March 5th. A day celebrated every year by book lovers worldwide. A day when children dress up as their favourite characters and people tweet about their favourite books.
World Book Day is now in its 18th year, and is used to celebrate the wide selection of books and characters that the literary world has offered us. It also helps to encourage reading, especially in young children, who every year receive a £1 book token. This of course, is an important mission, especially during a time when literacy levels in the UK are continuing to decline, and teenagers are leaving school unable to read or write at a decent level.
The lack of representation of Afro-Caribbean’s in literature and publishing has also been a topic of growing concern over the last few years, with black writers and publisher sincerely lacking in the UK. Last year Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman came under attack for stating this simple fact, after she was misquoted by ITV news.
Companies such as Equip (Equality in Publishing), Creative Access and Media Diversified are trying their best to amend this issue by addressing the publishing side of things. Currently, the vast majority of those working in the publishing industry are white middle class women, and it’s reflected in the books that are being published, the writers being read and the characters we see in this book.
It’s not all bad news though, there are quite a few prominent and well known Black British authors who have managed to beat the odds and get their work out there.
We’ll take a look at 5 Black British writers who are playing a part in changing the face of publishing.
- Malorie Blackman
The first black Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman is well loved by children and adults across the country. Her books, featuring black children, have allowed Afro-Caribbean’s to see themselves represented in the books they read. Her award winning ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series imagines a ‘reversed’ world where the dark skin crosses rule over the pale skinned ‘noughts’, and tells the story of two star crossed lovers forced to deal with the racial prejudice in a world that will not allow them to be together.
Her children’s novel Pig Heart Boy, was adapted for television by the BBC.
Blackman has received several awards for her work and in 2013 she became the UK’s first black Children’s Laureate.
- Zadie Smith
Born to a Jamaican mother and an English father Cambridge University graduate Zadie Smith is probably best known for her award winning debut novel White Teeth. Published in 2001 the novel explores multicultural Britain through the stories of various characters from a variety of countries and across generations. The book won the Whitbread Book Award, The Guardian Book First Award and The Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize among others.
Her other novels include On Beauty and The Autograph Man.
- Ben Okri
British-Nigerian, poet and novelist Ben Okri published his first novel Flowers and Shadows in 1980 and since then he has published dozens of novels, essays, poetry and short story collections. In 1991, his third novel A Famished Road, was awarded the Man Booker prize. His books are often described as ‘postmodern’ and merge magical realism with Nigerian folklore. He had also been compared to other post-colonial writers including Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His latest book The Age of Magic, was published in October last year.
- Dorothy Koomson
Dorothy Koomson is one of the few black British writers who have manage tackle the mainstream market. Her first novel The Cupid Effect was published in 2003. Since then she has gone her from success to success. Her sixth novel The Ice Cream Girls was adapted for television by ITV. While all of her novels feature black female protagonists race does not seem to be Koomson’s main concern. Instead she explores a variety of other complex topics including love, death and grief which manage to transcend race and gets to the heart of her characters, making her novels appealing to readers from all backgrounds. Her new novel The Girl from Nowhere will be released in April.
- Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah is probably one of the most popular writers of today, appealing to both adults and children alike. Born in Birmingham to a Barbadian father and a Jamaican mother, his work, particularly his poetry, is often influenced by his Caribbean roots. A seemingly unlikely writer, Zephaniah, who suffers from Dyslexia left school at the age of 13 unable to read or write. His teenage years were somewhat troubled however after serving a stint in jail for burglary, Zephaniah published his first book of poetry Pen Rhythm. In 2001 Zephaniah published his second novel Refugee Boy which tells the story of an Ethiopian refugee who escapes to London during the war. The book received the 2002 Portsmouth Book Award, and has also been adapted for the stage. In 2003 Zephaniah was offered an OBE (Order of the British Empire) but declined, telling the Guardian that he is ‘proudly anti-empire’.