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Bare Lit Festival and Jhalak Prize – UK writers take action to address lack of diversity

Bare Lit Festival and  Jhalak Prize – UK writers take action to address lack of diversity

February 26 2016

  • First UK literature festival celebrating ethnic writing talent
  • Festival in response to only four per cent of UK lit fests featuring writers of colour
  • New £1,000 Jhalak prize offered for writers from Britain’s ethnic communities

BRITAIN’S first ever literature festival celebrating and showcasing the contributions of a wide range of authors from different UK ethnicities will begin fully tomorrow.

Among the Asian authors appearing at the three-day long Bare Lit fest in London, are Sunny Singh and Radhika Swarup.

The festival coincides this week with the launch of the Jhalak (meaning glimpse in Hindi) Prize – it will be the first UK based award that will be open to writers from Britain’s myriad ethnic communities, or writers of colour, as the popular expression goes.

Nikesh Shukla, novelist and diversity campaigner, has helped to organise the new prize alongside fellow novelist Sunny Singh, and Media Diversified, the organisation behind the Bare Lit Festival. The prize money for the Jhalak has come from an anonymous benefactor.

Nikesh Shukla, author of 'Meatspace' and 'Coconut Unlimited'

Singh, chair of judges for the Jhalak Prize, said: “When the marginalised demand structural change, our demands are fobbed off with being told to do ‘something for ourselves’. The Jhalak Prize is precisely ‘doing something’.

“The prize will recognise, reward, and honour literary talent and achievement by British writers of colour who are often ignored, overlooked and erased.

“I hope it not only stops the patronising suggestions that we aren’t taking action but also inspire the publishing industry to look beyond the present narrow margins.”

The Bare Lit fest is billed as ‘the UK’s first Lit Festival for Writers of Colour’, and it aims to highlight the work of a range of authors who barely get a look in at other literary festivals in the UK.

The organisation, behind the festival – Media Diversified – which raised the finance for it through crowdfunding and two partner organisations, estimated that in 2014 only four per cent of authors of colour appeared in the country’s lit fests.

One of the organisers of Bare Lit Festival, Mend Mariwany, said: “The creation of Bare Lit is a step towards empowering voices that are so often absent in the literary mainstream.

“We can focus on making mainstream festivals more diverse or we can create something magical of our own.”

Sunny Singh writes both fiction and non-fiction

Joy Francis, executive director of Words of Colour Productions, which helps support writers at all levels, from the UK’s ethnic communities, told “The Bare Lit Festival is long overdue. As shown in the Spread the Word Writing the Future report*, which we were (and still are) involved with, the major literary festivals have repeatedly failed to reflect the diversity of stories produced by writers of colour.

“They are depriving readers of variety. The fact that the Media Diversified team used crowdfunding to make things happen is an indication, as highlighted in the report, that we are not going to wait for the publishing industry, literary festivals and agents to wake up to see what has always been right in front of them – unsung talent of colour.

“It’s great to see writers that we have championed or worked with over the years, such as sci-fi writer Tosin Coker, poet Malika Booker and novelist Courttia Newland, on the programme.

“This coupled with the new Jhalak Book Prize for writers of colour, launched by writers and literary activists Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla with Media Diversified, is heartening.

Joy Francis, executive director, Words of Colours Productions, which helps writers

Zen Cho, a science fiction and historical fantasy author, argued: “As a writer who’s neither white nor British I’m used to sticking out at conventions and publishing events. The stories that fill our had should reflect the richness and diversity of the world around us, I’m excited to be part of a festival that’s trying to encourage that.”

The festival starts with a party launch at the Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon this evening; many sessions will be held here and in the Free Word Centre which is almost next door to the pub. Much of the festival is sold out but check the Bare Lit Festival website for udpates. (See below)

Tomorrow (February 27) the festival starts in earnest at 12.15pm with a panel discussion, ‘What does Liberation in Literature Look like?

Talks, readings and further panel discussions continue through the weekend, culminating in the Royal Literary Fund lecture by Courttia Newland.

The award-winning writer, who has seven works of fiction behind him, will share his manifesto for exploring fictional voice and celebrating self-expression in the work of British writers of colour.

The Royal Literary Fund helps writers and has a fellowship scheme which places in writers universities to help students with their writing skills.

Courttia Newland, award-winning author, will present The Royal Literary Fund lecture

The other main partners behind the Bare Lit Fest are ‘Spread The Word’, London’s writer development agency and The Royal Literary Fund, first established in 1790.

The Jhalak Prize is open to submissions from publishers between September 1 2016 and December 31 2016. The books must be published this year in the UK and originally in English. The book can be from any genre and includes self-published books and the author must have been resident in the UK for a minimum calendar year 2016. The judges are to be announced in the summer of 2016.

The Jhalak Prize is supported by The Authors’ Club and Media Diversified.

*Spread the Word wrote a report last year on the state of diversity in UK publishing and found that many publishers recognised themselves there was little to no diversity in British publishing. Read about that here.

  • and organised and hosted ‘A Novel Affair’ with authors Roopa Farooki and Huma Qureshi last week (February 19).
    A twist on conventional author talks, it brings a more interactive and engaged element for audiences to such literary events.
    You can find out more about it by reading here and find out about future ‘A Novel Affair’ evenings by liking us on Facebook, and signing up to our Literature/Books Newsletter by clicking the subscribe button in the top left.
    We also cover the Jaipur Literature Festival, the world’s largest free literature festival. As well as video interviews with Marlon James, Man Booker Prize Winner 2015, and Meera Syal, more interviews from the festival will be published shortly. Don’t miss out and sign up!
    On February 7, Sunny Singh and Danuta Kean, the author of The Spread The Word report on diversity in publishing, were among the guests on the Sunny & Shay show on BBC Radio London 94.9FM, click here for that.
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Written by Asian Culture Vulture