July 1, 2021
Stormzy’s #Merky imprint to publish first children’s book
by Tom Clayton
“There’s nothing more gangster than being well-read.” So said UK grime superstar Stormzy, 27, in 2018 as he announced the first wave of books to be published under his newly-launched #Merky Books imprint.
An imprint within William Heinemann, #Merky—which is curated by Stormzy and also published his first book, Rise Up, in 2018—is described as “a home for a new generation of voices.” It published Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto For Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi in 2019, and also encompasses the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, an open submission competition to find news works across a range of genres. The inaugural prize was awarded in June 2019 to co-winners Hafsa Zayyan and Monika Radojevic.
Now, as per NME and others, #Merky is to launch its first children’s book, Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Secret Strength, in September. Focusing on 50 “heroes” from communities that are underrepresented in literature, and featuring a introduction from Stormzy himself, figures included in the comic-book-style illustrated book will include authors such as Candice Carty-Williams and Reni Eddo-Lodge, actor Riz Ahmed, broadcaster Reggie Yates, former footballer Ian Wright, comedian Mo Gilligan, and more.
Superheroes was written by Sophia Thakur and illustrated by 21-year-old student Denzell Dankwah. 8% of the book’s proceeds will go to the #Merky foundation, which is dedicated to ending racial injustice and inequality. For Thakur, it’s a project that speaks to a desperate need within marginalised British cultures:
The earliest seeds that are planted often influence the rest of the garden … If from a young age, we only really meet Blackness from a position of weakness, of slavery and shootings … stereotypes and racist media … as children, we don’t get an opportunity to develop a healthy and confident outlook on what it means to be Black. It was important to work on this book to plant a new seed of celebration. Of Black excellence into our young minds who will hopefully bloom into their very own superheroes. Confident and powerful.
As shocking figures published by Penguin this week attest, fewer than 1% of GCSE students study a book by a writer of colour—despite 34.4% of British school age children identifying as Black, Asian or minority ethnic. Projects like this will go some way to redressing that balance—but, as ever, there is always more work to be done.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.