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First literature festival for BAME writers appeals for funds

BME LITERATURE FESTIVAL: London’s young poet laureate Selina Nwulu

A UK festival to “celebrate the work and achievements” of black, Asian and minority ethnic writers (BAME) has launched a crowdfunding campaign.

The Bare Lit Festival, organised by non-profit advocacy group Media Diversified, will take place on February 27-28 in London.

Novelists Leila Aboulela and Xiaolu Guo, poet Jane Yeh, London’s young poet laureate Selina Nwulu and journalist and fiction author Robin Yassin-Kassab are among those scheduled to appear at the event.

When Spread the Word, a report into diversity in publishing, found last April that lest than five per cent of writers appearing at the three big literature festivals in the UK were BAME authors, “it seemed imperative to do something”, said Samantha Asumadu, one of the organisers of Bare Lit.

Business coach and consultant Mel Larsen last year calculated that in 2014, just 4 per cent of the authors appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the Hay Festival were black or Asian, with this figure decreasing to 1 per cent once “cookery book writers, footballers, poets, children’s authors and writers who were black or Asian but not residing in the UK” were not included.

Asumadu, founder of Media Diversified, told The Bookseller that the current representation of writers of colour at UK festivals was “abysmal”, and accused publishing of “institutional discrimination”.

She added: “That writers of colour are invited only to speak about diversity is a damning indictment of both the publishing industry and literary festivals themselves. By curtailing them in this manner, readers are missing out on the full range and beauty of their work.

“If we don’t value writers of colour and they are not seen and heard with their white peers, they are even less likely to get published. I can’t imagine my life without having read Buchi Emecheta and Toni Morrison as a teenager. That future titans of writing may not get their chance to be read widely because of institutional discrimination in publishing is heartbreaking.”

Mend Mariwany, another organiser of Bare Lit, said: “We can focus on making mainstream festivals more ‘diverse’ or we can create something magical of our own.”

Aboulela pointed out that some festivals “tend to see BAME writers as one homogenous group from which they can choose the most accessible or easily categorised and regard him/her as representative”.

She added: “Writers from BAME backgrounds differ hugely and squeezing them in the same category overlooks the endless possibilities and disparate reading experiences they have to offer. A step forward would be for festival programming committees themselves to become diverse in their make-up. This would broaden the range of experience and reading among the committee and challenge the selection status quo.

“I think Bare Lit will help to shatter the illusion that all diverse writers are the same. I am hoping it will be an opportunity to showcase published writers at various stages in their careers, with books to satisfy every kind of reader.”

The Bare Lit Festival, which takes place at The Free Word Centre and The Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon, London, is fundraising on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, and offering a number of incentives to donate.

The festival aims to raise at least £7,000 - so far, they've received £2,376 in donations.

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