This interesting panel discussed the issue of diversity in the publishing industry.
The four speakers — publisher Valerie Brandes, novelist and playwright Stephen Thompson, writer and broadcaster Bidisha, and writer and ex-soldier Azi Ahmed — were entertaining and informative.
The panel was expertly led by Danuta Kean, editor of a recent report on the under-representation of black and Asian people in the industry.
The audience was clearly surprised by the problems faced by authors and publishers of colour, and the Q&A session could have gone on for much longer had it not been for the time constraint.
The speakers had many and varied experiences to share, all of which demonstrated that the publishing industry looks like Fifties Britain rather than reflecting today’s diverse population.
It’s hard for people of colour to get published and those who are published are expected to write about racial issues — which have to be problematic — as if that’s what they think about 100 per cent of the time.
When publishers do take on writers of colour, they expect them to fit into a stereotype — as Bidisha put it, they are looking for tales of forbidden love in a monsoon shower, preferably by a lotus pond.
On a more positive note, Valerie Brandes spoke about her publishing house, Jacaranda Books, which takes on a diverse range of authors and proves that there is a market for these previously unheard voices.
The panel touched on the lack of diversity in Henley — one of the panellists had been asked about her “origins” in a charity shop — but were positive about the culturally educated residents and praised events such as the literary festival for helping to bring about change.
This was an eye-opening panel — it’s just a shame that the lack of diversity in publishing is still an issue in 2015.