The UK publishing industry is failing writers and readers of colour – so here’s a list of upcoming releases we should be shouting about
In the British publishing industry, it’s become fashionable to shout “diversity!” Everyone talks about building inclusivity. Panels like this one at the 2017 London Book Fair make a point of highlighting the importance of BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) voices. This is all very noble, but year upon year, this just isn’t translated into the books that the industry is publishing, or the writers it nurtures.
This is particularly a problem in the Young Adult genre, where PoC are massively underrepresented. YA is for everyone, but especially for teens who are still forming their identities. Unconsciously, these young adults are looking for validation of their identities somewhere, and sadly many of them probably won’t find themselves in books for a long time to come if they aren’t white. I was 22 when I first read a book with a hijabi Muslim character by a hijabi Muslim writer, and no, that book was not within the YA genre.
I’ve been a part of the UKYA (UK Young Adult) community for a long time, blogging, interviewing authors, hosting panels, taking part in YouTube discussions, and speaking at YA festivals including YALC and YA Shot. However, in 2016, when I first started asking questions about diversity in publishing and specifically within the UKYA book community, everyone told me: ‘publishing is slow, it will take at least two years for something to change’. So, as impatient as I am, I waited.
The publishing industry is continuing to fail to represent PoC writers, and to deny young adults fair authentic representation. This is an epidemic that we need to address with more than tokenistic gestures.
At the beginning of 2017, I decided to compile a list of UKYA books by PoC that were being released that year. I found nine. Of the hundreds, possibly thousands of UKYA books being published that year, those by PoC were in the single digits. It’s great that publishers continue to publish YA fiction by American PoC writers in the UK, but what about nurturing British YA PoC writers? Though USYA is great, the issues those writers address in their work won’t necessarily be issues young adult UK audiences can relate to or recognise. It seems to me that many UKYA publishers are taking the lazy way out to fulfil their diversity quotas. We need to nurture UK-based YA writers, and to hear their culturally specific stories.
In early 2018, I decided to repeat my experiment. After some initial research, I found only two books by UK-based YA PoC writers scheduled for release in 2018, and this sent me into a spiral of despair. Thankfully, I eventually found nine books — but that’s no improvement on last year. The publishing industry is continuing to fail to represent PoC writers, and to deny young adults fair authentic representation. This is an epidemic that we need to address with more than tokenistic gestures.
Year after year, I will keep making this list. So, while we wait for the publishing world to catch up, these are the UKYA books being published in 2018 by PoC writers that we should be uplifting and celebrating.
I AM THUNDER BY MUHAMMAD KHAN
I Am Thunder is the debut novel from high school teacher Muhammad Khan, and was inspired by the 2015 news of three London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria after being radicalised.
RUN, RIOT BY NIKESH SHUKLA
Nikesh Shukla, editor and author of The Good Immigrant, has written a powerful YA novel about young people taking charge and standing up for their community. It deals with themes of police brutality, gentrification, and the helplessness of youth.
THE OUTCAST BY TARAN MATHARU
Magical fantasy writer Taran Matharu found fame on the online fiction community Wattpad, where he self-published his Summoner Trilogy, which went on to become a bestseller. The Outcast is his highly anticipated prequel to the series, telling the story of a boy who accidentally summons a demon.
FLOORED BY VARIOUS AUTHORS
Told from various points of views and a mysterious narrator, Floored is about the ups and downs of life. After a traumatic experience together, six strangers become intertwined, coming together each year to commemorate the day they met the person they lost. It was co-written by Tanya Byrne.
JINXED BY AMY ALWARD
Amy Alward, author of the romantic Potion Diaries series, will be releasing another book series charting the adventures of young engineering prodigy Lacey Chu, and her robotic pet Jinx.
THE GIRL IN THE BROKEN MIRROR BY SAVITA KALHAN
India-born thriller writer Savita Kalhan’s new novel will explore themes of family, loyalty and culture clash, but is ultimately about hope and understanding.
HOPE IS OUR ONLY WING BY RUTENDO TAVENGERWEI
The debut novel from Rutendo Tavengerwei, Hope is Our Only Wing is a story about grief and friendship, set in Zimbabwe.
GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE BY NATASHA NGAN
Inspired by Asian mythology, Natasha explores how far her main character, Lei, is willing to go to fight for her love and her freedom.
MAKE MORE NOISE BY VARIOUS AUTHORS
This collection of 10 short stories, from various UK authors, is being released to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the UK. It features Patrice Lawrence, Catherine Johnson, and Kiran M Hargrave.