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Breaking New Ground: Celebrating British Writers and Illustrators of Colour

Category: Blog

Blog by Markie DeLeavey, school librarian at Shawlands Academy and Saint Margaret Mary’s Secondary School

Breaking New Ground: Celebrating British Writers and Illustrators of Colour is a new 65+ page booklet featuring over 100 contemporary UK-based authors and illustrators of colour, an initiative by Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions in collaboration with Pop Up Projects and BookTrust. The free brochure is the first of its kind and part of the BookTrust Represents project advocating and supporting BAME talent in the publishing industry. It was produced following research with University College London exposing the lack of representation within YA and children’s literature.

June 18th 2019 saw the launch of Breaking New Ground in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile. Although the brochure was officially launched earlier this year at the London Book Fair, this was a one-of-four UK-wide tour, supported by Literature Alliance Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust, and Creative Scotland, hosted by Seán McGovern of Pop-Up Projects, and featured a panel of established and up-and-coming authors/illustrators for an evening of discussions, readings, and Q&A.

The evening began with introductions by Valentia Bold, Vice-Chair of Literature Alliance Scotland, and Rosemary Ward, Director of Programming at the Scottish Book Trust, who both highlighted the important role organisations play in supporting BAME creatives in the publishing industry. This was followed by a talk by Sharmilla Beezmohun, director and co-founder of Speaking Volumes, who described the project’s journey from conception to current iteration, the challenges faced, and the necessity of inclusivity in literature.

London-born, Scottish-based author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé began the event with a reading from her upcoming book, Ace of Spades (Usborne, 2020) a mystery/thriller examining institutional racism and homophobia inspired by her own experiences, through a diverse cast of characters.  At only 20 years old, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is a highly anticipated new voice in UK YA fiction.

Award-winning children’s author/illustrator Ken Wilson-Max performed his Kate Greenaway nominated book, the Drum, accompanied by the entire room clapping and stomping in unison to the beat of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’.  He also discussed his upcoming book, Astro Girl, and the 9-year journey to have it published.

Sarwat Chadda, an award-winning author best known for his work Devil’s Kiss and the Ash Mistry series, read an excerpt from Savage Fortress – a must for Percy Jackson fans. Chadda is highly influenced by mythology, having learned to write from playing Dungeons and Dragons as a boy and now entertaining and educating young readers  about Indian folklore mythology through Ash Mistry and Mesopotamian mythology in his upcoming book Plague God, part of the Rick Riordan Presents/Disney imprint series.

Emily Hughes is a Hawaiian heritage, UK-based author/illustrator who is inspired by East Asian folklore and stories. She has illustrated/written a number of well-known picture books including the Charlie and Mouse series, Everything You Need for a Treehouse, Wild, and Nana Shaped Like a Banana which came second in the 2012 Macmillan Prize for Children’s Picture Books. Hughes also gave a live demonstration of her work being created as she explained how she draws upon emotive expressions to convey meaning to her young readers.

Initiatives such as Breaking New Ground are a step towards increasing visibility of people of colour in the industry and normalise representation in stories. While there has been recent effort from the publishing and non-profit sectors to provide platforms for BAME creatives, there is still a lot of work to be done within the industry to ensure equality of authors and illustrators of colour. Libraries play a key role in actively advocating and promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion. Breaking New Ground is a fantastic tool that can be used to inform practice and stock selection so that Libraries are inclusive, diverse, and representative of their communities.