Could there really be only one new black male novelist in Britain?

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Until this week, I thought that at least we could be consoled by fiction. That we still had the borderless joys of stories to fend off the dark forces of xenophobia and insularity. Culture is crucial in times of political uncertainty or crisis, and encountering other people’s stories in fiction seems like the surest way to keep our inner, imaginative boundaries open.

Except that we’re not encountering other people’s stories because they’re not being published. At least, not in Britain. The novelist Robyn Travis this week gave an inspirational talk on his struggle to find a publisher for his debut novel, Mama Can’t Raise No Man, about prison life and masculinity, and then to fill the 1,300-seater Hackney Empire in London for its launch this autumn. Go Robyn. Less inspiring was the fact that Travis, according to his publisher Crystal Mahey-Morgan, was most likely the only male black debut novelist to have been published in Britain this year.

Mahey-Morgan says there must be a “flaw in the industry” but no one in publishing should claim to be particularly shocked. A survey earlier this month by the Bookseller magazine found a “shockingly low” number of black, Asian or minority ethnic authors among the UK’s top 500 titles. Before that, a 2015 report, Writing the Future, found a glaring lack of inclusion across every level of a stubbornly white, middle-class publishing world. Read more

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