Penguin Random House colleagues met with young people from BAME backgrounds to talk inclusion

Helping to make publishing more inclusive is a business priority for Penguin Random House UK and it is at the heart of our Creative Responsibility manifesto. 

To help shape our approach to this we consulted a number of external stakeholders last year, including authors. Nikesh Shukla was one of these authors, and following our discussions he invited us to visit Bristol to see how his team at Rife magazine approaches inclusive recruitment, and to meet with young people from diverse backgrounds with an interest in the book world – whether as future publishers, aspiring authors, or passionate readers. 

Eight people from Penguin Random House UK went to visit Rife, all of whom are part of an internal working group made up of passionate colleagues from different corners of the business who help us manage and deliver our activity and goals around Inclusion.

Aissetou N'gom

Penguin Random House UK's social media producer Aissetou N’gom said hearing from young writers was powerful:

"Spending the day with the team at Rife magazine was an absolute privilege. I run Penguin Platform, our online channels for young adults, so I jump at any opportunity to chat with this audience.

One of our core principles at Platform is never to underestimate teens. Listening to this group of passionate, socially motivated young writers discuss the ways they feel excluded from literature was incredibly powerful. It reminded me not only how right we are to never underestimate young people, but also how far we still have to go to create more balance in our publishing.

Their sense of exclusion while reading is one I can 100% relate to being mixed race myself, and sadly it is one I experience in many forms of media. It’s not just books that lack proper representation – its films, TV, theatre, the lot!

The good news is that Penguin Random House is shining a spotlight on this problem in publishing and actively trying to address it. We’re making some amazing changes internally to our recruitment processes and reviewing our output, and days like this one at Rife are part of that shift.

It was great to talk to the Rife team about addressing diversity in a larger sense. But something that really struck me was hearing one young writer talk about how, growing up, she found herself only writing white characters because that’s all she’d ever read. It was very personal. And for real change to take place, we need to get personal."

Will Rycroft 

Vintage's community manager William Rycroft said listening is key to making publishing more inclusive:

"I’m part of a group within Penguin Random House that has been discussing different ways in which we could improve the diversity of our publishing – from our authors to our books and their characters. We felt it was very important to leave the meeting room and engage directly with young talent to help shape those endeavours. Before working at Vintage I was in an entirely different creative field and I know that there is a lot that publishing can learn from looking at those other industries and how they have promoted inclusion.

It was really thought-provoking to meet with such a talented group of people, who express themselves not only through writing but also music, film-making, performance and art, yet who feel excluded from something as simple as a visit to a bookshop. 'Where are the books that speak to me?' was a common question and I don’t think any of us want the answer to be 'over there on that special shelf'.

Later this year we’ll host roadshows around the country to find new writers and illustrators, which is very exciting, and meeting with Rife helped us to understand just how important it will be to make the right people aware of them. How best can we reach people who feel excluded? And what is the best way of getting them involved? Talking to people at Rife has already helped us to find some of the answers.

As a group we shared our favourite books by BAME authors and it reminded me that reading is an act of empathy. As Atticus Finch said: 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.' I hope that if we take the time to listen, we’ll better understand our readers and it will inform the ways we’ll help make publishing more inclusive."

To hear what Ore Agbaje-Williams, an aspiring editor, foodie and English graduate who is currently interning at Bloomsbury Information, thought about the day, read The Bookseller’s coverage of the day
here.

Ore Agbaje-Williams

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