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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Racial Diversity in Publishing: Reflecting on 100 Issues 

By Lucy O’Neill, Brittany Holness and Holly Butterfield


In celebration of The Publishing Post’s 100th issue, we are returning to our very first feature: Education Around Racial Inequality. Following the mass impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, this first issue looked at the challenges in racial diversity within publishing, discussing the industry’s response and support in regards to the movement as well as showcasing independent publishing houses who have put their focus on increasing racial diversity within their workforces and publishing. One hundred issues later and we’re returning to this important discussion to see what, if anything, has changed.


The Black Lives Matter movement meant an immense raising of awareness of the struggles of Black people within publishing and showcased the lack of diversity that was rather prominent throughout mainstream publishing. Attention was brought to the swathes of literature which were predominantly white and male dominated, limiting BIPOC voices within this space. 


At the time of the article,  changes were supposedly being made in the publishing world. Publishing houses were said to be becoming more aware of these issues, donations being founded and reading lists created which reflected a wider variety of voices. The response to this was somewhat positive and there have been some steps in the right direction since the writing of this article. There is undeniably a wider awareness of the struggles which those who identify as BIPOC or underrepresented racial groups experience when faced with the dominant white majority. More opportunities have been given and created and we’re starting, slowly, to see the impact of changes in the industry. Publishing houses have been known, in individual cases, to establish diversity officers to ensure continued opportunities as well as taking care that hiring is as inclusive and accessible to all as possible. Internships have been created specifically for emerging BIPOC writers, in aid of giving their voice a place. However, this isn’t to say that things have changed to a large enough degree – there is still work to be done.

 

Since our original article was written there has been a welcome increase in interest in books published by Black authors. However, this change has been notably slower compared to other movements. For these authors, there have been numerous barriers into the publishing industry. They are often limited on what their writing encompasses, being encouraged to represent a certain genre or discuss certain topics, as opposed to the freedom that other authors often have in this community. It is usually quite difficult for Black authors to be explorative with their writing. There’s also still something to be said for performative action rather than genuine structural changes. Sometimes, there is support for these authors just to seem as though change is desired, and yet there may not be advocacy, and thus not many actual changes are being made.  


Recent years have, of course, seen several excellent books written by BIPOC authors, sharing their voices and stories across a wide variety of genres. As well as a continuation of educational books, which have continued to be published following the success of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, there have been vast numbers of fiction books hitting the shelves and we wanted to share a few of our favourites. Zadie Smith’s 2024 release The Fraud tells the thrilling story of fraud and deception, following our protagonist Eliza Touchet and her interest in a local trial, and the story of a formerly enslaved man who stands as one of the witnesses. Smith’s masterful writing weaves together a narrative of moral dilemmas and the murky corporate world. 


Come and Get It, is the second novel by Kiley Reid, whose tale explores identity and privilege, putting the focus on the micro-aggressions of everyday life as a college student. Finally, Chain Gang All Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is a critique on the American prison system, pitting prisoners against each other in a reality TV-style competition where the prize is freedom. If you’re looking to explore some non-fiction, then why not try How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair. A poignant memoir where the author tells her story of breaking free of her Rastagarian upbringing following a childhood under her father’s strict patriarchal rule. This family drama, set against the backdrop of Jamaican history, is all about the author's exploration of finding her own voice and identity as a woman and poet.  


Providing a platform for Black authors should be a non-negotiable for every list and publishing house. Readers and industry professionals also have a key role in promoting this diversity as increased demand will provide authors with a greater opportunity to publish without the added restrictions they often face.


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