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Publishing News (09.11.2020)

Lit in Colour: PRH Calls for More Diversity Across GCSE Reading Lists

Penguin Random House has joined forces with The Runnymede Trust to launch a campaign to make English Literature more inclusive. 

The Lit in Colour campaign hopes to address the white bias in the authors that are studied at school and by doing so, make English Literature more inclusive for young people in the UK. In particular, Lit in Colour will look at those books that are studied for the GCSE and A-Level exams that pupils in the UK sit at sixteen and eighteen respectively.

According to the campaign, only one GCSE English Literature course features a novel or play written by a Black author. This lack of representation has affected the way young people study English Literature at GCSE. Lit in Colour also cited the 2019 National Literacy Trust Annual Literacy Survey, which recorded that nearly 40% of fourteen-to-sixteen-year-olds agreed that they can’t find anything to read that interests them. It has been estimated that between 2016 and 2020, 25% fewer students chose to study English Literature at A-Level.

Speaking about the campaign, Tom Weldon, the CEO of Penguin Random House UK, said: “Access to a diverse and representative range of books, authors and characters is key – in classrooms, school libraries and at home.

“The reality is that our young people are still studying a mostly white, mostly male English literature curriculum: one which neither reflects contemporary society nor inspires a generation to read outside of their classes.”

Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, added that: “It is a sad reality that the dearth of ethnic minority authors, dramatists and poets means that our national curriculum fails to offer a true reflection of UK society, our bond to the Commonwealth and our migration story, which underpin the rich tapestry of our country’s diversity.

“By partnering with Penguin on Lit in Colour we hope that the teaching of English literature in our classrooms can fire our children’s collective imagination and embed into our national consciousness the lived experience of millions more of our children and their families, whose stories and voices enrich the canon of English literature and continue to shape our national identity.”

Over the next few years, the programme will support teachers making changes on the ground to help develop an inclusive English Literature curriculum and increase student access to books by writers of colour.

This is a huge step for inclusive reading and altering the English Literature curriculum as we know it. Creating a more inclusive learning environment will increase understanding of racial equality and give students access to more books by and about people of colour. 

In recent months Penguin Random House has also taken steps to become a more inclusive publisher and employer. In July they launched their own inclusion strategy which included a goal for the company's senior leadership teams to be representative of UK society, based on the 2021 census, although no specific action has yet been revealed to achieve this. Penguin also aims to ensure that new writers it acquires will, at a minimum, be representative of UK society as measured by the 2021 census by 2023, and at least 5% will be Black writers. 

There is still a long way to go in helping the UK’s publishing industry become a more

inclusive place but laying the foundations in the school curriculum and supporting of Black publishing professionals is a fantastic step in the right direction. We can’t wait to see the progress the Lit in Colour campaign makes in the future.

Takeaways from the IPG Conference and the Continuing Impact of COVID-19 

The Independent Publishers’ Guild held a virtual conference on 21st October to discuss the likely impact of a no deal Brexit and the global recession on the trade industry. According to keynote speaker Dharshini David, an author, broadcaster and economist, the combination of the two would pose a number of challenges over the next few years. 

The impact of the pandemic on the global book trade was also discussed with David Taylor, Vice President at the Ingram Group arguing the virus had accelerated change due to a large increase in online sales worldwide. 

Despite the fears expressed at the conference there is a sign of light amongst the gloom, as the virus has also had some positive effects on the industry. A number of bookshops have been reporting increases in sales as people are already shopping for Christmas. Jo Legerton reported huge sales for Chorlton bookshop in Manchester: “We reopened on 15 June and it’s been like Christmas trade since then. We had one or two quiet days and we thought the buzz is over, but every Monday is like a day in December – it’s quite incredible really.”

The Booksellers Association conducted a survey amongst consumers and revealed strong support for buying locally and many people are intending to start their Christmas shopping early this year. 96% of people who took the survey said they intended to shop in store rather than online to support local businesses. The survey also revealed the pandemic has had a positive impact on people’s reading habits, as 75% of respondents confirmed they had been reading more than usual over the last six months.

Bloomsbury said increases in sales showed the public had “rediscovered reading during the pandemic.” This statement came as it was announced the publisher had seen its best half-year profits since 2008. They reported that between February and August profits increased by a huge 60%, mainly as a result of higher eBook revenues. 

Nigel Newton, Bloomsbury Chief Executive said: “I'm an optimist, so without having any factual basis for saying this whatsoever I think Christmas is going to be absolutely brilliant for the book industry. More and more people are sadly made unemployed, but paperback books are an affordable luxury and I think the superpower of books is that people want them in lockdown.”

However, this is not the picture across the whole country as local restrictions are causing severe problems for some stores. Despite shops allowed to remain open in Tier 3 areas, there has been a 75% decrease in sales in Liverpool’s bookstores. James Daunt warned at the Frankfurt Book Fair that local lockdowns were “devastating” for business. Indeed, many people are choosing to stay away from large cities, creating challenges for bookshops, particularly those in central London. New retail site Bookshop may offer a solution for those bookstores not sharing in the early Christmas rush, as the website has seen one hundred UK stores join. The new site aims to provide a platform for independent bookstores to counter Amazon’s market dominance. 

The latest news reveals a complicated picture across the industry, as whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly had a disastrous effect on many businesses, it has not been absolutely so with positive stories continuing to make the news. 

Remembering Tom Maschler

Image by Getty Images/Penguin

The Publishing Post is sad to report that on 16 October, at the age of eighty-seven, a true publishing icon passed away. Known for his eye for talent, his creation of the prestigious Booker prize, and his “enormous energy, imagination, and drive,” Tom Maschler will be remembered for his personality as well as his illustrious career. 

Maschler was the son of a Jewish publisher and came to England in 1939 from Berlin at the age of seven. In 1960, Maschler became Literary Director of Jonathan Cape, and remained Chairman for the company until 1988, until it was bought by Random House.

His eye for talent came in his purchase of the British rights to Catch 22 by Joseph Heller for £250 – an absolute bargain! Of his career-beginning acquisition, Maschler said to The Guardian in 2005, “It was a genuine word-of-mouth success and had a buzz about it in the literary world before publication.” This propelled him to the centre of the literary scene, as did his move to Idaho to support Mary Hemingway and help her in the preparation for her widower’s memoir, A Moveable Feast

Maschler was known for his unruly hair, his quirky style, deep tan and taking up residence in the grand, chandeliered office of Bloomsbury address, 30 Bedford Square. “In the office he was like a mad genius who would run around like an out-of-control windmill scattering pages of typescript on your desk and barking, ‘I urge you to read this. I urge you to read this,’” onetime publicist Polly Samson told The Guardian

Michal Shavit, publishing director of Jonathan Cape called him the “King of British Publishing,” responsible for the “greatest writers of the last century,” as no fewer than fifteen of his writers received the Nobel Prize for Literature, including Gabriel García Márquez, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Mario Vargas Llosa and V.S. Naipaul.

Writers in his catalogue include Virgina Stephen (later to be Virginia Woolf), Joseph Heller, Philip Roth, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, and John Fowles. Zoologist Desmond Morris wrote The Naked Ape in 1967, a non-fiction bestseller on human behaviour was commissioned by Maschler, and contrastingly, so were a collection of writings and doodles by John Lennon in 1964 and 1965.

He was as much a pioneer in children’s fiction much as he was literary, with Roald Dahl among those whose careers he nurtured. With an eye for marketing as well as editorial, Maschler adds the first pop-up books to his plethora of publishing achievements with The Human Body by Jonathan Miller. 

Maschler was also the sole creator of Oscars of the book world: The Booker Prize. Inspired by Prix Goncourt, an annual literary award he observed whilst in France in his late teens, he persuaded the sugar trading firm Booker-McConnell to establish the British version in 1969. In 2005, Maschler told The Guardian that “The Booker may be the most important thing I've ever done. It certainly had an impact and if it means people think they should occasionally read a good novel, that is something I'm very proud of."

His career, much to the comfort of publishing hopefuls, did not begin with a natural eye and a persuasive flair, but with a rejection. The University of Oxford turned down his application for English. He admits to being a laboured writer with his memoir Publisher was widely mocked by reviewers.



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