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Study reveals 'desperate lack' of British authors of colour

AUTHORS OF COLOUR: Malorie Blackman contributed to the research

FEWER THAN two per cent of published authors and illustrators in the UK are British people of colour, according to new research.

A report from the BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, has found that over an 11-year period, there has been "a consistent under-representation" of British authors and illustrators of colour.

The report, conducted by Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, associate professor at University College London, found that just 5.6 per cent of children’s book authors and illustrators were people of colour in 2017.

Between 2007 and 2017, white children’s books creators had on average four books published, twice as many as those of colour, who had around 2 books published per person. During the same period, British people of colour accounted for less than 2 per cent of children’s book creators.

Jill Coleman, director of children’s books at BookTrust, said: “This significant piece of research shines a light on the fact that there is a desperate lack of authors and illustrators of colour within the children’s books industry. We know there is lots of positive work happening to help level the playing field but there is still a long way to go.”

Poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah, poet Joseph Coelho and author Malorie Blackman, were all among those who contributed to the research via interviews.

Reflecting on her relationship with the industry, Blackman said: “Having to wait so long to see myself in the books I was reading was a major part of why I became an author in the first place.”

Zephaniah, who revealed that he is often asked if he writes reggae songs when he tells people he’s a writer, said: “I had publishers saying, ‘We don’t publish black and Rastafarian poetry. We don’t know what to do with it’.”

Coleman said: “Children need and deserve to see themselves in books, and to have access to a rich and diverse range of voices. If they do, it can be life-changing. BookTrust Represents is a three-year initiative to support and subsidise authors and illustrators of colour to promote their work and support them to reach more readers through events in bookshops, festivals and schools, as well as offering training and mentoring for less experienced authors and illustrators. Our aim is that by 2022, we will have increased the number of authors and illustrators of colour in the UK from less than 6 per cent to 10 per cent.”

The report’s findings also show that creators of colour have taken matters into their own hands.

They are twice as likely to self-publish books than their white counterparts, something that’s even more the case for British creators of colour. One third of their titles were self-published or published by hybrid publishers, compared to around 10 per cent of titles by white British creators.

Author Patrice Lawrence, who was interviewed as part of the report, said: “When I give author talks in schools, I know that every young person in that hall has the potential to create original, engaging and thought-provoking stories. I also know that many young people do not believe there's a place for them to tell those stories. There are no names on the book spines like theirs, no author pictures that look like them. BookTrust Represents is a chance to change that by nurturing and showcasing new talent and inspiring the next generation of creators.”

Author John Aggs, who also contributed to the research, said: “I feel like it’s a vicious cycle. It’s like, you don’t have brown people in children’s books, so brown people don’t grow up reading children’s books or enjoying children’s books, so they don’t make children’s books, and so on and so forth.”

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