This Guardian article by John Mullan, published in advance of Saturday’s Culture Show special on debut novelists, has attracted a fair amount of comment in my corner of the bookish internet; I’ll point you in particular towards posts by Maureen Kincaid Speller, Mike Harrison, and Sam Kelly (thanks to Martin Lewis and Paul Smith for highlighting those links). More from me after the programme has been broadcast, but there is one issue I’d like to address here, which is that all twelve of the novelists selected by Mullan’s panel are white. This has been remarked upon in the comments on the Guardian piece, and Mullan has replied that the judging panel were asked to select books solely on merit. Fair enough, but there is still an issue here.
We are talking about a field which can claim Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro as key figures of the last thirty years; by now, we should be at a stage where we could expect the results of a meritocratic process like this to show some ethnic diversity as a matter of course. The Culture Show‘s process has organically produced a selection which is respectably diverse in terms of gender and age; that it has not done the same in terms of ethnicity is a sign that there’s a problem somewhere. Whether the outcome is an artefact of this particular process or an indicator of something more systemic, I don’t know; either way, it is a cause for concern. I suggest that it would not have been considered acceptable if all the selected authors had been of the same gender; it shouldn’t be acceptable that they’re all white, either.
I blogged last year about an issue of Black Static in which all the stories were by men; having been critical then, it’s only right and proper that I should acknowledge the good work being done in the latest issue. As well as two of the five stories being written by women, the entire book review section has been given over to works by women, as has Peter Tennant’s Case Notes blog for the month of February. Here’s a fine example of a literary institution noticing an issue with its field, and doing something to address it.