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Authors and critics hit back at all-white World Book Night list

26th Nov 2015

Authors and critics hit back at all-white World Book Night list
Image: Naomi Frisby
Reading initiative World Book Night has for a second year come under fire by readers, authors and critics...

It comes just a couple of years after World Book Night promoted a recommended list of books, barely a quarter of which were by women.

On The Bookseller’s blog, author Nikesh Shukla criticised the decision for the pro-reading campaign to recommend an all-white shortlist, recommending that having a more diverse list would have better supported the event’s main aims.

He wrote: “Having BAME writers will encourage more BAME readers to become givers or to take a book, but also it’ll show that, on lists, we belong just as much as everyone else.”

Shukla also cited this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist as a recent example of a leading organisation in the publishing industry distancing itself from the ‘old monoculture’.

The Bookseller journalist, Sarah Shaffi supported the sentiment on Twitter: “WBN does great work but does have a responsibility to make sure its list is ethnically diverse.”

WBN’s efforts to include more women on its list this year have not gone unnoticed. In the same discussion on Twitter, author Alom Shaha asked: “Doesn’t fact that there are now more women show that it was a valid criticism and the right thing to do was to include more?” [sic]

In a surprising response to Nikesh Shukla’s blog, World Book Night’s Rose Goddard replied yesterday: “It is a great shame, and with huge regret, though, that we weren’t able to include any works by BAME authors this year. I am frustrated that World Book Night 2016 is unable to do more to help improve the picture.

“The curation of the final books is not simply a question of choosing freely from publishers’ lists; publishers submit titles for the list and financially support the printing of the titles selected and the programme overall. Participation in the programme represents a significant monetary commitment for all of them, particularly for the smaller presses we’ve been delighted to welcome on board over the last few years.

“They all think very carefully about which books to suggest in the context of our drive to reach people who do not normally read for pleasure and WBN would not exist at all without the generous backing they provide.

“Each year we strive to strike a balance across the list. This year, despite our best efforts we have not been successful in respect of BAME writers.”

To promote the work of BAME authors, blogger Dan Linscombe launched Diversity December.To promote the work of BAME authors, blogger Dan Lipscombe launched Diverse December. Like last year’s #ReadWomen initiative, the month-long campaign will be powered by a hashtag for an open conversation about overlooked novels by authors such as Karen Lord and Helen Oyeyemi.

Speaking for Lipscombe, author Naomi Frisby explained: “Diverse December is a direct reaction to the lack of BAME writers on the World Book Night list. It’s a call to read books by writers of colour and share recommendations with other readers.

“Ultimately it’s to help raise the profile of BAME writers and push those in publishing and the media who create lists of ‘must read’ books to include BAME writers as standard. Lists should reflect readers and that’s a very diverse group of people.”

Will you be taking part in #diversedecember? If so, what are you planning on reading?