The likes of Bernadine Evaristo, Malorie Blackman and Alex Wheatle have made massive contributions to a collective consciousness that defines modern Black British literature and amplifies the Black voice. It is remarkable how many novels by Black British writers have caught the attention of the UK’s mainstream audience in recent times. Black British authors are finally getting their recognition and it is long overdue.
2020 was the year for Black British writing, with increased exposure in light of the #BLM movement. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s 2017 book ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ has seen a massive increase in sales. Leading her to become the first Black British author ever to top the U.K. book charts. Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ topped the paperback fiction chart, making her the first woman of colour to take that position. This is a pivotal moment in which the scales are starting to shift in favour of ethnic writing, but not nearly enough to be equal to White British authors who dominate sales.
So where does this issue stem from?
If writers despite ‘race’ are producing works that are of the same standard, it is evident that British publishing has a significant role to play in which novels are being sold. ‘Noughts and Crosses’ author Malorie Blackman in her interview with the Guardian states how she had never in her life “received anything like the sums being posted by some white authors” and she is in a “better position than a number of my BIPOC [black, indigenous and people of colour] peers”. This is a prime example of systemic, covert racism and the micro- aggressions that is embedded within many institutions in the United Kingdom.
We also have to look at the alternative, that Black people in the UK make up 3.5-5% of the population they are the minority which means less books. It’s also worth noting that the majority of books written by Black Authors are about race, oppression and ‘what it means to be black’. It is recognised that you must relate and appeal to the masses through your writing and the majority of the mainstream audience are White. However, it is a fundamental fact that Black Authors are writing other genres, but it is predominately the novels that feature ‘race’ that are on the front of the bookshelves. Publishers purposefully publish such books and book shops promote such works to boost sales in light of the Black Lives Matter Movement. For example, on the Waterstones website if you search for Malorie Blackman her latest novel ‘Blueblood: A Fairy-tale Revolution’ a children’s fiction novel is halfway down the page with all her novels relating to race such as ‘Nought and Crosses’ published in 2001 promoted at the top. Coincidence?
There has been a surge of recognition and representation for black voices during the current climate. However, as stated by Reni Eddo Lodge in her interview with the Guardian “I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral”. This poses the question is the publishing industry just profiting from the Black Lives Matter movement because it will boost sales rather than publishing Black British stories to give Black writers a voice?
I had recently been a part of a university conference ‘Longing to Belong’ set up by a group of students across the English cohort, which elevated my understanding of the publishing industry. We asked Black British Poet and Writer Panya Banjoko “How did you break down barriers to get the same opportunities as everyone else?” She responded by saying “I’ve got a stubbornness in me if you really want me to do something tell me I can’t”. She pushed and still is pushing to open up avenues for other Black Writers. For Panya and many Black British writers alike there is a sense of injustice in the literature circles “they weren’t open to people like me and I wanted to stand against that”.
In solving the issues highlighted above a range of genres must be promoted and published. Incorporating more texts from Black British Writers into the education system will massively capitalise on the Black voice.
Black British Writers written word must be woven into the fabric of mainstream British publishing and be given equal opportunities as their white counterparts: it’s time to talk about it.
And on that note here are three amazing novels by Black British Writers you should go and read right now:
- ‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty- Williams
- ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins
- ‘Darling’ by Racheal Edwards