Jacaranda: Black Writers, British Voices
By Shaniah Shields, Jane Link, Jia Wen Ho and Leanne Francis
What is Jacaranda?
Jacaranda Books is an award-winning independent publisher of adult fiction, non-fiction and YA titles. Founded by Valerie Brandes in 2011, Jacaranda Books has grown from strength to strength and is known for their effort to tackle the gap between white and BAME authors in the UK’s publishing landscape.
Their focus is on publishing diverse books centering around Black people, people of colour, women, and other underrepresented voices. Jacaranda describes their ethos as “committed to publishing ground-breaking writing with a dedication to creating space on the bookshelf for diverse ideas and writers.”
What is #Twentyin2020?
In 2020, Jacaranda Books published twenty works by Black British writers in their #Twentyin2020 initiative. Of these books, ten were fiction, five were non-fiction and five were poetry. As a diversity-led publisher, Jacaranda announced #Twentyin2020 to showcase the wealth of talent from Black British authors, to uncover more voices and give them a platform. Although the publishing industry has failed to represent the UK's racial diversity, #Twentyin2020 poses a challenge: if an independent publisher can publish twenty books by Black British authors, why can’t the big publishers? As 2020 has been a difficult year, publishing twenty books was no small feat for Jacaranda. Yet, by the end of 2020, twenty Black British books landed on shelves, ready to be learned from.
What are the books like?
Deadly Sacrifice by Stella Oni: This pioneering Nigerian detective fiction throws us into the enticing world of traditional customs, magic and sacrifices.
Lote by Shola Von Reinhold: As solitary fangirl Matilda uncovers Hermia Druitt, a forgotten Black modernist poet, she delivers a layered meditation on secrets, aestheticism and the concept of Black modernism, which The Guardian called “a rallying cry against Eurocentrism”.
Under Solomon Skies by Berni Sorga-Millwood: Sorga-Millwood captures the beauty of the Solomon Islands and the environmental debt it is owed after decades of damage. This is a crucial novel on climate change, culture and human relations.
Where the Memory Was by Hibaq Osman: This collection represents the voice and experience of young Black Britain today. These beautiful poems cover the truths of a multi-layered identity in flashes of memory.
Locating Strongwoman by Tolu Agbelusi: This is a portrait of women, of strength and of vulnerability. Agbelusi’s collection gives a voice to the silenced and erased, all whilst rejoicing in the expression of her own.
Through the Leopard's Gaze by Njambi McGrath: A memoir of a young girl’s journey from Kenya to her present self in the UK. This is a raw and honest story recounting childhood trauma and the brutal effects of colonisation.
The Street Hawker’s Apprentice by Kabir Kareem-Bello: A boy wakes up in the streets of Lagos with no recollection of who he is or where he is from. A friendship is found with a street boy, but when tragedy strikes, what will happen to them?
Are We Home Yet? by Katy Massey: Set in Northern England, Are We Home Yet? is a moving memoir that explores race, class and immigration. This brilliant book details the journey between a mother and daughter as they heal the fractures in their relationship.
What other projects do Jacaranda have?
Alongside their #Twentyin2020 project, Jacaranda has worked on several other campaigns, such as #AQuickTingOn and #InclusiveIndies. The 2019 non-fiction book series, A Quick Ting On, promoted young Black British authors, discussing all things hair, business, music and food. When speaking to The Guardian, Magdalene Abraha described the series as a space to “celebrate, pay homage and explore culture.”
In partnership with children’s publisher Knights Of, Jacaranda has recently launched the #InclusiveIndies campaign. The #InclusiveIndies fund was aimed at supporting independent publishers during COVID-19, understanding that minority voices were “at the highest risk of being lost.” #InclusiveIndies was hugely successful, surpassing its original goal of £100,000 and raising £160,000, which was awarded to eleven independent publishers.
What are they planning for the future?
#Twentyin2020 showed the world that if a small, new independent publisher can make a concerted effort to publish a range of Black voices, and in a pandemic no less, then there is truly no excuse for publishing giants. This fact cannot be overstated, and Jacaranda is taking a well-merited rest. But having been nominated for the Nibbies for the third time in a row, it’s clear that they are just getting warmed up. Jacaranda are now open for submissions and are accepting fiction (literary, women’s, genre) and non-fiction (Afro-music and art) by or about underrepresented groups.