Black Writers' Guild Presents Open Letter Calling For Equality In Publishing

Black Writers' Guild Presents Open Letter Calling For Equality In Publishing

June 17, 2020

Black literature is enjoying a surge in popularity right now, in large part due to Black Lives Matter and the protest movement rising up in response to the murder of George Floyd. However, like many industries, inequality is still a massive problem, particularly for Black authors.

In a bid to address that, a new coalition called the Black Writers' Guild has been formed to unite against the uneven playing field that Black authors and writers are forced to contend with.

The letter — signed by over 100 writers including poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Noughts And Crosses author Malorie Blackman, and Booker prize winner Bernadine Evaristo — was sent on Monday afternoon to the "big five" publishers, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Macmillan.

Included in the suggestions are: a regularly-published audit on the number of Black authors being published, as well as the number of Black staff in business and publishing houses at every level of the industry; dedicated funds for publicity and marketing for Black authors; more Black literary agents and talent scouts; a financial commitment to new awards that recognise Black talent; and a direct relationship with publishers and senior decision makers to make sure Black literature is supported at every level.

You can read the full letter and the list of signatories below:

We are the Black Writers' Guild, representing the black publishing community in the UK. Our membership group includes over 200 published black writers, including some of Britain's bestselling authors and leading literary figures.

The protest movement sweeping the world since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has forced an international soul-searching to understand the pervasive racial inequalities that haunt most sectors of our society — including our own major institutions and industries.

Publishers have taken advantage of this moment to amplify the marketing of titles by their black authors and release statements of support for the black communities who have been campaigning for equality for decades.

Although we welcome your support at this time, we are deeply concerned that British publishers are raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own.

We are calling on you to help us tackle the deep-rooted racial inequalities in the major corporate publishing companies and support grassroots black literary communities such as booksellers, book clubs and the Black Writers' Guild.

We request the following:

  1. We would like there to be an audit of the books published by black authors. This should include genres, the submission-to-acquisition ratio of black authors in the past five years and the median and mode of the advances of black authors.

    We'd also like data on the roles of black staff across the business.

    Rather than relying on anecdotal information, the data is crucial for us to better understand the current situation and how each area can be resolved for equality.

  2. We are concerned that an absence of black commissioners who understand our communities and nuanced life experiences is limiting the ability to find the stories that best capture and reflect the sensibilities within them, to market them and also identify new talent across a broad range of areas. We are calling on publishers to hire black commissioners at every level of their companies.

  3. We are aware that there is a worrying absence of black publishing staff in key positions in sales, marketing and publicity departments. These roles are vital in the acquisitions process and, in addition, these specific roles are focused on books reaching readers from a range of backgrounds, so diversity is essential. This also extends to designers and illustrators who are an important part of the messaging and engagement of a book – there is a woeful lack of black talent in this area.

  4. One of the biggest complaints about publishers amongst black writers who do not start out with a notable profile is that our books are misunderstood by both editors and the marketing departments. Our books can often require additional support to reach the audiences who should be sought beyond the usual retailer pathways. We would like publishers to create a ring-fenced fund for marketing and specialist publicity focus to support the books of new and emerging black talent.

  5. We are deeply concerned by the absence of any black members on core leadership boards. In 2020 this is unacceptable as well as unsustainable in the modern world. We are asking publishers to address and rectify this immediately.

  6. We would like publishers to help us lobby to expand the pool of literary agents and build a network of black literary agents and talent scouts for emerging black talent that reaches beyond London into black communities in the nations and regions. This should also extend to buyers and booksellers to ensure the whole supply chain is knowledgable and committed to working with our narratives.

  7. We ask that publishers make an additional financial commitment to new awards recognising and amplifying black talent as well as other initiatives such as a festival, and a literary magazine that can help build and foster readers from the black community.

  8. We believe there is a disconnect between black stakeholders in publishing and senior decision-makers in the industry. We believe each company should have a mechanism for stakeholders and senior executives to have a direct relationship to discuss concerns and trends in the output of publishers. We would like to work with publishers to create this.

We maintain that all of these requests will not only help to guard against pervasive racial inequality but will unearth more talent and help nurture a thriving literary culture in this country. We ask for your partnership in achieving this and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

The Black Writers' Guild

  • Abidemi Sanusi
  • Adeola Solanke
  • Adjoa Wiredu
  • Afua Hirsch
  • Ale McKenzie
  • Alexandra Sheppard
  • Aniefiok 'Neef' Ekpoudom
  • Anni Domingo
  • Avril E Russell
  • Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Bernardine Evaristo
  • Bryan Judith
  • Candice Carty-Williams
  • Carol Russell
  • Catherine Johnson
  • Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff
  • Cherish Shirley
  • Cheryl Ndione
  • Chine McDonald
  • Clementine Burnley
  • Cleo Lake
  • Courttia Newland
  • Daniel Taylor
  • Danielle Dash
  • David Olusoga
  • Degna Stone
  • Denise Saul
  • Derek Bardowell
  • Derek Owusu
  • Desiree Reynolds
  • Desree
  • Diana Evans
  • Dianna Hunt
  • Dipo Baruwa-Etti
  • Dorothy Koomsom
  • Dr. Althea-Maria Rivas
  • Elijah Lawal
  • Elontra Hall
  • Emma Dabiri
  • Esua Jane Goldsmith
  • Evan Larbi
  • Frances Williams
  • Gabriella Beckles-Raymond
  • Georgina Lawton
  • Inua Ellams
  • Irenosen Okojie
  • Jade Benn
  • Jasmine Richards
  • Jeffrey Boakye
  • Jemilea Wisdom-Baako
  • Jendella Benson
  • Jennifer Nansubuga
  • Jessica Lauren Elizabeth
  • Jessica Morgan
  • Johny Pitts
  • Kayo Chingonyi
  • Kehinde Andrews
  • Keith Jarrett
  • Kit de Waal
  • Kuba Shand-Baptiste
  • Kuchenga
  • Kwadjo Dajan
  • Kwame Kwei-Armah
  • Lisa Bent
  • Liv Little
  • Lola Okolosie
  • Louise Hare
  • Louise Ogunnaike
  • Luan Goldie
  • Lynda Rosenior-Patt.
  • Lynsey Martenstyn
  • Maame Blue
  • Magdalene Abraha
  • Malika Booker
  • Malorie Blackman
  • Marcus Ryder
  • Marviene Cole
  • Melissa Cummings-Quary
  • Munroe Bergdorf
  • Musa Okwonga
  • Nadifa Mohamed
  • Nadine Matheson
  • Natalie Carter
  • Natasha Bowen
  • Nels Abbey
  • Nesrine Malik
  • Nick Makoha
  • Nicola Rollock
  • Nicolas Tyrell Scott
  • Njambi McGrath
  • Okechukwu Nzelu
  • Oladipo Agboluaje
  • Olumide Popoola
  • Oluwaseun Matiluko
  • Omega Douglas
  • Patrice Lawrence
  • Paul Gilroy
  • Paul Mendez
  • Rachael Corson
  • Raymond Antrobus
  • Sara Collins
  • Sareeta Domingo
  • Selina Nwulu
  • Sharmaine Lovegrove
  • Sharna Jackson
  • Shaun Clarke
  • Simon Osunsade
  • Sir Lenny Henry
  • Sofia Akel
  • Stella Akinade-Ahmadou
  • Stephen Thompson
  • Symeon Brown
  • Tolu Agbelusi
  • Uju Asika
  • Valerie Brandes
  • Yomi Sode
  • Yvonne Battle-Felton
  • Yvvette Edwards

Words: James Keith
Photography: Paul Akinrinlola