Discussions of diversity and inclusion at BookUp Online


Champions for inclusion and diversity in the local publishing domain spoke as part of BookUp Online, in a wide-ranging conversation ahead of publication of this year’s Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship report.

Radhiah Chowdhury, the 2019-20 Beatrice Davis Fellow and Commissioning Editor and Senior Audio Producer at Penguin Random House Australia & New Zealand was joined in conversation by black&write! editor Grace Lucas-Pennington, facilitated by Albert Street Books publisher Susannah Chambers, to discuss important and complex matters relating to diversity in the local and overseas publishing industries. 

A screenshot of the BookUp 2020 online event. Susannah Chambers, Radhiah Chowdhury, and Grace Lucas-Pennington each appear in separate webcam boxes.
This conversation is frank and full of advice on how the publishing industry can grow to be a more open, welcoming, receptive and non-tokenistic place for people of colour. Two areas are canvassed: human resources and title lists, and the discussion is a must-watch for all leaders in the Australian publishing sector. 


Following research conducted as part of her Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship, Chowdhury shared an update from speaking with people of colour in the UK publishing industry, right about the time of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their experiences include fatigue in constantly pointing to a lack of diversity and racial bias in the workplace, being held to account for the success or lack there-of for a “diverse title” that they have backed for publication; and being co-opted in to communications exercises to promote that their workplace is “diverse” simply by hiring them. 

Lucas-Pennington speaks about the purpose and work of the black&write! program for authors and editors, including the benefit of mentorships. The conversation touched on the value of knowing you can sound out your day with someone who understands your perspective, and how this process is able to bolster one's confidence. As Susannah puts it, the benefits of having an “unquestioning ally” to confide in. 

The conversation acknowledges that there is “a lot of goodwill from people in the industry”, but observes that people are so afraid of getting it wrong, offending people of colour and perhaps having their reputations tarnished in doing so. The underrepresentation of diverse people in the publishing industry is a “symptom of the country,” says Lucas-Pennington. 

There was encouragement to do what publishers do best, and that is be willing to take risks. Other calls to action are to invest in resources, be open to deeply listening and engaging with staff and audiences, having goals to reduce potential bias, be transparent and work towards fortifying the industry.

If you’re curious about how publishers can possibly be using a “Pokemon” approach to hiring more diversely, then it's all the more reason you should watch this conversation back

Radhiah’s report titled “It’s hard to be what you can’t see: Diversity Within Australian Publishing”, will be published in early November 2020, while more information on the Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship can be found here. Members can watch back this and other BookUp Online sessions here.

These events as part of BookUp Online have been made possible by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, and BookUp will return in April 2021 with plans for both an in-person and online conference ahead of Sydney Writers Festival. 


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