Breaking ground: teaching diverse voices at St Mary’s, Twickenham

The issue of diversity in publishing in the UK and beyond is one that has become increasingly prominent over recent years – although of course in academia the fight against the teaching of just “dead white males” has a much longer history. So long, in fact, that “dead white males” – the ‘giants’ of the Western canon – has been superseded as a term by the rather more slick descriptor “pale, male and stale”.

Recent attempts to push publishing towards reflecting the make-up of the British reading public include a special report from industry journal The Bookseller, and the inauguration of two prizes for black, Asian and minority ethnic writers.

The first-ever Jhalak Prize, organised by non-profit organisation Media Diversified, for best novel written by a BAME writer who is either British or resident in Britain, was won by Jacob Ross, for his Caribbean-set crime novel The Bone Readers.

And this year sees the second Guardian and 4th Estate BAME short story competition, for a short story written by a British or Irish BAME writer, won last year by Abiola Oni for her story ’75’, which you can read here. The deadline for this year’s competition is 2 April, and you can enter here. No entry fee, word count of 6,000 words.

Then, just this week, there was another attempt to promote British writers of colour, Breaking Ground, a digital guide to 200 of just those people produced by Speaking Volumes, a live readings and events organisation. You can see the full publication here, and we were of course keen to see just who gets covered – and, to keep the focus on St Mary’s, how many of these writers appear on our Creative and Professional Writing curriculum.

Well, by my count, six of them have been taught in our lectures and seminars – seven if you include Linton Kwesi Johnson, who isn’t in the list but, as an elder statesman of the British poetry scene, provides its introduction – and eight if you count Anthony Joseph, who will be coming to give a poetry masterclass in a couple of weeks.

Those that we’ve taught this year at St Mary’s are: Monica Ali, Warsan Shire, Salena Godden, Malorie Blackman, Jackie Kay and Helen Oyeyemi.

There are plenty more names we could be teaching of course, and I’ll be looking through the other 194 names with interest. It looks worth anybody’s time to check it out.

Video: Jess Kidd reading from ‘Himself’

jess_kidd_1tb7140We were hugely excited to have St Mary’s Creative Writing alumna Jess Kidd back last month for a reading, interview and Q&A to celebrate the publication and acclaim of her debut novel, Himself, published by Canongate. She read wonderfully – as you will see if you play the two videos below – and talked to us about all aspects of her writing practice, from the origins of Himself, to her love of Magic Realism and her plans for future novels.

Here she is, reading the prologue to Himself:

And here is a section from Chapter 12, inspired by Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.

 

As you can see, there was a great turn-out, and just as well as it was a fascinating evening.

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