A group of unnamed individuals has donated £25,000 towards an independent publisher’s initiative to publish 20 black British writers in 2020, in the hope it will “normalise” black writing and authors in the UK.
London independent publisher Jacaranda set out to find 20 black British writers in 2018, going through more than 100 submissions to pin down a list that spans from DD Armstrong’s reworking of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which relocates the story of brotherhood and betrayal to modern inner-city London, to Tolu Agbelusi’s poetry collection Locating Strong Women. Jacaranda founder Valerie Brandes described the list as “a fine mix of established, recognised names and brand new voices delivering brilliant fiction, non-fiction and poetry”.
“The importance of this from a publishing perspective cannot be overstated,” said Brandes. “The commitment to publish 20 black British writers in one year, in terms of sheer visibility for black writing and writers, is unsurpassed in this industry.”
Jacaranda’s campaign, #Twentyin2020, is being run in collaboration with writers’ development agency Words of Colour. Joy Francis, executive director at Words of Colour, called the current moment “an exciting time for independent publishing and black British writers who, for too long, have been under-celebrated and under-promoted”.
The move comes as the UK publishing industry faces the reality of its white monoculture: after the introduction of several diversity initiatives across the big publishing houses in the wake of a scathing report into the industry’s lack of racial diversity among both writers and employees, recent research found that little has changed, with publishers still failing to reflect the UK’s racial and regional diversity.
Jacaranda editorial manager Magdalene Abraha said: “As a young, black millennial who is a Londoner, I know that mainstream publishing does not quite represent the society I live in. The industry has a long way to go before it is truly representative … The #Twentyin2020 initiative will spearhead this much needed push. If a small, independent publisher like Jacaranda can publish 20 black British writers in one year, then there is no reason why larger publishers cannot match that.”
Jacaranda’s move comes soon after the independent publisher Knights Of’s successful crowdfunding campaign to open pop-up children’s bookshops around the UK that stock only diverse books, with the publisher raising almost £50,000.
“We are in a time where people are rallying behind diverse initiatives … these donations show that people are eager and supportive of publishing to become more diverse,” said Abraha. “We hope that this will encourage unity and partnerships within the industry in favour of diverse writers and books.”
The #Twenty2020 list in full
Deadly Sacrifice by Stella Ahmadu
Of Mice and Men (working title) by DD Armstrong
Bad Love by Maame Blue
How to Make Sticky Finger Soup by Emmanuella Dekonor
If I Don’t Have You by Sareeta Domingo
The Street Hawkers Apprentice by Kabir Kareem-Bello
Love Again by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm
Under Solomon Skies by Berni Sorga-Millwood
Black Star by Stephen Thompson
Lote by Shola von Rheinhold
Through the Leopards Gaze by Njambi McGrath
The Space Between Black and White by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith
A Circle of Five by Harris Joshua
Are We Home Yet? by Kate Massey
Black History Walks by Tony WarnerAdvertisement
Locating Strong Woman by Tolu Agbelusi
Jamakspeare by Brenda Garrick
The First Collection by Sarah Lipton-Sidibeh
Untitled by Hibaq Osman
On Reflection by Adjoa Wiredu