I’m late to this, but never mind. Here’s Penguin Random House:
Our industry does not currently reflect the society we live in. We believe that making publishing more inclusive is both a cultural and commercial imperative.
We have made a number of positive changes over the past few years, including removing the need for a university degree from all our jobs, introducing paid work experience, and finding and nurturing new writers through our WriteNow programme.
To better understand how our actions are making a difference in the long term we need to better understand the diversity of the authors we publish and the people we hire, and how this changes over time.
That’s why we want both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025. This means we want our new authors and colleagues to reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.
Enough people have pointed out the stupidity of this, not least Lionel Shriver, as the BBC reports:
Ms Shriver said: “Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books.
“Rather, the organisation aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision.”
In the article she suggested that a manuscript “written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven” would be published “whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling”.
What I haven’t seen anyone make, though, is the point the Turkish author Elif Şafak raised in a talk she did:
When my first novel written in English came out in America, I heard an interesting remark from a literary critic. “I liked your book,” he said, “but I wish you had written it differently.” (Laughter) I asked him what he meant by that. He said, “Well, look at it. There’s so many Spanish, American, Hispanic characters in it, but there’s only one Turkish character and it’s a man.” Now the novel took place on a university campus in Boston, so to me, it was normal that there be more international characters in it than Turkish characters, but I understood what my critic was looking for. And I also understood that I would keep disappointing him. He wanted to see the manifestation of my identity. He was looking for a Turkish woman in the book because I happened to be one.
If Penguin books are going to start publishing minority authors, you can be sure the books will be about minorities; what we’re not going to see is a transgender’s work get published unless the story itself is about transgender issues. As if by way of confirmation, the BBC article tells us:
Candice Carty-Williams is a writer who has also worked at Penguin Random House for almost two years.
She supports the company’s attempts to make both its staff and authors more reflective of the UK population.
Carty-Williams – a black woman living in London who used to work for The Guardian and thinks her white counterparts have it easier than her – has just had her debut novel Queenie snapped up. So what’s it about? Well:
Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers.
How surprising. It’s also worth noting that Carty-Williams is currently a Senior Marketing Executive at Vintage Books and before that spent over two years doing the same job at HarperCollins. Funny how publishers always seem to get their books published, isn’t it? A bit like how New York Times journalists always get their works on the New York Times bestseller list.
Anyway, as Elif Şafak said:
Writers are not seen as creative individuals on their own, but as the representatives of their respective cultures: a few authors from China, a few from Turkey, a few from Nigeria.
I never forget my first multicultural reading, in Harvard Square about 10 years ago. We were three writers, one from the Philippines, one Turkish and one Indonesian … And the reason why we were brought together was not because we shared an artistic style or a literary taste. It was only because of our passports. Multicultural writers are expected to tell real stories, not so much the imaginary.
The real insult isn’t that Penguin thinks positive discrimination in favour of minorities will mean they publish better content, but that minorities are only allowed to write about themselves.