In recognition that there is still a long way to go to achieve fair representation, the UK’s largest pre-loved book retailer World of Books has launched a campaign bringing literature by under-recognised black authors back into mainstream circulation.
In the 30 days after the Black Lives Matter movement started in the UK 44% of the company’s total search volume included terms related to race. Similar sentiments have been revealed across the publishing industry. Leading sales and distribution agency Inpress Books, which represents a diverse portfolio of independent publishers reported a 56% increase in sales for the financial year 2020/21. This has been attributed to people seeking out books written by black authors and expanding their horizons in terms of diversity and inclusivity.
However, despite this growth in demand black authors remain underrepresented. The most recent census by the ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) and CLPE (Centre For Literacy In Primary Education) revealed that only 5% of published authors in the UK were people of colour and less than 4% of children’s books in the UK feature a protagonist of colour.
Recently a number of dedicated initiatives have been rolled out within the publishing industry aiming to improve this. Penguin Random House revealed that 5.3% of its commissions made in 2020 were Black British/Black writers (vs. 3.3% of the population*). The publisher has developed a series of programs such as WriteNow, which focuses on finding, nurturing and publishing new writers from under-represented communities, and Lit in Colour, campaigning to support schools in making the teaching of English literature more inclusive. Jacaranda Books also ran a 20 in 2020 initiative publishing 20 black British writers in one year, a scheme which has extended promotion of the author’s works into 2021.
Drawing parallels between the past and present, World of Books’ own campaign shines a light on under-recognised historical black authors, bringing them to new audiences and giving them the recognition they deserve.
One of the key figures being profiled is Ignatius Sancho (c.1729 – 14 December 1780). Born a slave, he is widely considered the first black author to be published in the UK and the first known black Briton to vote in a British general election. His incredible journey spans a variety of professions including writer, composer, shopkeeper and abolitionist. He was celebrated in the late 18th century as a man of letters, a social reformer and an acute observer of English life1, yet is not well known in the modern day. The sharing of his story is intended to put right the errors of history by ensuring his words aren’t overlooked any longer.
Graham Bell, CEO of World of Books Group said “Black History Month is a vitally important celebration, but also a reminder that these stories matter all year-round. As a certified B-Corp, we are committed to working towards a world where reading is representative of all voices and are aligning with our publishing partners to drive this forward. We’re hoping our campaign ignites the necessary conversations to inspire education and further societal change.”
To make more works accessible World of Books are also offering a discount of 20% when you buy two selected preloved titles by black authors, valid until 31st October 2021.** Find out more on the dedicated hub at: www.worldofbooks.com/en-gb/black-authors