January 15, 2016

Bare Lit Festival launches in UK to celebrate BAME writers


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Shattering illusions

The advocacy group Media Diversified is launching the “first ever literature festival for writers of color” in the UK next month.

The Bare Lit Festival will take place the 27th and 28th of February and, according to its website, will “highlight the amazing work being produced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers.”

The organizers see the festival as working to correct the discrimination that BAME writers currently experience. Research used by Media Diversified showed that:

Last year, the UK’s three largest literary festivals featured over 2000 authors. Of those 2000+ authors, only 4% were from Black Caribbean, Black African, South Asian or East Asian backgrounds.

Samantha Asumadu, founder of Media Diversified and one of the organizers of Bare Lit told The Bookseller that BAME writers were fed up of only sitting on diversity panels at festivals:

That writers of colour are invited only to speak about diversity is a damning indictment of both the publishing industry and literary festivals themselves. By curtailing them in this manner, readers are missing out on the full range and beauty of their work.

She warned that “institutional discrimination” in publishing was preventing readers from discovering writers, and thwarting future writers:

If we don’t value writers of colour and they are not seen and heard with their white peers, they are even less likely to get published. I can’t imagine my life without having read Buchi Emecheta and Toni Morrison as a teenager. That future titans of writing may not get their chance to be read widely because of institutional discrimination in publishing is heartbreaking.

Author Tendai Huchu, who will appear at the festival, told The Bookseller:

You have no idea how many of my peers (at least anecdotally) I have spoken with who have felt like objects of anthropological curiosity—inevitably being shunted to some panel on diversity or the like—as opposed to serious artists on the rare occasions they have done events at the larger festivals.

Novelist Leila Aboulela said she hoped the festival would “shatter the illusion that all diverse writers are the same.”

The organizers have launched a crowd-funding campaign to support the festival. The video accompanying the campaign features a quote from Malorie Blackman:

Over the last three or four years, I seem to have gone back to being the sole face of colour at literary or publishing events. What happened?





Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.