Please note this article contains a number of acronyms, e.g. BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), or BPOC/BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour). We acknowledge the limitations of this terminology.
Our readers and partners may identify as Black, a Person of Colour, white, or another racial or ethnic identity, and we welcome all those who believe books, reading and writing have the power to change lives.
Barriers to success
Writers of any background are dependent on peer networks, collaboration and publishing opportunities to succeed.
In a 2019 report from the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), the most commonly cited challenges to a writer’s early life were the combined lack of financial income, time, and confidence.
As mostly freelance or part-time professionals, writers rely heavily on their community and networks to work through these barriers.
To offer further context: the 2021 survey 'BAME perceptions and experiences of Scotland’s literary sectorNo respondent agreed or strongly agreed that there were enough opportunities for collaboration and partnerships between BAME people in Scotland’s literary sector.’’ from the Scottish BPOC Writers Network indicated that, ‘
In October 2023, the Scottish BPOC Writers' Network published 'Perceptions and experiences of Black writers and writers of colour in Scotland's literary sector - 2022,' which gives a stark picture of what it is like to be a Black writer or writer of colour:
- The majority of respondents (57%) either agreed or strongly agreed that senior figures in Scotland's literary sector deny and/or minimise that Black people and people of colour face extra obstacles.
- Over three quarters (75%) of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that, in general, Black people, people of colour and white Scottish people have equal opportunities to succeed in Scotland’s literary sector.
- A quarter (25%) of respondents had experienced a racist incident at a literary event or activity.
That an overwhelming majority of Scottish BPOC writers feel they do not have access to communities or partnerships, they don't have enough equal opportunities to succeed, and that their experience of these barriers is not believed, is deeply concerning. More work must be done to eradicate this inequity.
That, in addition, 1 in 4 have experienced a racist incident while at a literary event or activity is unacceptable.
What is already being done?
Fortunately, there is already great work being achieved to promote and support BPOC writers.
The Scottish BPOC Writers Network (SBWN)
Foremost in Scotland is SBWN, founded in 2018, who recently dropped the ‘BAME’ from their name in favour of a more inclusive acronym. Their website is a treasure trove of opportunities and events for BPOC writers.
SBWN regularly hosts readings with BPOC writers, coordinates groups and workshops for Black writers, Asian writers, and QTIPOC, in addition to an annual conference, and an annual anthology ‘Mixtape’of works from the Writers of Colour Writing Group.
The Kavya Prize
In 2022, the inaugural Kavya Prizeawarded £1000 to a successful Scottish BPOC writer.
This prize, established by the late, great, Indian-Scottish author Leela Soma in association with the University of Glasgow, seeks to acknowledge the literary contributions of writers of colour, and ‘shift the gaze of the literary scene from decades of the “norm” to become more inclusive.’
Black Britain, Writing Back
Moreover, in 2021, Booker Prize-winner Bernardine Evaristo launched a new series with Penguin Books, named, ‘Black Britain, Writing Back,’ in which she aims to ‘correct historic bias in British publishing and bring a wealth of lost writing back into circulation’ (The Observer , 9 Jan 2021).
So far, the series has launched six fiction titles and five non-fiction novels from Black British authors, spanning from the early 1900s all the way to the 2000s.
How the sector needs to grow
It is the responsibility of everyone in the literary sector to enact actionable change for BPOC writers, as well as writers of other marginalised identities.
As the SBWN surveynoted, ‘the onus should not be on us for improving our situation’:
The BAME people who do a lot of work for BAME people […] are rarely recognised and/or fairly compensated. This makes the care/mentorship/community aspect unsustainable, because it is unsupported.
There are a number of potential advances for the Scottish literary sector in supporting BPOC writers.
Some of the most crucial and attainable of these (noted by SBWN, CLPE , and Rethinking ‘Diversity’ ) include calls to,
- Recognise structural inequalities and how people of colour are not afforded the same opportunities or freedoms as their white peers
- Cater to new audiences with the understanding that no one demographic is homogenous
- Balance the voices of BPOC writers from outside Scotland with local voices, particularly working-class writers, as this will help ensure BPOC history is understood as Scottish history
- For white audiences, attend and engage in events organised by BPOC people to showcase BPOC writers
- For white senior figures in Scotland’s literary sector, take responsibility to address inequalities in the literary sector and do not place this onus on BPOC people
- Challenge views that suggest diversity and quality are incompatible or that BPOC writers are invited to participate in literary events and activities to satisfy diversity requirements
- Upskill facilitators to challenge microaggressions, inappropriate questions or abuse directed at panellists and performers at literary events and in schools
Scottish Book Trust
Scottish Book Trust is committed to doing more. We are committed to embedding equalities thoroughly, to educating ourselves and making improvements. We know that this must be an ongoing process. We know our actions must speak louder than these words.
We welcome and champion BPOC readers and writers and are always open to feedback on how we can continue to improve and fight injustice with the life changing magic of books.