Flight 1000 Associate Henry Brefo has written a new blog piece on three women publishers who are changing the industry from the inside out, making sure that more diverse voices are given a platform onto which their stories can be shared.
The lack of diversity within the UK publishing industry has inspired several initiatives, with the aim to address barriers faced by writers from underrepresented and disadvantaged communities. Flight 1000 scheme by Spread the Word and Penguin Random House’s Write Now are fine examples of such efforts to promote diversity within publishing. However, with the understanding that the marginalisation and exclusion of diverse voices within publishing will persist, provided that those from diverse communities are not part of the structures of decision making and production processes, three black women publishers have taken the UK by storm.
In 2016, after 10 years of filling empty shelves in Lagos, Nigeria, with stimulating African fiction and non- fiction, Cassava Republic opened shop in London. Under the aegis of its dynamic founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Cassava Republic has produced some of the best African fiction which generations after today will still talk about. Abubakr Ibrahim’s A Season of Crimson Blossoms, El Nathan’s Born on a Tuesday, Olumide Popoola When We Speak of Nothing and others, have truly captured contemporary Africa, in its resplendent diversity and ‘unexceptional’ universality. As Bibi often reminds us, “whosoever controls the books shapes the narrative of Africa”. It is to this herculean task that Cassava Republic pledges its mission to change the way we all think about African writing and Africa combine, wherever that Africa might be, whether in London or in Lagos. For Bibi, Africa is not only a physical place but a mental geography of profound imaginings.
Jacaranda Books is an independent publishing house that aims to create a platform for underrepresented voices from a wide cultural heritage, but with a particular focus on works related to Africa, Caribbean, and the Diaspora. It was foundered by Valerie Brandes in 2012. In a previous interview with Jacaranda featured on Afrikult, Valerie explains to me that though the 80’s saw an explosion of radical black female writing, the growing absence and invisibility of black women writers and publishers within Britain at turn of the century, inspired her to add to the rich tradition of black female publishing in the UK. As such “jacaranda does not aim to invent or re-invent the wheel (so to speak), instead it hopes to honour and continue the tradition of black publishers who came before them, particularly renown figures such as Margaret Busby and Verna Wilkins”. Jacaranda is bringing back diversity to publishing in the UK.
After a highly successful career as editor of Elle literary magazine and co-founder of Dialogue Scouts, a consulting company that looks for books to be adapted for film and television, Sharmaine Lovegrove joins Little Brown Book as publisher for the new stand- alone imprint called Dialogue Books. The imprint is dedicated to inclusivity in publishing. This includes people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, the LGBTQI+ community and those with disabilities. Upon her appointment, Ms Lovegrove stated that “my aim is to uncover and publish a variety of fresh, distinctive and diverse voices across all genres for an inclusive and wide-ranging readership”.
With such boldness, foresight and perspicacity, these women are set to foreground under-represented voices, often ignored by the mainstream and render the consciously invisible, visible.