When the Black British children’s writer, Malorie Blackman was appointed Britain’s Children’s Laureate in June 2013, she wasted no time drawing public attention to a problem in book publishing in the UK that has long been a source of anguish to many of the country’s writers; a lack of ethnic and cultural diversity in children’s books. Blackman, best known for her Noughts and Crosses series for teenagers, told the Guardian as a child she never came across black writers or black characters in the books she read.
“I still remember feeling I was totally invisible in the world of literature,” said Blackman. Many African, Caribbean and other Ethnic Minority writers of adult fiction and non-fiction in the UK have been voicing the same concern for decades.
Across the pond, in America, author, Roxanne Gay caused a stir after she did an informal survey which revealed that 90% of the books reviewed in the New York Times are written by white authors. Discussing the survey findings in her article Where Things Stand, in the Rumpus, she lamented: “These days, it is difficult for any writer to get a book published. We’re all clawing. However, if you are a writer of colour, not only do you face a steeper climb getting your book published, you face an even more arduous journey if you want that book to receive critical attention. It shouldn’t be this way.”
Valerie Brandes agrees. A proud Londoner of Caribbean heritage, she’s the founder and publisher of Jacaranda Books, a new independent trade publisher of fiction, non-fiction and illustrated books, based in London.
Jacaranda Books aims to promote diversity in the publishing industry by producing ethnically, culturally and socially diverse books, with a particular interest in Africa, the Caribbean and the Diaspora.
Brandes is a keen supporter and promoter of diversity in publishing, having worked closely with organisations such as Equality In Publishing (EQUIP) which was created to address the concerns of groups traditionally underrepresented within all areas of the UK publishing industry.
This year promises to be an exciting one for Jacaranda Books. It is scheduled to publish six titles from a diverse set of authors, including fashion professional Jacqueline Shaw, spoken-word poet and writer Anthony Anaxagorou, Caine Prize shortlist nominee, Pede Hollist of Sierra Leone, and Jamaica-born writer, activist and academic professor, Patrick Wilmot.
Jacaranda Books’ first title, Fashion Africa is due for release on February 27. The author, Jacqueline Shaw is another Londoner with Caribbean roots. In this groundbreaking book, which was originally self-published, she explores the fashion renaissance currently going on in Africa, from ready-to-wear to haute couture, and street clothes to luxury wear. The book is the first of its kind to bring together designers, design companies and ethical manufacturers among others, all with an African connection.
It showcases over 40 of Africa’s best and most talented fashion designers with over 200 stunning photographs and revealing interviews. The designers are among an emerging cadre of couturiers who are helping to transform the fashion industry in Africa and the Diaspora with their sensational ranges. In the process they are infusing the runways with a new Afrocentric brand of glamour rivalling that of Europe and North America’s fashion houses. Their designs have been specifically sourced from Africa and include sustainable cottons and silks. Their techniques (traditional weaving or batik) also display a uniquely African influence.
Fashion Africa is the product of Shaw’s extensive travelling and research throughout the continent, chronicling the fashion and textile industry and social enterprises from Ghana and Nigeria to Southern Africa.
The publication heralds the emergence of two outstanding female professionals, both with their hearts set on pushing the door open wider to multicultural and multiethnic talent.
Shaw is absolutely thrilled to be published by Jacaranda Books. She said, “My experience with Jacaranda Books has been quite positive. To have a publisher see my self-published book at an event and decide on the spot that they wanted to publish it and give it the promotion it deserved humbled me. The team at Jacaranda has not only believed in the book but believed in me too and so I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with them.
“Now that Fashion Africa is published, I am quite excited and often can’t believe that this project of mine has fully taken the reins and is riding its course. It is a great time to be in, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. and to future book projects!”
Jacqueline Shaw is the creator of the blog Africa Fashion Guide. It was rated by The Guardian as one of the top ten African fashion blogs. . She’s a professional fashion designer with a background working and designing for fashion companies PUMA, Russell Athletic, Ocean Pacific, Fila, Chilli Pepper in London to name a few, and Babylon Princesse (Talent in Shanghai) in China.
Shaw is also the owner of ethical designer wedding dress company Latibeau Ltd. She holds a Ba (Hons) degree in Fashion from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design and a Masters Degree in Ethical Fashion. She has worked with the Ethical Fashion Forum representing African businesses at their Source Expo events and has written for the West Africa Trade Hub/USAid website and Dazed and Confused magazine whilst on placement with them during her BA (Hons) degree.