A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

SBWN & EDI Scotland Publish Literary Sector Survey Results

Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) and EDI Scotland publish literary sector survey results on the perceptions and experiences of Black and PoC* writers in and from Scotland.
“What are we, as a sector, doing to support and inspire current and future generations of Scottish and Scotland-based Black and PoC* writers?”
“Actionable change is still needed to address systemic barriers for Black and PoC* writers in Scotland.”

In March 2021, Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) partnered with EDI Scotland for their second annual survey on perceptions and experiences of Black and PoC writers in and from Scotland. This survey aimed to assess gaps, absences, and barriers to participation in Scotland’s literary sector; to help SBWN plan inclusive programming in 2021 and beyond; and was a follow up to build on the findings in their 2020 report. They also wanted to ask: “What are we, as a sector, doing to support and inspire current and future generations of Scottish and Scotland-based Black and PoC writers?”

The report reveals numerous facets that make Scotland’s literary sector vital and meaningful for underrepresented communities. However, the research also exposes challenges around: event and programming access, career development, performing and publishing. These results, collated and presented by EDI Scotland, challenge both SBWN and the wider sector to consider who they are and are not reaching.

Key findings from respondents include:

  • 68.3% strongly agreed that SBWN had increased the visibility of writers of colour in Scotland.
  • 70.7% strongly agreed that SBWN had exposed them to a greater diversity of writers of colour in Scotland.
  • 21.4% had experienced a racist incident at a literary event or activity in the past 12 months.
  • 81.8% had experience of mental health problems or mental distress.
  • 28.8% identified as disabled, with a further 9.6% of respondents unsure.
  • 78.9% disagreed or strongly disagreed that white Scottish audiences were aware of the diversity of writers of colour in Scotland.
  • 13.0% had not yet published work.
  • 38.9% had not read their work at a public event (venue-based or digital) in the past three years.
  • 79.0% disagreed or strongly disagreed that people of colour and white Scottish people have equal opportunities to succeed in Scotland’s literary sector.

Several respondents commented on the whiteness of cultural events and activities, particularly outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow and an expectation to share racial trauma. Many also requested that SBWN facilitate mentorship opportunities and/or a buddy scheme.

Recommendations for SBWN includes:

  • Continue to provide opportunities for publication and performance, particularly for writers at the start of their career.
  • Explore ways to provide or facilitate mentorship opportunities and/or a buddy scheme among members.
  • Provide opportunities for members to receive informal feedback on their work, this might also include feedback on applications and submissions.

Recommendations for the literary sector includes:

  • Develop events and activities for writers of colour outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example, the continuation of online events and activities when in-person events and activities are permitted to restart.
  • Facilitate opportunities for writers of colour in Scotland to showcase their work with international audiences outside of Scotland.
  • Better engage white Scottish audiences in the work of writers of colour in Scotland, without burdening writers with the responsibility to ‘educate others’.
  • Challenge views that suggest diversity and quality are incompatible or that writers of colour are invited to participate in literary events and activities to satisfy diversity requirements.
  • Increase the representation and visibility of people of colour in senior positions in Scotland’s literary sector.

Jeda Pearl Lewis, Co-Director (Writer Development, Access and Communications), said: “The results underscore the needs of our community and invigorate SBWN to continue and deepen our intersectional approach to advocacy and professional development for Black and PoC writers. We are committed to improving accessibility, facilitating peer mentoring, diversifying genres covered and being mindful of mental health wellbeing in all our activities.”

Dean Atta, Co-Director (Festivals, Partnerships and Editorial), said: “We will further develop our successful collaborations and welcome new partnerships with literary organisations within and outwith Scotland who are committed to actionable change that addresses systemic barriers for Black and PoC writers and individuals working in the literary sector.” – 

Mae Diansangu, Programme Manager (Community and Events), commented: “Neither Scottish BAME Writers Network, nor this survey, claim to speak on behalf of the entire Black and PoC literary sector in Scotland. We are a network of uniquely diverse and individual writers, performers, editors, readers, publishers, programmers and book lovers. We come from different racial backgrounds, ethnic and cultural groups, faiths, classes, sexualities, genders; some of us are disabled and/or live with chronic illness, some of us are carers.” 

“Some of us were born in Scotland or have spent our whole lives here, while some of us come from around the world and have made our home in Scotland. One of the major experiences we do share, and what both surveys aim to demonstrate, is the experience of having our identities (including our bodies, histories, and narratives) racialised within the environment of the literary sector, ” said Titi Farukuoye, Programme Manager (Community and Events)

Kelly Kanayama, Admin and Media Support, said: “While our data set is relatively small (n=57) we hope to continuously receive more survey participants as our community and networks develop. Through our events, publishing, partnerships, advocacy and professional development activities, we have worked directly with over 100 Black and PoC writers and we are especially grateful for each person who took the time to complete this survey and share their experiences.” 

“This report is a guide, to further open up the conversations, programming and opportunities around inclusion and career progression, plus to find and put into action the systemic changes needed to address barriers for Black people and people of colour working in Scotland’s literary world,” said Alycia Pirmohamad, Co-Founder and Advisor

Read the survey report as a PDF here or as a read-only Word document here.

*PoC stands for ‘People of colour.’ Our aim was to gather responses from people within the Scottish literary sector who are racialised and who identify as Black or a person of colour. We use the term ‘Black and PoC writers’ to include Scottish and Scotland-based people with heritages from African, Caribbean, Latinx, First Nation, South Asian, East Asian, South East Asian and West Asian diasporas including people who identify as ‘mixed-race’ or multiple heritage. Survey respondents who only identified as white were filtered out of these results. As an organisation, while we use the term BAME, we acknowledge the limitations of this terminology. At the core of our network, we address and overcome systemic barriers that our members face directly or indirectly based on their ethnic or national identities, race or perceived racial identities, or the colour of their skin as per the Equality Act of 2010.

Contacts:

Jeda Pearl Lewis and Dean Atta, Co-Directors (ScotBAMEWriters@gmail.com)

Kevin Guyan (EDIScotland@outlook.com)

About EDI Scotland

EDI Scotland provides research and data consultancy on issues related to equality, diversity and inclusion in Scotland. Data, research and evidence-based solutions are powerful tools in the fight against injustice and inequality. EDI Scotland promotes robust research with a radical edge and works with organisations (big and small) to make Scotland a fairer place for everyone. EDI Scotland is directed by Dr Kevin Guyan, a mixed methods researcher based in Edinburgh with over a decade of research experience across academia, higher education and the voluntary sector. Find out more: @EDIScotland; https://kevinguyan.com/EDIScotland/

About Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN)

Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) is an advocacy and professional development group for writers who identify as Black or PoC* with a connection to Scotland. SBWN was founded in 2018 by Alycia Pirmohamed and Jay G Ying and aims to connect Scottish Black and PoC writers with the wider literary sector in Scotland and beyond. Weaving together collaborative literary partnerships, cross-arts co-creation and an intersectional approach to inclusive and participatory programming, SBWN is a sector change-maker, facilitating necessary conversations around inclusive programming in an effort to address and overcome systemic barriers.

Professional development programming includes publishing and performance opportunities, workshops, masterclasses, curatorial roles, training and seminars, industry panels and partnerships, feedback and mentoring. 2020-21 partners include HarperCollins, Scottish Book Trust, National Library of Scotland, PEN, National Galleries of Scotland, StAnza Poetry Festival, Wigtown Book Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, British Council; and key programmes include Writers of Colour writing group and anthology led by Hannah Lavery, the annual Professional Development and Networking Conference, and ‘Metaphors for a Black Future’ curated by Martha Adonai Williams.

Run by writers of colour for writers of colour, and informed by member surveys, consultation and feedback, SBWN uplifts, validates and provides safer spaces for marginalised voices, nurturing and promoting the current and next generations of Black and POC writers based in Scotland.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: @ScotBAMEwriters

Website: http://scottishbamewritersnetwork.org/

June 2, 2021

LAS welcomes Super Power Agency & Scottish BAME Writers’ Network to membership

We’re delighted to announce that The Super Power Agency and The Scottish BAME Writers’ Network, have joined LAS as a Network Associate and Full Member, respectively. We’re looking forward to working with both these fantastic organisations and their teams more closely.

The Super Power Agency (SPA) is working with Scotland’s most disadvantaged and under-resourced young people aged 8-18 years to change the statistic that one quarter of all Scots pupils, leave primary school functionally illiterate. Their creative writing workshops, interdisciplinary programmes, and mentoring make learning fun. They encourage pupils to put pen to paper, build their writing skills and express themselves with confidence. Currently partnered with 12 schools, SPA volunteers share their time and talent to support the work of young writers, teachers and youth workers. Ultimately, they’d like to bring their writing workshops to schools and communities throughout Scotland. SPA is dedicated to showcasing the written works of the young people who take part in their projects and have already published eighteen books of their writing through their own imprint Super Power Books. One of the first ‘The Leither’s Guide to Leith’ is now housed in the archives of the National Library of Scotland – quite an accomplishment for its young authors. SPA can be found on: Twitter @superpow3; Instagram:@Superpoweragency; Facebook: @superpoweragency; and LinkedIn: Superpoweragency

The Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) provides advocacy, literary and professional development networking opportunities for BAME writers based in or from Scotland. Since 2018 they have worked to facilitate necessary conversations around inclusive programming in an effort to overcome systemic barriers that BAME writers often face. As an organisation run by people of colour SBWN prioritises BAME-led opportunities and are keen to spotlight and promote the diverse literary voices in Scotland while remaining as accessible as possible to marginalised groups. SBWN can be found on Twitter @ScotBAMEwriters

 

August 3, 2020

Landmark survey on perceptions & experiences of Scotland’s BAME writers

In spring 2020, Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) partnered with EDI Scotland to gather the perceptions and experiences of BAME writers in and from Scotland. This survey aimed to assess gaps, absences, and barriers to participation in Scotland’s literary sector, and to help SBWN plan inclusive programming during their pilot programme and beyond. Following SBWN’s Call to Action to the literary sector in June, the SBWN survey results further highlight the need for lasting change.

Key findings from respondents include:

  • 62.5% felt that their ethnic identity or race had been a barrier to success in Scotland’s literary sector (within the past 12 months).
  • 26.7% had experienced a racist incident at a literary event or activity in the past 12 months.
  • 68.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed that Scottish books, journals, and literary publications reflect the diversity of Scotland.
  • 71.9% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ‘I am aware of the diversity of BAME writers that exist in Scotland’.
  • 84.8% overwhelmingly disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, ‘White Scottish audiences are aware of the diversity of BAME writers that exist in Scotland’.
  • 78.2% disagreed or strongly disagreed that BAME and white Scottish people have equal opportunities to succeed in Scotland’s literary sector.

Several respondents commented on the issues of organisations excluding local BAME artists, saying it risked a “systemic erasure of this history in Scotland” and “institutions and festivals do not pay enough attention to BAME artists from working-class communities in Scotland.”

For those who had experienced racist incidents and microaggressions at literary events, several respondents noted the failure of event chairs or facilitators to adequately address the situation when it occurred. Further comments highlighted the additional emotional labour often involved when performing or talking about their work.

Three respondents mentioned that literary opportunities were improving for BAME people. However, the results highlight there are still significant and systematic barriers in place.

The full survey report includes recommendations to the sector. Click here to read it. A few select responses are shown below.

  • Provide more developmental support to emerging BAME writers.
  • “Ensure a diversity of BAME writers, including local and working-class BAME writers, are represented through events and activities” and avoid recreating the “same cliques or gated spaces that BAME writers might experience in the wider literary sector”.
  • “Challenge views that suggest diversity and quality are incompatible.”
  • “Upskill literary event chairs and facilitators to challenge microaggressions, inappropriate questions and abuse directed at panellist and performers.”
  • “For white senior figures in Scotland’s literary sector, take responsibility to address inequalities in the literary sector and do not place this onus on BAME people.”

The survey results may be read in tandem with the recent Rethinking Diversity in Publishing report (The Bookseller, Goldsmiths, University of London, Spread the Word), also published this month.

Read the full report here. 

Information reproduced from the Scottish BAME Writers’ Network press release. 

July 9, 2020

LAS supports sector call-to-action

Literature Alliance Scotland (LAS) is proud to collaborate with the Scottish BAME Writers’ Network and we support their Call to Action to the Scottish Literary sector.

We believe that Black Lives Matter, and we know that words alone are not enough.

That’s why we’re committing to working with our members on developing an action plan that will make real changes in actively addressing racial inequalities and structural privilege in Scotland’s Literature, Languages and Publishing sector.

As part of this, we’re reviewing our own structures and reflecting on how we can ensure that Black voices and people of colour are included in decision-making positions at LAS.

We can all do better and we must.

 

 

June 12, 2020

Headline notes on Turning the Next Page – LAS Sector Away Day

We were delighted to welcome 65 people from all walks of literary life to our Sector Away Day in sunny Dundee on 1 October, including writers, publishers, literary agents, literature organisations, festival programmers – not to mention 10-week-old baby Sophia with mum Rachel Humphries currently on maternity leave from Moniack Mhor.

The day has been described as a fascinating, informal and welcoming and we’re very grateful to all the speakers and delegates for their contribution.

Below are the headline notes from the day, including Valentina’s excellent round-up of the key issues highlighted in the roundtable discussions.

We asked for input from delegates and LAS Members on which 3 priorities to focus on as outcomes to develop for 2020. The majority consensus is: 1) Diversity, Equality & Access; 2) Payment and 3) Climate Emergency.

Headline Notes

Morning sessions

WELCOME

LAS Chair Peggy Hughes opened the event very positively, by showing LAS’ strengths: our openness and willingness to share our knowledge, as well as our concrete actions, which she returned to later in the AGM. Through our open meetings and our current initiatives, we encourage co-operation and collaborative working. Peggy mentioned the work of ROAR in promoting gender equality, as well as our willingness to listen to our sector, diversifying and amplifying our work through meetings and with our network of writers, including our Writers’ Advisory Group represented on the day by Maisie Chan and Heather Palmer.


Director of Scottish Poetry Library Asif Khan’s reading of ‘Mary Shelley on Broughty Ferry Beach’ by Robert Crawford from Whaleback City and his discussion on Shelley showed the way in which this city has inspired “the aery flights of imagination.”

 

Literature in Dundee – Dr Erin Farley, local historian, storyteller and library worker

Erin addressed these ‘aery flights of imagination’ with aplomb in her opening address, citing how literature is part of the landscape, is social and inventive – this city, where “landscape, memory and people are intimately connected”:

  • Dundee has a vibrant literary history
  • Literature is social – citing examples of the Green H, a sign of the Hopscotch literary group meeting; Scrieve, Dundee’s new monthly playwriting scratch night; and Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities, a snapshot of a selection of writing from one city at one time as chosen by a guest-editor (Erin Farley).
  • Literature works example of Dundonian poet, songwriter, weaver and activist Mary Brooksbank
  • Stories will always be in fashion
  • Dundee’s literature belongs to everyone and is open to everyone to participate in.

 

Keynote speaker Laura Brown – writer, editor and former Editor-in-Chief of Comics at DC Thomson

Laura’s account of her nimble career in future-proofing, through keeping abreast with the things that keep people buying magazines was inspiring:

  • Stories are what matter, whether that’s the Beano or pricey hardback fiction
  • The future is so out of date so quickly
  • Focus on what we do best: telling stories; we peddle the exteriors so the interiors can be experienced
  • Future-proofing is more about keeping the best bits of what works while adapting to tech and social change, rather than chasing fads
  • In literature you’ve got bold thinkers, you’ve got innovation
  • In terms of future-proofing, literature is already embracing new technology and new formats. You make an event out of a book. We (in magazines) have a lot to learn from you.

‘NEXT’ PRACTICE

Breakout discussion – how do we tackle key sector issues on- and off-line? Facilitated by LAS Trustees with the 6 key topics highlighted in the ‘What’s Next?’ session below.

 

Literature Talks launch: ‘On A Lifetime of Ticking Boxes’ by Chitra Ramaswamy, award-winning journalist and author.

You could hear a pin drop as Chitra read out her deeply personal and incredibly powerful essay on diversity in literature and publishing. Read it here: http://bit.ly/ChitraRamaswamy

 

Afternoon sessions

LITERATURE ALLIANCE SCOTLAND AGM

Download the AGM papers.

 

QUICK-FIRE KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE, chaired by Ali Bowden

Upcoming literary anniversaries – Daniel Cook, Head of English at University of Dundee

 

VisitScotland’s Year of Coast & Waters 2020 and Year of Scotland’s Stories 2022 – Marie Christie, Head of Development – Events Industry 

  • Opportunities for promotion, celebration, participation, collaboration and industry engagement
  • Chances to spotlight and celebrate Scotland, in all its particulars and diversity
  • See the slides here.

 

Scottish Books International – Sasha de Buyl, Manager

  • An outline of SBI’s strategic plan for activity for the next 14-month period, including aims to empower Scotland to connect with international literary ecologies
  • Core aim is to act as a connecting force for Scottish books and writing around the world
  • Three pillars of Informing, Connecting and Growth
  • The plan intends to raise awareness of Scottish books and writing overseas, connect our publishers, writers and organisations with international partners and to create an infrastructure for sustained development in the longer term.
  • Newsletter launched
  • Online opportunities page coming
  • News and blog section aimed at outward-looking writers/publishers
  • SBI website is a shop window for Scottish writing
  • The aim is to develop an international database
  • Germany is the focus for 2020 with plans for market insight seminars, inbound delegation to Germany and delegations of Scottish writers to German literary festivals with a tie-in to Scottish Book Festivals
  • Plan is to scope current knowledge via a survey with the aim of developing a road map for growth
  • See the slides here.

 

Open Book on outreach/ building networks – Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Co-Founder and Development Director 

  • Advantages of shared reading – without homework – through reading aloud together with a paired poem and then take participants to see authors at literary festivals
  • Objective and aspiration to allow lots of people to have access to a book who might not otherwise
  • Valuing of diversity in authors – allowing groups to own their own sessions from Stranraer to Eyemouth to Shetland
  • Building connections through reading workshops in prisons, healthcare, community, libraries and with people who have vision problems, who have English as a second language, with refugee women and children
  • Participants are more confident and connected at the end of the session

 

Lighthouse Bookshop on working with industry and beyond – Mairi Oliver, owner

  • The bookshop has a key role in the literary landscape
  • Sell books <–> build community
  • Bookshops are the interface between authors, publishers and readers – and performers too
  • Met young poets and people of colour through Intercultural Youth Scotland who use the space of the bookshop for their events
  • Book Fringe collaboration with Golden Hare Books
  • Link with Zines offering both artistic and literary collaborations and connections
  • Great advice: find local bookshops, meet passionate people and hold events.

 

The Scottish BAME Writers’ Network – Jeda Lewis 

  • Jeda offered to give an impromptu talk on the Network as co-founder Jay G Ying was ill
  • Advocacy role of writers of colour with a connection to Scotland
  • Creating a community and space where everything goes with no need to self-censor
  • promoting work, and making opportunities with literary events for
  • Launch of Ceremony on 15 Oct – a new pamphlet featuring 15 writers from the BAME Writers’ Group who met at Scottish Poetry Library
  • Panel at Golden Hare Books Festival on Fri 18 Oct
  • Network event on 23 November in Edinburgh

A Vision for Change – Creative Scotland

Mairi Kidd, Head of Literature, Languages & Publishing at Creative Scotland along with her team members Harriet MacMillan, Viccy Adam and Alan Bett.

  • Responsive talk on our ‘Literature Ecosystem’
  • Shared their thinking on Is literature in an ‘Equalities Emergency’ and welcome challenge on this topic
  • How do we understand and tackle barriers?
  • How do we move past diversity initiatives to sustained change?
  • Why do we (sometimes) find the discussion threatening and how can we change that?
  • Encouraging and inviting us to contribute to their work in progress
  • We need a fundamental change in the way we work together as a sector
  • What is the product of a not-for-profit sector?
  • How do we understand what value for money looks like?
  • We need to move beyond the well-intentioned outreach model, and the idea quality & diversity are separate, to make sure that benefit it given back to everyone who lives and works in Scotland.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

Priorities from breakout discussion with Valentina Bold, LAS Co-Vice Chair

The following priorities came out of the breakout discussion in the morning session. We asked for input from delegates and LAS Members on which 3 priorities to focus on as outcomes to develop for 2020. The majority consensus was for 1) Diversity Equality & Accessibility; 2) Payment and 3) Climate emergency, including festivals.

Diversity, Equality & Accessibility (events)

  • Respect the author
  • Ensure quality of experience
  • Deploy sensitivity readers (more than once)
  • Embrace diversity but be critical
  • Need for Scottish data
  • Ensure equality in income
  • Listen and be open to those affected
  • Possibility of Citizens’ Assembly model
  • Travel grants needed
  • Sign language
  • Share resources
  • Break down hierarchies
  • Give writers time/space – a longer vision

Suggested actions:

Diversity – advocacy, support, sensitivity.

Equality –  advocacy, practice.

Accessibility –  survey LAS members, members to include accessibility info on websites, invite speaker on accessibility to next LAS meeting.

Payment

  • Reduce expectation of work for free (anthology / events)
  • Use Scottish Book Trust Live Literature rates as a starting point

Suggested actions – advocacy, show good practice, payment as the norm.

Festivals

  • Be green (keep control if poss, not always poss [venues])
  • Adopt carbon reduction plans
  • Avoid branded merchandise (often not sustainable)
  • Reduce meat/dairy
  • Support local writers
  • Involve Creative Carbon Scotland
  • Carbon off-set flights
  • Ensure diversity in programming

Suggested actions – advocacy, build knowledge

Climate emergency

Action: Consider the following

  • Travel in Scotland / international
  • Technological issues – potential for access.

Data sharing

To include:

  • Insights
  • Trends
  • Book sales
  • Tourism
  • And reservations – social media: take care with pronouns

Suggested actions: Consider how we do this already; how can we be innovative; offer social media training sessions through LAS.

Resilience

  • Need for flexibility
  • Amplifying Scottish voices
  • Open Book model – support writers in getting voices heard
  • Developing community
  • Exploring what is ‘Scottish literature’ for diverse voices & experiences (language, ethnicity)
  • Avoid no-platforming and censorship
  • Stop ideological divides

Suggested actions – next steps, future-proofing.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 18, 2019