At the beginning of March English PEN hosted another Free Speech Cafe. This time, we teamed up with Words of Colour Productions to ask whether black British writers are getting a fair deal from the publishing industry.
Following the event, the Commonwealth Writers team posted a comprehensive report on the discussions:
Still, in a room of people dedicated to literary expression, greater representation of black and minority voices and a more diverse publishing industry, it seemed that these stories of success ought to have been better known. What barriers were in place preventing it? Joy touched upon the lack of media coverage when a black first-time playwright won a prestigious award, showing that even success (proof of the contested “quality” of writing) need not equate to visibility or mainstream interest. Courttia saw a “stigma attached to our work based on a falsehood”, quoting one African-American author as having tweeted, “I wonder when I’ll be at a reading and people won’t be shocked that I’m good”. This need to overcome distorting and insulting expectations, and the scepticism that many black British writers feel towards the publishing houses, was a driving force in the debate.