresented backgrounds such as BAME, working-class, those with disabilities and LGBTQI+ communities. I’ve been paying close attention to Dialogue Books since Sharmaine Lovegrove was appointed as its publisher in 2017.
At the time, I knew little about Lovegrove other than that she was Elle UK’s Literary Editor for a time, but I soon learned how impressive her entire career journey has been. Last year, Lovegrove collaborated with gal-dem magazine to create a year-long literature course enabling attendees to study works by writers of colour. I can’t wait to read some of the titles that Dialogue Books will publish this year, including the much anticipated Blacklisted by Jeffrey Boakye.
XX by Angela Chadwick
One More Chance by Lucy Ayrton
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez (*click to read my review of this title)
2. #Merky Books
I was thrilled when Stormzy announced his new publishing imprint in partnership with Penguin Random House UK last year. I was fortunate enough to attend #Merky Books Live in November to find out more about Stormzy’s latest venture and celebrate some amazing black British literary voices.
The rapper explained that the initial idea behind #Merky Books was driven by his desire to create a platform specifically intended to publish talented up-and-coming writers. While it’s still early days for #Merky Books, I’m incredibly excited about the future of this publishing imprint.
I’ve been a Stormzy fan for a long time but my admiration for him grew immensely last year. Just weeks after the #Merky Books announcement, Stormzy launched a Scholarship in partnership with the University of Cambridge, which will fund two black British students to go to the prestigious university in 2018 and 2019.
I do not doubt that #Merky Books will publish incredible stories for everyone to enjoy. I think this particular imprint will inspire more young people to consider writing and publishing careers. Be sure to follow Penguin Random House and #Merky Books on social media to stay updated with future titles and opportunities to get involved.
Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far by Stormzy and Jude Yawson
Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi
Founded in 2012 by Valerie Brandes, London-based independent publishing house Jacaranda Books is publishing some of the most exciting titles around in my opinion. Inclusion lies at the heart of everything they do and it’s a core principle of the company. This became immediately clear to me the day I met the lovely Jacaranda Books team and purchased some of their books at Africa Utopia festival a few years ago.
“Through our authors and books, we aim to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity and heritage that can be found in London, with a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.”
– Jacaranda Books
In 2018, Jacaranda Books announced that they would be publishing 20 black British writers in the year 2020, in collaboration with Words of Colour Productions. Submissions for ‘Twenty in 2020’ were open for six months last year. The final twenty books will include 10 fiction titles, five non-fiction titles and five poetry anthologies.
I highly urge everyone to buy and read titles from Jacaranda Books. I’m a fan of their fiction titles and fiction isn’t even my favourite literary genre!
Glass by Patrick Wilmot
Rest In Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Malcolm
Cassava Republic’s mission, according to founders Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and Jeremy Weate, is to “change the way we all think about African writing.” Founded in 2006, this Nigerian publishing house boasts a wide-ranging list across fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature. In 2016, the company made history by opening an office in London; it’s the first African publisher to open a subsidiary outside of the continent.
Bakare-Yusuf admits that, when founding Cassava Republic, she didn’t know anything about the business of publishing but “knew everything about reading and writing.” The company seems to be going from strength to strength. Not long after opening their London office, Cassava Republic expanded to the US in 2017.
When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola
When Trouble Sleeps by Leye Adenle
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah
5. Verso Books
As the largest independent radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, Verso publishes titles focussing on art, politics, race, gender, class, sexuality, technology, philosophy, the environment and more. I first became aware of Verso in 2017 when I decided to read more nonfiction books around race, gender and feminism, and have been a loyal customer ever since. I practically stan Verso Books.
Verso publishes the kind of books that many other publishers won’t. Plus they regularly put their books on sale and offer free eBook downloads. You’re bound to find a Verso book that speaks to you, whatever your interests are. Verso’s extensive range of titles is perfect for lovers of non-fiction who want to be enlightened. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the useful reading lists on Verso’s blog.
Beyond the Pale: Racism, History and White Women by Vron Ware (*click to read my review of this title)
If They Come in the Morning by Angela Y. Davis
Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith
6. Knights Of
New commercial children’s publisher Knights Of has already made waves in the industry even though the company is little over a year old. To celebrate their first birthday last October, the Knights Of team opened a pop-up kids bookshop in Brixton stocking inclusive and diverse titles. The pop-up was such a hit with customers that it returned to Brixton for two more weeks in December. Now, Knights Of have successfully raised the funds to make their bookshop permanent and take it to more locations across the UK.
Publishers like Knights Of are so important right now. Recent research conducted by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education found that only 1% of children’s books published in 2017 featured a BAME main character. The damning report is what drove co-founders Aimée Felone and David Stevens to open their #ReadTheOnePercent pop-up in the first place. What I love about Knights Of is their commitment to ensuring that true representation and inclusion goes beyond the bookshelf.
I enjoyed listening to Aimée on speak at the Society of Young Publishers’ Autumn Conference in London recently. She stressed how important it is for underrepresented groups to be in the room with gatekeepers, where decisions are made. This is one way the industry can amplify the voices of those who are often silenced and marginalised within it.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
Shaping Up Culture by Mark Maciver
High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson
Who are your favourite inclusive and/or radical publishers? Let me know in the comments…