Sharing what we learned: a series of blogs
At intervals during the 2021 – 2022 Megaphone Writer Development Scheme we asked the 50 + writers in Megaphone Community to share their views on how we, and publishing, are doing. We also carried out surveys at key points. We’re sharing our learning in a bid to amplify the voices of children’s and YA writers of colour. We would love other projects to share their learning too, so we can all improve. To give writers the confidence to speak, all quotes are anonymous (except where permission was given).
As numerous studies over the past few years have shown, children’s publishing and associated industries (e.g. librarianship) are overwhelmingly white, not least in gate-keeping areas such as editorial and agenting. Most of the time, children’s writers of colour will not be among other people of colour. Does this matter? What do emerging children’s writers of colour get out of being among other children’s writers of colour?
In our June 2021 survey we sought their opinions.
HOW IMPORTANT IS A GROUP LIKE MEGAPHONE? (1)
We asked the writers in Megaphone Community how important it was to them to be in a group with other writers who experience marginalisation due to their ethnicity. 15 out of 25 respondents said it was very important. A further 6 said it was somewhat important.
We asked them to add detail to their answer; their comments follow:
“It is very important for me to have this space as it introduced me to authors who look and sound like me, who understand my protagonists and also my worries. I am able to express my insecurities and vulnerabilities openly and without feeling worried about being judged”Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey
“Being a member of this group makes me feel equal. I normally stick out like a sore thumb”Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey
“I want to be recognised as a writer and mix with other writers and hone my craft regardless of heritage. I just want to be included not constantly marked out as different”Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey
This all tallied with Leila and Stephanie’s personal experiences and their conversations with published writers of colour. In the June 2021 survey, we presented some statements and asked respondents to tick the ones they agreed with.
HOW IMPORTANT IS A GROUP LIKE MEGAPHONE? (2)
Alongside 76% who agreed “ I don’t usually meet writers or publishing/ literary people who share my heritage. “ and “It is hard to find children’s books where my life, culture and family are reflected.” 76% of respondents also agreed with the statement “There are some conversations I don’t feel comfortable having in a group of majority white writers”.
It is worth dwelling on what these responses mean in practice, for any person or group who organises on behalf of emerging writers. Are minorities (of any kind) in your space able to express their opinions comfortably, honestly and freely, or do they feel isolated, unable to speak up when there’s a problem, for fear of being ostracised? Writers should be given opportunities to feedback freely, anonymously and honestly about their experiences. They should be listened to in good faith. From Megaphone’s point of view, we want to ensure that we are really inclusive, of everyone within the very large (global majority!) group ‘people of colour’ . This will require ongoing, proactive and self-critical work.
“It’s important that the nuances and specificities of people’s backgrounds and cultures are not homogenised into ‘BAME.’ I think MEGAPHONE do a great job of being specific and giving lots of different cultures air time and respect.Anonymous comment on June 2021 survey
It’s important to note that everyone is different. Many of the Megaphone Community writers are also involved in other writer development schemes which are not specifically for writers of colour, and get a lot of value out of those excellent schemes. The point is not that people should be restricted to only being in spaces with those who share one part of their identity, but that identity-specific space should exist as an option among many options: a diverse eco-system of writer development. Having the option of being in a space with other people who share their life experiences can take away some of the burden of “sticking out like a sore thumb” as one writer put it, and free them to simply be creative.
Finally, we’ve had some amazing feedback from both mentees and people on Community about why Megaphone matters (do read it, here: What people say about us) but I wanted to share this comment because it’s exactly what I intended the scheme to be.
“(Megaphone offers) Real, targeted, personalised support. Equitable, transparent and meaningful. The support is amazing and I have learnt tonnes”Anonymous comment on Dec 2021 survey
In the next and last blog post, we’ll share the findings from a free discussion hosted by Stephanie King, Commissioning Editor at Usborne, which asked Megaphone Community the question: How can publishing do better for writers of colour?
We’d love to hear from other projects, whether you’ve found the same as us as or not. Questions and comments are welcomed at megaphone.write AT gmail.com and stay tuned for the next learning blog.