Thursday, 8 March 2012

FACT OR FICTION? by Malaika Rose Stanley

It’s sometimes hard for anyone to raise the issue of cultural and racial diversity in children’s publishing without being accused of being misguided or misinformed, of over-reacting or being too politically correct – or even of having a chip on their shoulder.

This post is therefore something of a cop-out. It is simply a list of things I have read or heard over the past year related to black authors and/or children’s and young adult books with black characters.

I ask you to make your own mind up about whether they are statements of fact or fiction and what, if anything, needs to change – and invite responses about how we might go about it.

  •  There is no bias, discrimination or racism in children’s publishing.
  •  There is a limited demand for books by and/or about black people.
  •  There are more children’s books about black people than by black people.
  •  Even the most positive reviews of black authors often compare them either to other writers of the same racial background and/or to white writers.
  • If publishers already have one or two black authors they are less motivated to find others.
  • If publishers already have one or two successful, high-selling, prize-winning black authors, they are looking for others in exactly the same mould.
  • Books with black people on the cover do not sell well.
  • White readers do not relate to books about black characters.
  • Very few manuscripts by black writers are submitted to editors and agents.
  • Many of the manuscripts submitted by black writers are not of publishable quality.
  • Most of what children read in books is controlled and written by white people.
  • The qualities of a good story are universal.
  • Books about black characters are mainly aimed at black readers and do not have the same broad appeal as books about white characters.
  • The ‘crossover’ appeal of black writers is limited.
  • The number of black senior commissioning editors reflects the overall population.
  • All writers have a responsibility to create stories that reflect the lives of all children.
  • Books with black characters always focus on the issue of other.
  • There is no such thing as a children's/YA writer who just happens to be black.
  • There is no such thing as a children's/YA writer who just happens to be white.

My next book, Spike and Ali Enson in Space – which is about green people – will be published on 30 August 2012.


Anonymous said...

What a very interesting post. But may I add -

Very few of my editors or readers know what colour I am. Only one knew what colour I was in advance of signing a contract.

I don't know what colour most of my editors (or any of my readers) is.

So perhaps a lot of this is more relevant to the higher-profile areas of fiction (YA, basically) than to those areas in which business is conducted by email, and there are no author photos on the covers.

JO said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we reached a stage where such posts were irrelevant? When writers were just writers, and characters were just characters with all their glorious differences.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

will be thinking about your post all day- mulling over those questions. On Tues my girls book group continued reading Skin Deep.They are reading the story at home but we meet each week to delight in reading aloud the story and talking about what has happened in the chapter.Your story has universal themes and great characters that they can relate too. It was hard to find a novel that could do this.

Anne Cassidy said...

Would it be better perhaps to have a list of five aims?
More books by black writers
More books about the experiences of black people in Britain and the world
More black people in publishing (editorial and marketing)

and so on???