Black Lives Matter: Black Writers Guild UK, Black Agents & Editors’ Group.
In the wake of the shift in world publishing in the last few months two outfits have emerged in the United Kingdom: the Black Writers Guild UK and the Black Agents & Editors’ Group.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter global uprising on the back of the murder of George Floyd, publishing’s white supremacist nature has been exposed. Previously marginalised communities are coming together either to call out the injustice of it all or to form organisations to lobby in their own interests. Here are two groups that have emerged in the United Kingdom.
Black Writers Guild UK
The Black Writers’ Guild formed by publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, alongside journalist Afua Hirsch and author Nels Abbey, claiming a membership of over 200 published Black writers, emerged in mid-June. The first action of this new organisation was to send a strongly worded letter to Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins and Macmillan, the five biggest publishers in the former European country on June 15. This is a strategy that was also employed by the writers at Afrolit Sans Frontieres as well as the Black Artists for Freedom coalition.
The letter signed by over 100 writers, including some of Britain’s bestselling authors and leading literary figures, was concerned by the absence of Black people in the publishing chain from boards to sales, marketing and publicity departments, commissioners, and everyone in between. They requested an audit of the books published by black authors, a new fund for marketing and specialist publicity focus to support the books of new and emerging black talent. They also requested help in expanding the pool of literary agents and build a network of black literary agents and talent scouts for emerging black talent.
While the letter, which can be read here, was an important step in bringing Black writers in the UK to speak in one voice, its language seemed to miss the zeitgeist of the moment. In other spaces, letters made “demands” while the guild’s wording tended to be “request,” “deeply concerned” and “We would like.”
Since the letter was written, the new guild has designed a website that contains the letter sent to publishers and a list of all those who subscribe to its ideals.
Black Agents and Editors
Black Agents and Editors also took the opportunity and shared a statement written by Marianne Tatepo commissioning editor at Ebury (Penguin Random House UK) on July 10. The statement acknowledged the mess that was the publishing system in the UK and what needed to be done. It stated what they had done since they came together in June while challenging the system to play its part.
“To that effect, we have created a website and sign-up forms through which we will coordinate sessions to offer advice in a centralised way. The idea is to connect with youth centres, teachers, schools, parents, universities, as well as individuals over 18,” Tatepo said. “Our website also includes a members’ spotlight, featuring people at every level. For this is one thing to remember: there is a lot to be celebrated about us. From our expertise to the multitude of views and personalities we bring to the table, and our ability to create communities anywhere. And so, this is what we’re doing. We hope you’re playing your part too.”
A quick look at the website shows that the leading agents and editors in the UK publishing scene subscribe to this thinking. They include;
- Marianne Tatepo – Founder of BAE, Commissioning Editor at Ebury
- Nicole Thomas – Publishing Trainee at Hachette
- Elise Dillsworth – Literary Agent at Elise Dillsworth Agency
- Lemara Lindsay-Prince – Commissioning Editor at #MerkyBooks
- Davinia Andrew-Lynch – Literary Agent at Andlyn
- Natalie Jerome – Literary Agent at Aevitas Creative Management
- Ellah P. Wakatama – Editor-at-Large at Canongate
- Asmaa Isse – Assistant Editor at Penguin Random House Children’s
- Cameron Myers – Assistant Editor at Hodder & Stoughton
- Emma Paterson – Literary Agent at Aitken Alexander
- Bibi Bakare-Yusuf – Publishing Director at Cassava Republic
- Nelle Andrew – Literary Agent at Rachel Mills Literary
- Caolinn Douglas – Publishing Executive at Boukouture
- Sharmaine Lovegrove – Publisher at Dialogue Books
- Sareeta Domingo – Commissioning Editor at Harlequin/Mills & Boon
- Ore Agbaje-Williams – Editor at Borough Press
- Mireille Harper – Editor at Square Peg
- Emmanuel Omodeinde – Team Assistant at Curtis Brown Creative
- Marleigh Price – Editor at Trapeze
- Kwaku Osei-Afrifa – Editorial Assistant/PA to the CEO at Hodder Studio
- Leodora Darlington – Publishing Executive at Bookouture
- Layla Mohamed – Editorial Assistant at Cassava Republic
- Serena Arthur – Editorial Assistant at Headline
- Magdalene Abraha – Editorial Manager at Jacaranda Books
- Carla Hutchinson – Assistant Editor at Hot Key Books & Piccadilly Press
- Jasmine Richards – Editorial Director at Storymix
- Joelle Owusu – Commissioning Editor at Unbound
- Donna Greaves –Agent’s Assistant at Jo Unwin Literary Agency
If you are Black and work in an agenting or editorial in the UK, you can check out your tribe here.
Update: An earlier version of this blog posted today stated that there had been no moves since the Black Writers Guild sent the letter to the publishing houses. We have today be directed to a website that the guild has published and have included it in the post.