Here’s why I love books – they can take you to different lands, introduce you to different types of people, teach you about things you never knew. Books are diverse, and I love them for it.
So I was more than a little embarrassed to discover how undiverse the books I’ve read this year are when it comes to the ethnicity of their authors (there are lots of other kinds of diversity which are also missing in publishing, but I want to focus on ethnic diversity because it’s of particular personal interest to me). I put together a list of my top summer reads for 2015, and all the authors on it were white. I didn’t do this on purpose, and I only realised afterwards, once I’d read a critical piece about a best of summer reading list compiled by a newspaper. No one called me out on the lack of diversity of my list, but they should have.
I can make excuses, and say that I read the books I’m sent, and if the books I’m sent aren’t authored by ethnically diverse writers, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll come to what I’m sent in a bit, but I refuse to let anyone else take the blame. I think, if we work in publishing, we all have a responsibility when it comes to increasing diversity in the industry, and as part of that we should be seeking out books by ethnically diverse authors, and calling people and organisations out when they display a lack of ethnic diversity (like author Nikesh Shukla did here brilliantly when World Book Night revealed its all-white author list for 2016).
Which brings me to the publishers. I’ve been scouring publishers’ 2016 catalogues for books I can request whose authors are ethnically diverse, and I’ve been left dismayed. One SFF imprint printed photos of each of its writers in its catalogue – all of them were white, all of them were men, most of them were middle-aged. Are you telling me that in a genre in which authors write about everything from space cowboys to demons to witches, there are no ethnically diverse writers? Another catalogue, which also had pictures of its authors, had not a single non-white face. Again, where are all your ethnically diverse writers, guys?
So here’s my pledge for 2016: to make a conscious effort to read authors from a variety of ethnicities. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop reading books by white authors, I want to expand the ethnic diversity of the authors whose books I read, not strip one kind of ethnicity out for another. I will also make sure that I speak more about and recommend the good books I read that are by non-white authors.
And hopefully, I can do my little bit to make sure publishing is reflecting the ethnically diverse world we live in.