Vogue in its latest Hope series has showcased several hopeful letters from famous personas all over the world who harbour hope regarding several matters at hand. Candice Carty Williams, best seller Queenie’s author. In 2020, while pandemic was raging, Candice became the first British black woman to win Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. More than glee on being honoured, what hit her was the lack of representation in publishing. In a heartfelt letter to the Vogue, Candice wrote about her hope for the future of the publishing industry which will evidently morph into one with a bigger representation of the black community.
In her letter, she talks about her experience when she first stepped into the publishing industry, all hopeful and ignorant. She was one of the only three black women in the building but the point to consider is how she wasn’t surprised of the lack of black women in the industry because that is what she had seen in University of Sussex too.
Her journey at the prestigious HarperCollins publishing house made her aware of the scenario and planted in her the seed to initiate a revolution.
Working on the books was fine, but I wasn’t able to truly connect with them in a way my white colleagues were able to—all of the characters were white. Most of them came from white, middle-class backgrounds. They never had money worries, nor did they suffer any discrimination. That wasn’t a life I could relate to. So, I started a short story prize for underrepresented authors in an attempt to both bring some new voices to the shelves, and to work with, and on, something I could actually see myself in.
Lack of representation of blacks in books frustrated her further and she was convinced that to see inclusion in books and the industry itself, the first baby step needs to be taken. She began writing her book Queenie with hopes of it getting published one day although her insecurity of it being a complete failure loomed over her head.
But her divine hope worked and her book became the first book written by a British black woman to win the Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. Not just that, Queenie was among the Time’s 2019 must-read books. The honour of being the first British black woman whose works got the award was not believable to Candice Carty Williams.
Because I’d worked in the publishing industry, I knew about all of the awards. And one thing I knew and had been genuinely bamboozled by, was that no black person, or indeed black woman, had won that award before—in the 30 years that it had been running.
In her acknowledgement speech she said that despite being immensely happy and proud for being the first person to breaking the stereotype, she realizes that she is not the only black person or woman whose book was worthy of the honour. And the fact that many such women did not even get to tell their story says a lot about the publishing industry and is hoping for a change. In fact, not just hoping, she knows for sure that things will change for the better for her community. The race for the betterment and equal opportunity will throw out industries that do not keep up and this is why the publishing industry must buckle up too.
She ended her letter with a note of positivity.
The newly formed Black Writers Guild, established by authors Afua Hirsch and Nels Abbey, and publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, composed a fire open letter and sent it to Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins and Macmillan. The letter gave these publishing houses what is effectively a checklist of easy things to do to ensure that they can be more inclusive and representative, such as addressing the fact that there are no black people on any of the ‘big five’ leadership boards and redressing the imbalance of black staff in publishing houses.