In 2016, Robyn Travis published the book Mama Can’t Raise No Man. At its launch, he spoke powerfully about being a black fiction author. His publisher said he was likely the only Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) debut author to be published that year.
That is shocking, but sadly not surprising. You cannot be what you cannot see is a cliché, but it may have some truth in it. Only one per cent of children’s books contain a BAME main character. Of those, most focus on issues around social justice or contemporary realism. Only one is a comedy. These statistics hint at a narrative in which BAME identity rarely appears or when it does, it is only in association with suffering.
This narrative does not seem to improve when children reach young adult fiction. Only eight per cent of young adult fiction authors are BAME.
This narrative needs to change, and BAME influencers are stepping forward to make it happen. Cue Stormzy.
The Croydon-born rapper was the first artist to have a grime album top the UK charts with his debut Gang Signs and Prayers. Stormzy was GQ man of the year in 2017 and this year he is headlining Glastonbury, making him the first grime artist ever to take to the Pyramid Stage.
Stormzy is using his influence to raise up other BAME young people into positions that may otherwise not be available to them. Last year he announced the launch of scholarships for BAME people applying to Cambridge University.
This year Stormzy is doing what he can to tackle the lack of diversity in the publishing industry. He has teamed up with Penguin Random House to launch the imprint #Merky Books. The first book published under #Merky Books was Stormzy’s own story Rise Upand they are looking for new writers.
They have launched an exciting competition, which is open to writers aged between 16 and 30. Entrants will be shortlisted on 2ndMay. All those who get through to this stage will have the opportunity to attend a free workshop hosted by Penguin on writing and publishing. The winner will then be announced in June and will be given a publishing contract with #Merky Books.
Stormzy said: “I know too many talented writers that don’t always have an outlet or a means to get their work seen and hopefully #Merky Books can now be a reference point for them to say ‘I can be an author’ and for that to be a realistic and achievable goal. Reading and writing as a kid was integral to where I am today and I, from the bottom of my heart, cannot wait to hear your stories and get them out into the big wide world.”