A couple of months ago I published a personal essay on Medium exploring the topic of representation within literature, in particular, children’s and Young Adult (YA) books. Diversity and representation are hot topics within publishing. Recent research has shown just how white, middle-class and monocultural the UK publishing industry is. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about whose stories and voices are celebrated and whose are routinely missing from mainstream media coverage, bestseller lists and bookshop shelves.
As a child I read widely; usually, anything I could get my hands on. As I entered my teenage years and discovered Young Adult fiction, the visits to my local library drastically increased. Almost all of the novels I devoured back then were very white, but I still loved them. I only began to realise how white they were as I got older. It did take me a while to pinpoint the first time I saw myself reflected in a book. I think this is one of the reasons why I seek out books written by black people and that feature main characters who aren’t white. Black and PoC voices are still marginalised and underrepresented in publishing and I want to support those writers in any way I can.
I wrote this essay, Where Were The Black British YA Authors During My Childhood?, to explore a topic that is important to me and, I guess, to reflect on why it took so long for me to see myself reflected in a book. I wasn’t aware of many black British authors as a child, so when I read a novel that I felt represented me in a major way, it had a more profound effect on me than I realised at the time. I go into some detail about that experience in the essay. I also discuss the British YA books I couldn’t put down as a teen and why Children’s and Young Adult literature must be more inclusive and cater to all readers, especially readers from underrepresented groups.
Here is a list of relevant articles and resources below that are worth checking out.
Only 1% of children’s books have BAME main characters – UK study (The Guardian)
‘Dire statistics’ show YA fiction is becoming less diverse, warns report (The Guardian)
Inclusive bookshop to open permanent branch in Brixton (Evening Standard)
Spread The Word – London’s Writer Development Agency
I strongly recommend reading Spread The Word’s report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Authors and Publishers in the Market Place.
Breaking New Ground: Celebrating British Writers & Illustrators of Colour
Breaking New Ground is a new joint initiative between children’s literature organisations Pop Up Projects and BookTrust and Speaking Volumes, who specialise in live literature productions. This brilliant project launched last month at the London Book Fair in the form of a brochure featuring over 100 children’s authors and illustrators of colour. It is available to view and download online. I urge you to read it.