Thursday 1 October 2015

Reflections from #diverseauthorday

A week ago today, something quite amazing happened. A small group of writers and readers got together and began tweeting about diversity, mainly authors and books. #diverseauthorday began trending on Twitter and this continued throughout the day. According to the stats, there were over 5,000 tweets that reached over 3,000,000 million people throughout the world.

The main engagement was from the UK and the USA, but we also reached Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Jamaica, The Bahamas, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabe, Botwana, Ghana, The Gambia, Uganda, Egypt, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Philippines, China (Yes!), Japan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Bosnia, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Spain, and Portugal. This is pretty amazing and means that #diverseauthorday pretty much impacted all over the world. This is significant because the key message of the day was that the literature of the world should reflect the people of the world. And in the UK, what we particularly wanted, was for publishers to recognise the public's demand for diverse literature.

Jodi Picault tweeted that every day should be #diverseauthorday. Most people were in agreement that this was one of the key messages. Greenacre Writers will continue to include writers of the world on our website. It has been a huge learning curve for us, not only by initiating such a popular concept but also taking part in promoting diversity in literature. We are more aware than ever of supporting authors of the world, experimenting with our reading and trying new genres.

Mary Okon Ononokpono, writer and illustrator, ‏@iammissmary
"We won't see more representation of diverse authors until diversity is fully embraced within publishing. That means more non white agents, editors and publishers. That's where the real problem lies. As Viola Davis so eloquently put it, it's lack of opportunity. The lack of availability of diverse books isn't down to a lack of diverse authors, or indeed a lack of talent. I long for the day I enter waterstones and see my children's books displayed or see a central children's display featuring a non White protagonist. I think we're still quite a way from that."

A disabled schoolboy, Frankie, 14, asked Bloomsbury head why book villains ‘are usually deformed’, and says ‘society would get better’ if disabled characters were naturally included. And he's right. A scar or a limp for the baddy or some other disfigurement and it gives the wrong impression of disability.

Megan Winchester, YA Book Blogger and Vlogger, @BookAddictdGirl
" so many of us, I am desperate to see more diversity in YA books. But whilst I want to see all diversity (sexuality, ethnicity, etc), seeing more characters with disabilities is really important to me. Why? Well, some of you might know I'm a wheelchair user – I have been since the age of about twelve. And therefore I am desperate for more characters in wheelchairs or with missing limbs or who have non-terminal medical conditions – anything. But I want books where these disabilities aren't 'The Issue' and where there are all kinds of other diversities too."

Unfortunately, like many of the big UK publishing houses, Bloomsbury did not take part in #diverseauthorday even though it was trending most of the day. We were astounded and disappointed that more publishing houses did not take part.

However, one of the largest UK publishing houses did. Harper Collins @HarperCollinsUK tweeted that they were "proud to publish some remarkable voices from across the cultural spectrum".

The whole day started because of the lack of diversity in the publishing industry following the Spread the Word, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Authors and Publishers in the UK Market Place report, so it seems almost ironic that the majority didn't take part.

It would be interesting to find out why this is and it would be good if collectively, we ask them via Twitter, why this is the case. GW asked this question and are waiting to hear from Bloomsbury and Penguin. It's so important to continue the dialogue. Please do contact us via Twitter or by email if you hear from any of the major British publishers re diversity in literature.

#diverseauthorday writers and readers helped to make the event the fantastic global success that it was. Here are some of their reflective thoughts:

Alan Wylie, Librarian and campaigner, @wylie_alan
"The portrayal of disability in children’s books has important implications for everyone, disabled or not. Disabled people in books are almost always heroes or villains, almost never real ‑ never whole people with varied lifestyles and personalities."

Miriam Halahmy, Writer, @MiriamHalahmy
"Diverse author day worked for me because it stimulated a huge range of responses from the downright critical to the wildly enthusiastic. The debate has been thrown wide open by this invigorating Twitter day and has made an important contribution to the shift towards diversity which is needed across the industry."

Sunny Singh, Writer, @sunnysingh_nw3
"One measure of social media success is the alacrity with which structurally privileged voices chip in on a hashtag to undermine and attempt to hijack the discussion. #diverseauthorday attracted such naysayers early in the morning, even before it had begun trending. However the few naysayers were drowned out by an overwhelmingly positive response to the hashtag. While it is sad that such an initiative is needed in 2015, it is also important to note that the response also indicates immense hunger (and market) for diverse books that Britain's publishers and agents should take into account. On a personal note, I am delighted to have an even longer list of recommended reads brought to my attention by #diverseauthorday."

Irenosen Okojie, Writer, @IrenosenOkojie
"It was a great launch and platform. Lots of writers I know got involved and it was even trending on twitter at one point. Good to have Harper Collins involved. My recommendations for the next one is to have more focused and strategic marketing in the lead up to the day which would result in even greater awareness. Things like the call to arms of mobilizing people to buy a book on that day. Concrete actions that will make a difference and really help ensure some headway is achieved. There should also be a call to arms to publishers, challenging them to contribute to the day. Perhaps one could run a micro fiction competition which suits twitter as a medium or run an open forum about what they can do better as publishers to ensure the industry reflects the capital more. I also think we should get bookshops tweeting about it and maybe encourage them to display a diverse range of books on the day in their windows / on tables etcetera. Finally, target a big celebrity from the wider world who really loves book and has an interest in diversity. Get them to champion it and spread the word on twitter, to their mates."

Naomi Frisby, PhD Studen and Blogger, @Frizbot
"It was brilliant to see #diverseauthorday trending on twitter. So many people discussing a wide range of authors who don't often, if at all, get their time in the spotlight. Quite rightly some people used the hashtag to remind us that every day should be diverse author day, that people don't disappear just because the focus isn't on them. What I'd like to see come out of this is an equivalent to #readwomen where people can share books they've loved by writers of colour/LGBT writers/differently abled writers/working class writers until it becomes the norm and we read, recommend and discuss books by these groups as though they were simply part of our culture, just as they should be."

Danuta Kean, Books Editor of Mslexia, publishing expert and journalist, @danoosha
"It was fantastic to see so many BAME authors getting highlighted on Twitter. It showed the breath and diversity of writers out there. The fact that the hashtag was trending at number two also shows that claims that writers of colour are 'niche' and that there isn't a wide audience for their work is utter rubbish. I wish more big publishers would realise this. You have to wonder about their care or commitment to having lists that truly appeal to modern society when, of the top five publishers, only HarperCollins UK joined in the campaign. I found that not just depressing but inexcusable when they are all signed up to Equip - the Publishers' Association's diversity charter - and have made open declarations about it since the publication of Writing The Future was published in April.
There was some concern, I know, about the label 'diverse authors', but my hope is that days like this will act to banish the need for such campaigns and focus minds on having a literary culture that reflects our diverse society and not something from the 1950s."

Savita Kalhan, Writer, @savitakalhan
"The success of #diverseauthorday was best illustrated by the fact that the hashtag was trending on Twitter. It was a clear indication of the number of people who felt that there was something missing in the books they find in bookshops and in libraries. That something is the absence of 'otherness', or the underrepresentation of black, asian, minority ethnic, (BAME), LGBT, and disabled characters in contemporary fiction. There is clearly an overwhelming need and desire for greater inclusiveness, and I'm not talking about the type of books which simply nod in the direction of diversity with all its outdated racial stereo-typing. That kind of box-ticking is not what diversity means.
But is anyone listening?
The publishing industry is 97% white. Who's looking into the mirror they're holding up?"

Nikesh Shukla, Writer, @nikeshshukla
"#diverseauthorday was an excellent way to make noise for a subject that's close to my heart - making the universal less straight white male middle class etc. Calling it diverse author day did make me think a lot about the word diversity and what it implies. The focal point was race, which is important, but it did overshadow other elements of the intersectional spectrum. What we learned is, a group of disgruntled writers can make noise, and if more publishers, agents, publicists, got involved to recognise the problem and do something about it, rather than assume they are not the problem, maybe we'd have more than a day. And I can get on with the business of normalising my experience rather than celebrating my diversity."

Joy Francis, Executive Director, Words of Colour Productions, @WordsofColour
"Why should we be surprised that #diverseauthorday was so successful? It is indicative of the persistent disconnect between mainstream publishers, writers of colour and, more importantly readers. The prevailing idea that if you are non-white you will be unlikely to buy books by writers of colour is continually disproved, yet many mainstream publishers continue to dance around the reality that their job is to give readers choice. People want stories - good ones, great ones, unusual ones, shocking ones, ones that move them and ones that inform them. Many of the trending tweets during the day contained details of books and authors who were under many people’s radars. It also served as a timely reminder that if publishers still struggle to get their heads around race and ethnicity, what about intersectionality as a whole? As shown by Spread the Word's Writing the Future report, writers of colour are no longer waiting for publishers to wake up and and smell the proverbial coffee. HarperCollins's contribution to the debate isn't a surprise as it is one of the few publishers to have publicly taken on the report’s findings. Digital platforms are giving writers greater freedom and, as shown by the global engagement with the #diverseauthorday hashtag, they are also allowing writers to connect with readers directly. As well as Spread the Word we are working with Arvon and the Arts Council England to identify, support and help writers of colour shape and sustain their careers. We are also championing the independents, such as Jacaranda Books. There are other exciting developments being hatched behind the scenes, which I cannot divulge for now. What is clear is that change is afoot - and about time."

Rosie Canning, PhD Student, Blogger and Campaigner, @rosie_canning
"When I read the Spread the Word report, I felt the same way I do whenever I hear about injustice and discrimination. What I didn't realise was that September 24th, was to be significant and not just for #diverseauthorday. It was also my PhD induction day at the University of Southampton! Somehow I managed both events. I was absolutely delighted by the interest and engagement from the Twitter world. As with other campaigns I've been involved in Save Friern Barnet Library and Every Child leaving Care Matters, it demonstrates yet again what a small group of committed individuals can achieve when they come together and blast the world with their positivity."

Greenacre Writers would like to thank all the writers and readers ^above^ as well as:
Alex Wheatle,Writer, @brixtonbard, 
Emma Hutson, Writer and PhD Student, @Emma_S_Hutson, 
Susan Osborne, Book Reviewer and Blogger, @alifeinbooks, 
Lindsay Bamfield, Writer and Blogger, @LindsayBamfield 
and everyone throughout the world who took part in #diverseauthorday. We look forward to reading and learning more and more about authors and literature of the world. 

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