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This week sees a first in the UK book business. The UK’s leading trade magazine for the book industry, The Bookseller has this week (9 April) been guest edited by Marianne Tatepo, commissioning editor at Ebury (part of Penguin Random House) and founder of the Black Agents & Editors’ Group (BAE).
The BAE has created what it calls ‘the Black isssue’ of the magazine with columns, articles, opinion pieces and interviews all byby/with black writers, editors, publishers and authors. In its 160-year history The Bookseller has never had a guest editor and for the magazine to facilitate the idea shows just how important the subject of diversity and inclusion is in the UK .
Tatepo says that “progress is more than representation; real progress necessitates equal power”, and asks: “What does the fact that 2020 was often the first time Black people could disclose what they endured for decades reveal about publishing? What does it mean when, historically, white colleagues have been privately invited to get a foot in the door while our entry and continued success is predicated upon sticking in a pinky with the reasonable expectation of that same door getting slammed?”
Some of the pieces make uncomfortable reading. Black author and editor Jasmine Richards says “It’s hard to be an editorial assistant. The pay can be low, the hours are long and the pressure is intense. Now, let’s consider all of that and then think how exhausting it is to be the only one in the room. Or being accosted by a guest at a book launch to take their coat because they assume you’re cloakroom staff.
Or being told that “you don’t strike me as an editor” by the HR department even though you have all the “receipts” of a “typical” editor—Oxbridge/an English degree etc.”
In a piece headed ‘Where are all the Black editors?’ she writes: “It’s hard at the bottom. Harder when you look up the career ladder and don’t see anyone like you at the top. It makes it pretty difficult to believe that you might get there one day. Publishing should work harder to make sure editors of colour feel like they “belong”. To actually recognise the fact that they might not feel like this as a default. If the industry does not do this, they will continue to lose good editors and our collective culture will suffer as a result.”
Tatemo and the team at BAE have come up with a list of 15 questions that the industry – and in particular white people in the industry – need to ask. It includes: ‘Do I tend to feel more comfortable hiring people who look like me?’; ‘What more can we do in my team to acquaint ourselves with and invest in Black audiences?’; and ‘How can I ensure that my Black authors/colleagues are compensated equally to my white ones?’
The Bookseller is to be applauded for taking this bold and innovative step.