More than a fifth of writers shortlisted for UK literary awards were black in 2020 | Race


More than a fifth of writers shortlisted for UK Literary Awards last year were black, a turnaround for an industry in which no black author was shortlisted in four of the years between 1996 and 2009.

In 1996, there was not a single black author shortlisted in the price lists analyzed by The Guardian, but that figure has risen to 21% in 2020.

The gradual improvement in the diversity of shortlists follows years of anger and frustration with the UK publishing industry, which has been criticized for its inability to tackle racial inequality.

Literary awards have diversified over the years.

Backlash against the lack of diversity in UK publishing escalated during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, which were the biggest anti-racist mobilisations in British history.

The Guardian examined the racial diversity of the list of top eight literary awards between 1996 and 2020; including the Booker Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Folio Prize, the Orwell Book Prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize, the Dylan Thomas International Prize, the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Prizes (including the First Costa novel, the Costa novel award, the Costa biography award, the Costa poetry award, and the Costa award for children).

Overall, black authors made up 6% of shortlisted authors in the UK’s top literary awards over the past 25 years. Over the same 25-year period, black Britons made up 3.1% of the shortlisted nominees.

The percentage of black and ethnic minority (BAME) authors increased from 4.65% in 1996 to 34.25% in 2020.

What is the diversity of literary prizes?

Between 1996 and 2020, there were 1,357 entries, including 82 black authors (7.1%). During the years 1996, 2001, 2002 and 2009, no black author was shortlisted for any of the awards. The 2009 preselections did not include the Dylan Thomas Award and the Folio Award.

The analysis shows that disparities remain between prices, with some prices announcing more diversified preselections than others.

The most diverse award for black nominations was the Dylan Thomas Award, the top prize for young writers, with black authors making up 15.28% of the shortlist. The award was also the most diverse for BAME authors, accounting for 29.17% of shortlisted entries.

The least diverse award for BAME entries was the Carnegie Medal, where only 6% of those shortlisted were BAME authors.

The Carnegie Medal, the UK’s oldest children’s book award, was criticized for its lack of diversity in 2018.

Between 1996 and 2017, Malorie Blackman was the only black author shortlisted for the award out of 150 authors. Between 2018 and 2021, after making an effort to increase racial diversity, black authors made up 37.5% of shortlisted nominees.

In 2015, novelists Sunny Singh and Nikesh Shukla launched the Jhalak Prize, awarded annually to a writer of color with the Book of the Year, after a backlash against the lack of diversity in award nominations.

Singh advised people to be cautious about the results. She called for a breakdown of the number of shortlisted BAME authors who were UK or long-time residents, and for a more in-depth analysis of the number of authors who won the award.

She said: “The Carnegie Medal to this day, 84 years later, has still failed to be awarded to a black British writer or a British writer of color. What’s going on?

Nominations through eight literary awards

“I think the problem is that as long as the publishing industry and the literary establishment see inclusion as an issue, see fairness as an issue, on any axis, not just race, sex, sexuality, class and disability… we will not go beyond. the superficial thing of some sort of tokenism where it’s the boxes that are checked, and then they can move on.

She added, however, that the past year had been a “watershed moment” in tackling racial inequalities in the industry. “It’s just like there are a lot more of us speaking out and speaking out, pushing in the same direction and doing it publicly than they were five years ago.”

After the protests of June 2020, Bernardine Evaristo and Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first black British women to top the UK charts for fictional and non-fiction paperbacks. The then newly formed Black Writers’ Guild (BWG) wrote an open letter in which it feared that UK publishers “are raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own.”

That same year, the Booker Prize announced its most racially diverse list to date. Evaristo became the first black British writer to win the award, which she shared with Margaret Atwood.


The Guardian researched each individual listed, looking at pictures and references on how each author identifies. In cases where a person’s ethnicity was unclear, additional checks were made to determine how the perpetrator said they identified themselves, which may include speaking to the perpetrator in question.

The overall proportion of black authors – 6.2% – is based on the number of nominees, meaning that the same author could be counted more than once. The equivalent figure for the number of individual black authors is 6.5%.

Between 1996 and 2020, some of the individual years during this period did not have all of the prices listed, as some did not occur in certain years.

Double-authored books were counted as a single author, as none of the double-authored books had authors from different ethnicities.


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