Standing in the Sun

I’ve forgotten how to deal with UK weather.

I spent three weeks after my dissertation hand-in in Trinidad and Tobago. It was the first time I had been back since I went with my dad to bury my grandma. It had been seven years- for perspective: at my grandma’s funeral, my cousin Dominique was five or six month pregnant- two weeks ago, I was getting called “Aunty Fifi” by several new (second) cousins under the age of six.

It was a moment of celebration. When I graduated my BA, my dad took me to Malta for a fortnight and we enjoyed a little bit of European sunshine while we could. MA completion got a level-up for vacation, and timing was perfect. My mum’s birthday was in October and she wanted to spend it with her family, we also wanted to travel somewhere and see family without the sad knowledge that we were also there to say goodbye to someone who had only been a collection of pixels on our screen as we face-timed or a voice on the phone that sometimes cut out due to connectivity issues.

My grandpa was in the family home my mother grew up in. He was planting all sorts of fruits and vegetables that would make their way to our table, and he was also taming a wild squirrel who know has their own dining plate on the mango tree overlooking the football field. Every morning I had omelettes or hard dough bread with butter and cheese, or just whole avocados sprinkled with salt and fresh lime from the tree in grandpa’s growing garden. The whole time we were there it was changing, air conditioning, building plans proposed, rooms becoming fully furnished, I got to see my mum project her vision on what a true family house could be for everyone who stepped into the house escaping from the cold countries that they’d all migrated towards for opportunity.

Every day, I spent at hours in the sun. Reading, walking, talking, sitting, playing.

And I was wearing bug repellant because those damned mosquitoes followed me around singing “fresh blood! fresh blood!” in my ears morning, noon and night, while leaving my cousins the locals alone for the time being. Everything tasted like the sunshine, the coconut bake, the coconut, the fruit, the cakes and sweets that my grandpa would call me over to taste with a smile wide on his face. When I looked into the mirror I could see the proof that the Caribbean sun was cooking me to the perfect shade of a rich brown that I was supposed to be as dictated by my genetic make-up and erasing the sickly yellow-looking tone that I’d gotten from too many years under overcast skies.

Then, three weeks later. After a slew of birthdays, weddings, cousin introductions and a mini-vacation to Tobago… I had to say goodbye. Again.

The day we left, my Aunty Yvonne joked “I don’t know why you’re spending time inside. Shouldn’t you be outside soaking up the sun?” She was right.

Even now I regret that I didn’t spend more time soaking up the sunlight, basking like a lizard in the driveway with maybe a sorrel shandy or a bowl of mango chow.

Things are darker quicker. The sun feels so weak in comparison, even when magnified through the glass of my bedroom window. The wind isn’t a comfort when it passes and sets the cold back into me. The sky is grey, even when it’s not “overcast” in comparison to the blues and pinks and oranges I used to see from the front porch at my mother’s side. The food doesn’t taste as delicious.

It is winter, and Christmas is approaching.

I’ve been working two temp jobs that require me to be indoors for most of the time that I’m awake. I only see the sun when I’m coming home mid-morning from my night shift and in the early afternoon as I get ready for a full shift at my other job. The brown shade I acquired is fading, though I’m still not as pale as I once was.

Most of all, I miss standing in the sun and the connective feeling it inspired deep down in my being to the land that my parents affectionately call “home” all these decades after leaving.

Halfway Through #DiverseDecember

Applying to my MA course I started my cover letter with this sentence:

I am a black girl who loves to read… and I’m also a black girl who has been let down by the industry that provides the majority of her entertainment.

The lack of racial diversity the entire industry is a big problem in my opinion. There are only so many books you can read searching for representation, eventually swearing off of books because they’re not for people like you. It’s alienating as a reader to be repeatedly shown you are unimportant and invisible in fictional worlds, especially if reading is an escape from those Real Life Problems™️.

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Source: TheDailyDoodles.com

We’ve been talking in lectures about the evolution of Publishing as a whole. As a Publisher, my job will be to acquire content, manipulate the content and attempt to make a profit. It sounds like a simple enough business model right? And despite this, there are still large audiences who are not being catered to.

This is where #DiverseDecember comes in. It’s now been officially over two weeks since I found out about this twitter campaign (I can’t believe it’s halfway done)… So I want to talk about the difference it has made in my To Read List and the importance of campaigns promoting diversity in Publishing like We Need Diverse Books, Diverse YA, Creative Access and  Inclusive Minds.

BAME Authors, like BAME students in a majority-white class, are pigeonholed and made the “go-to” spokesperson for their entire race and culture. Like, how stressful is that- carrying an entire race and culture on your shoulders? They’re criticized for writing  or talking too much about race and they’re criticized for not writing or talking enough about race.

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“What’s the Black POV on [topic]?” or “This race-thing again?”
 Marlon James recently said in an article for the Guardian Books that BAME writers, if they want to succeed have to pander to the views of publisher’s main consumers (middle class white women). Which then leads writers to fall into the trap of the single narrative that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned us of, in order to succeed. I’m talking acacia trees and sunsets, rastafarians, steel pans and lounging in hammocks, curries, arranged marriages and “mythical” religions, martial arts, “weird” delicacies and lotus blossoms… You see what I’m getting to right?

Like #ReadWomen2014, the hashtag is about promoting different kinds of reading. #ReadWomen2014 was about reading more books from female authors, because despite the fact that the majority of the industry audience and workers are female, the most celebrated writers are often men. For example, YA literature is full of female writers, and yet John Green has been labeled the savior or “crown prince” of the genre.

#DiverseDecember was started by bloggers Naomi Frisby and Dan Lipscomb with the aim to celebrate the work of BAME writers, encourage people to read diversely and to “spread the joy of stories”. The twitter page and hashtag is full of people recommending their favourite classic and contemporary authors of colour, authors and stories from around the globe, other campaigns promoting diversity in publishing and stories about BAME-centric literary projects like Nikesh Shula’s upcoming letter collection “The Good Immigrant” and the fact that Nosy Crow is currently accepting submissions from BAME authors. For someone who used to struggle finding particular authors, the hashtag is a god send. It is so wonderful to see people promoting books that they have loved and want to share with others.

The importance of hearing BAME voices in literature is for more than just having a wider selection of reading. It’s a positive affirmation of my Black-British existence. In my youth I often felt as though I didn’t really have a place in this country, or the one my parents immigrated from.  Learning of the history of your country, and finding out that the only way you are connected through it is through the effects of conquest in the name of Empire, is not the one. I’m sure that many BAME readers must have felt the same kind of disconnect, and campaigns like this only serve to bring us closer to each other and our dual-identities.

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Change doesn’t have to be completely radical, the Publishing Industry isn’t going to get diverse in the snap of our fingers. We can’t collect all seven Dragonballs and ask Shenron to grant our wish… Marketing doesn’t have to be a pushing tactic- it’s easier to pull in this case, as I’ve learned from the last guest speaker of the term- Sam Missingham (the queen of twitter).

The audience is here. We’re identifying ourselves as potential customers.

We’re just waiting for someone to point us in the direction of something we would enjoy. Most of the time, its a close friend or relative- but what if it was direct from the source?

Imagine the profits.

Imagine the books (and apps, and events and the potential for other media tie-ins!).

Imagine the audience returning time and time again because they know you are serving up exactly what they’re looking for?

Yes, I’m thinking about #DiverseDecember from a Publishing Student point of view right now. But a year ago, when I had just graduated, all I wanted to do was read books for and about people who looked like me. As a consumer, I am grateful for this campaign because I’m finally seeing myself as part of the process, and part of the story.

“Literature as bright as the Moon”

Kamaria Press Logo

In my lectures, we are always talking about how those who work in the Publishing Industry are the “gate-keepers” of culture and the “taste-makers”. While boasting the title of The Industry most populated by women in comparison to other professions, there is still under-representation in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. It’s no longer difficult for me to find a book with a deeply complicated female lead, but as a reader and a lover of books, it is still disheartening to struggle so hard to find myself reflected physically and culturally in literature without having my identity as a black woman reduced to a cheap 2-D stereotype…

Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Kamaria Press, Grace-Emmanuelle Kabeya  (born of Congo and more widely travelled than anyone I’ve known) felt the same way. At twenty years of age she is already being the change she wants to see in the world, and please pardon my use of a tired cliché, but there is no other way to describe what she has achieved in the past year while still studying at University (she’s clearly saturated in that Black Girl Magic).

So what can I say about Kamaria Press?

Other than to compliment the name choice as though I would when introduced to a new baby. “Kamaria” means “As bright as the moon” in Swahili, and honestly its a surprise that with my book of African baby names, one of my future daughters hasn’t already been blessed with this parental dream. It is such a wonderful sentiment, especially during these dark times when my generation are truly coming to terms as to the hatred Blackness inspires in some people’s hearts.

The team collaboration of several young, black women from different parts of the African diaspora. As Viola Davis said, “the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity”, Grace and everyone at Kamaria Press are extending the opportunity to writers whose voices and stories have been  ignored with claims of their life experiences being “unrealistic” or “un-relatable”.

Last Friday, Kamaria Press announced it’s arrival at a lively event in which Grace’s inspiration and goals for the Non-Profit Publishing house were explained to the attendees. I had never been so grateful to find an event invite on Twitter, and instantly invited friends on my course who I knew this would interest. It was our first group outing together and our first Launch Event. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we definitely came away inspired by the team and their achievements.

Not only are they taking on the role of a black-voice-amplifier, but Grace’s intentions for Kamaria Press go beyond uplifting the voices of African and Afro-Caribbean creative writers. All of the profit from the company’s first anthology of short stories (due this December) will go towards providing the children of a Zimbabwean school with the books they require to continue to the next grade, with plans to expand the project as the company grows. We were also serenaded by a singer-songwriter Dinachi who ensnared the room with two original songs and a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.  It was clear that Kamaria Press’ launch event was not just about lifting themselves, but granting us all the chance to get our shine on.

I was sent back to my childhood, remembering Mary Hoffman’s “Amazing Grace” in which Grace, a young black girl is told that she cant play peter pan 1) because she’s a girl and 2) because she’s black. With some encouragement from her mother and grandmother, Grace regains her confidence and convinces others that her gender and race would not limit to what she could do. I was so shook remembering the feelings inspired by this book that when babysitting on Sunday night, I found a copy to share with my precious “Ghana Princess” Afiyah and she adored it as much as I had at her age.

Funnily enough the theme of Amazing Grace mimics the theme of what Grace’s mentor told us, and I may be paraphrasing here:”It’s not enough to have dreams. A dream is not reality. When you set yourself goals, then you know that you are working towards something real.”

In the past I had felt cheated as a reader, which is why I decided to enter Publishing, with companies like Kamaria Press on the rise, and my fellow black publishing students by my side (#squad) I know that I will not be a lone voice yelling into the abyss. And for that, I am glad.

Follow @Kamaria_Press on Twitter for more exciting updates!