First black author to win British book prizes speaks out

She’s proud of her win, but not happy. We should all be ashamed that it’s taken this long and that the state of things in our industry is robbing her of the pure pleasure of this recognition of her work and talent. All the work of reminding the White establishment of what’s going on should be done within our White establishment and not forced to appear in the acceptance speeches of lauded Black authors, editors, and artists in our field.

I know how these prizes are meant to work. Having been in the industry for a while, and with the help of Wikipedia, I knew that no black woman, or indeed black person, has won that prize since the awards were started in 1994. Ever. So apparently, in the last 26 years, there has been no book by a black author seen to be deserving of that prize. I’m not downplaying my novel, I’m mainly proud of it, but still, I can’t feel completely happy about how things have gone.

In my second acceptance speech I ended up saying how sad it was that it had taken so long not just for a book like Queenie to be published, but to be given such attention in the industry and in the literary world. The last written words in the novel are #BlackLivesMatter, and it felt important for me to remind the overwhelmingly white publishing industry of this, especially at this time of great change and heightened awareness.

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