Croydon writers are among those featured in Breaking New Ground, the first free national resource to celebrate 100 British writers and illustrators of colour, producing quality work for children and young people.
Launched by Speaking Volumes in partnership with the BookTrust and Pop Up Projects, Breaking New Ground is a call to action for the publishing industry to be more culturally inclusive regarding their children and young adults output.
Alongside writers and illustrators, the publication (which will be circulated to all schools in Croydon) also celebrates the 130 publishers who have published them.
Among the 100 creatives featured in the publication are Croydon-based maths teacher and author Muhammad Khan (I Am Thunder, Macmillan), writer Ayisha Malik (contributor, A Change is Gonna Come) and the 2015 Brunel African Poetry Prize-winner and playwright Nick Makoha (Kingdom of Gravity).
Makoha, who lives in Thornton Heath, said: “It is an honour and an achievement to be included in this necessary national resource. It is good to know that great writers of colour are scattered across the country and I hope that I can be a positive voice in Croydon.
“Breaking New Ground is so important because often the publishing industry can be myopic or conservative in who they choose. Art is at its best when we engage in a myriad of voices, but writers of colour often have fight against being made invisible.”
According to BookTrust, headline statistics from its research with University College London on the representation of authors and illustrators of colour in children’s books published in Britain over the last 11 years shows that fewer than 2 per cent were British people of colour.
Pop Up Projects recently found that 50 per cent of the BAME authors it worked with had experienced prejudice or discrimination in their professional encounters with publishers. But it also discovered that 50 per cent felt that publishing was becoming increasingly receptive to, and encouraging of diversity in their characters and stories.
“Against a backdrop of growing intolerance, racism and xenophobia, Breaking New Ground is our contribution to the wider campaign being waged across many fronts to change the lack of cultural inclusion and diversity in children and young adults literature,” said Sharmilla Beezmohun, a director at Speaking Volumes.
“We are pushing for a nationwide transformation for the authors and illustrators who get published to be as multicultural as the society we live in.”
Muhammad Khan, having been included in Breaking New Ground, said: “It is wonderful to be able to represent my community at this level. I only hope that I might inspire the next generation to understand that there is nothing holding them back from realising their dreams – neither poverty, nor race, religion or gender. There is so much raw talent out there.”
With 30,000 free copies to be distributed in the first phase, Breaking New Ground features a colour-coded guide by age, genre, region and publisher for each writer and illustrator, and contains research and specially commissioned essays on the state of children and young adults publishing.
BookTrust will send the brochure to every school in the country, and it will be made available to local libraries, event programmers, teachers, parents, literary agents, local authorities as well as publishers to use for a range of activities, from booking authors for readings to commissioning new work.
Dylan Calder, from Pop Up Projects, said: “Breaking New Ground is all about building a platform for writer and illustrator role models so that the ‘influencers’ in children’s literature – the people who signpost books to children, such as parents, teachers, librarians and programmers – can give young readers the widest possible range of stories to choose from.
“Diversity needs to flow into children’s publishing so that this and future generations can, through the pages of their books, see this world through other perspectives, not just their own, because empathy is key to combating hate.”
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