Diversity: We already do what Penguin & Co only preach

The struggle of small publishers, diversity, Lionel Shriver and the difference support in the main stream media can make

Penguin Random House recently announced a ‘WriteNow’ diversity scheme. The author Lionel Shriver dove in to claim that this kind of action could cause an ‘insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling’ to get published simply on the basis the author was ‘a gay transgender Caribbean.

This is clearly problematic, but the issue left out of all press commentary is that Shriver’s comments aren’t the real problem facing diversity – the main problem is that publishers like us that ALREADY run diversity schemes struggle to get any media attention and support.

We set up PeireneNow! (sounds familiar @Penguin Books?) in 2015 so we could publish essential books that weren’t being written. Last year we ran a writing class in the Shatila refugee camp. The result is a book that shows that lack of formal education is not a bar to excellence.

But this book, Shatila Stories, written by nine refugees who had to queue up to use the same computer to write their drafts – hasn’t received any mainstream media attention. If you’re looking for TRUE diversity, TRUE innovation and GREAT LITERATURE it’s right here – so why is no one listening?

The only reason we can come up with, especially after Shatila Stories endorsement from Khaled Hosseini, is that our book isn’t easy. We’re not a major publishing house, our authors can’t travel to the UK and the novel is not simply a nice way to tick the diversity box.

Many of our writers did not finish school, attending the workshops in a makeshift classroom was a struggle. Two of our writers lost relatives whilst taking part. Life in Shatila isn’t easy, running a writing class there wasn’t easy, diversity in literature isn’t easy.

But the result is something so so SO much more than the ‘insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling’ that Shriver fears will infiltrate UK publishing. Without formal education, or even a SAFE space to write, they produced Shatila Stories.

We travelled to the Shatila camp because we wanted to give refugees a voice. Not for an easy ride, not off the back of heavy funding (thanks @Kickstarter for making this possible) but because we KNEW it was important – if only the mainstream media felt the same way.

We’re even donating all the profits from Shatila Stories to Basmeh & Zeitooneh, an NGO which runs everything from peace programmes to arts centres in 9 refugee camps. This is diversity in action and we think its time the work of smaller indie publishers was recognised.

If you want to support diversity AND quality in publishing, you need to support small publishers – the only people brave enough to do this kind of work. We’re not big but we are mighty. If you want to support us you can buy Shatila Stories here:https://bit.ly/2HBxTTb

Finally, we want to thank everyone who HAS shown us support: our readers. Thank you for supporting our Kickstarter and recognising our work.

A Little Favour

We have published the same text as a thread on twitter. If you are on twitter, please retweet it. Thank you.