How odd

A survey of nearly 2,000 people on behalf of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL) found that despite 81% of respondents saying they liked literature because it promotes empathy, only 7% of the 400 writers they cited were from black, Asian or minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds.

A largely non-BAME population reads largely non-BAME authors. You’d almost think there’s something called a culture, wouldn’t you?

67 comments on “How odd

  1. Unless the name’s obvious, or there’s a pic of the author, how would you know?

    No reason a black man couldn’t be called Tom Clancy.

    What an odd thing to survey. Devil’s making work for idle hands, I think.

  2. Does diversity have any relation to quality? Even the Guardian has doubts:

    The survey also revealed a potential overemphasis on the diversity of Bame authors, at the expense of promoting the quality of their writing.

    I wonder if this insight might be applicable elsewhere?

  3. I suppose it would be superfluous to suggest that to write one needs to be, you know, literate and more specifically to write literature one needs to be attune to the idea and methods of fiction. As opposed to being subject to the sort of magical thinking that says someone who writes a novel should be burned alive.

    Far for it to be me to suggest that either of those things is found in any BME community. Because that would be *so* racist. But I do note that “literature” as a whole has an enormous weight of history behind it. If you read “literature” you have 500 years of White people to choose from. Whereas significant numbers of non-White people in this country dates from the 80s.

    The logic of this argument is asinine as well. Just because people know they are supposed to say that they like reading and because they think it teaches them empathy, it does not follow – as claimed – they really want to read yet another 400 page whine from some low-rent Yasmin Alibhai-Brown about how the fact she is not in the House of Lords yet is proof that White British men are evil incarnate.

    At least I don’t think so.

  4. 3 reasons:

    1) The media that promotes books is an old boys network with the people writing them, so, lots of white people.
    2) Many BAME people aren’t that well-established
    3) Immigrants are generally poorer and working hard to better themselves, and writing novels is mostly an indulgence for richer people.

  5. “Writer Lisa Appignanesi, chair of the RSL, said the gulf between the two statistics showed that there was a hunger for more books by more diverse writers. “

    No, that’s what she’s interpreting it to show. Probably because that’s the conclusion that she started from.

    This is yet another study that you already know is going to result in a demand for more taxpayer money.

  6. Yes, what it actually shows is the readers are happy to virtue signal but not with their money.

    Expressed vs Revealed Preferences.

  7. If you read “literature” you have 500 years of White people to choose from. Whereas significant numbers of non-White people in this country dates from the 80s.

    Or a thousand or so years of literature from non-White people who didn’t know about this country at all? In translation, of course (for me, being a stereotypical British English speaker who can manage to order beer or wine in about ten languages and manage further conversation in English or limited American.)

  8. As I pay no attention to any author’s ethnicity, how the hell would I even know what or where they are, or are from ?

    Generally I DO know if I choose to read a lady’s works. Those I love are The Cadfael books, and all her other works under 2 names, the Chockolat lady, though not Blue Eyed Blue, Mary Renault, (if that is the historical lady?, and Ursula LeGuin. The rest I steer clear of.

    So I may qualify as BAME OK, but as a throwback on the wimmen’s side ?

    Don’t care.

  9. Off the top of my head I can only think of 2 BAME authors, Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie, and haven’t read any of their work. I only know them because of their relentless BBC publicity.

    I may have read other BAME authors but like other I wouldn’t know as I don’t care about where they come from.

  10. In my case there is a reason that I don’t go out of my way to read any BAME books.

    At school in the 70s, around the time when traditional teaching was being squeezed by the left, we were made to read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist. Hard to feel much “empathy” as a white western male with the characters in a book where not much happens under the African Sun and the people all live in mud huts and shit in the woods.

    Oh, and IMO the book was a pile of steaming shite.

  11. The media that promotes books is an old boys network with the people writing them, so, lots of white people.

    Er, I think we are at least thirty years past a cabal of white folks selecting only white authors. If you were going to select a section of UK society you thought would be the most “Progressive” on race you would include these people in the top three.

  12. SE: “Or a thousand or so years of literature from non-White people who didn’t know about this country at all?”

    Such as what?

    Unless you are thrilled to read the Travels of Ibn Battuta or endless texts of Buddhist doctrine or the Vedic ramblings of the Rishis.

    Texts yes–literature tho’ ?

  13. Rob,

    “Er, I think we are at least thirty years past a cabal of white folks selecting only white authors.”

    I didn’t say only white authors. I said their friends. And in places like the BBC and theatre, that’s white people who mostly have white friends. If they have the odd black friend, they’ll get better treated than many white people (witness how persistent the fucking dreadful Lenny Henry is).

  14. We had Achebe’s Man of the People, a few years after Bravefart. I thought it a bit simple at the time, but enjoyed it, and very much enjoyed Things Fall Apart many years later.

    VS Naipaul is outstanding, I think,

    The premise is anyway ridiculous. Most of our literature is white European cos history. Which will gradually change.

  15. Like Alan Douglas, I don’t generally know or care whether the author of the book I’m reading is black, brown, yellow, or normal. A good story is a good story.

    One of the more impressive writers I’ve discovered recently is Chinee, and the only reason I know he’s a Chinaman is because his name sounds like that of a chap who knows karate.

    The sort of effnik writers the Guardian champions are shite, not because they’re the wrong colour, but because they’re not interested in writing an entertaining story. They want to beat you over the head with a rolled-up Grievance Studies dissertation.

    I do tend to avoid women authors though. Not because they’re bad, but because they don’t write stuff I’m interested in paying money to read. I’m really not all that keen on stories about a clumsy-but-loveable Mary Sue who has to choose between two red-hot alpha stud billionaire firemen with washboard abs.

  16. Surreptitious Evil – “Or a thousand or so years of literature from non-White people who didn’t know about this country at all?”

    I would hope so. But the novel is a fairly modern invention. So as Mr Ecks puts it, sure, if you like endless theological works in translation. I have read Augustine. Does he count as a BME?

    Novels? I would hope most people here have given Sei Shōnagon some thought. I haven’t read her and I doubt anyone would really like it all that much.

    Someone else mentioned V. S. Naipaul. And his equally, maybe more, talented brother Shiva Naipaul by all means. But then there are a hell of a lot of people of South Asian origin and they haven’t written much fiction worth reading.

    Leslie Charteris? Does he count?

    Oddly enough English people, brought up in an English culture, tend to like the sort of things English people like. People brought up outside those traditions tend to like other things.

  17. @BiW

    and writing novels is mostly an indulgence for richer people

    As is writing race-hustling articles in The Guardian

  18. Does the King James Bible count as Non-European or English literature?

    Probably the original writers were dark-skinned too.

  19. @Cynic

    “No reason a black man couldn’t be called Tom Clancy.”

    Writing stories of western military setting do in English? That would be Uncle Tom Clancy, I fear.

  20. The problem is that English Literature is literature written in English (except in America where it tends to get called American Literature though English people seem to prefer it for being less obsessed with the upper-classes).
    Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is a genuine classic that deals with machismo, modernisation and imperialism , amongst a lot else.

  21. A few authors whose work I have read I know from photographs / documentaries what colour they are. At the time I started reading their work I didn’t know.
    And could not care less.

    If something looks interesting I’ll check it out, if its still interesting I’ll read it.
    The book I have read the most is by a Japanese guy, first time got it from the library I had no concept of who he was, where he lived or when he lived. The book explains a bit early on – so picked up that little bit.
    Does a Japanese writer count?

    If stuff is written that I like I will keep reading it. If I don’t like it then I won’t.
    What ethnic group, what sex, what age, whether still living even does not enter into decision making.

  22. “Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is a genuine classic that deals with machismo, modernisation and imperialism , amongst a lot else.”

    I agree that it must be. So are Moby Dick, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow as examples.

    They are all, however, steaming piles of shite to read. I’d probably rather read Jackie Collins.

  23. Ken–Thanks for the input.

    If I ever get to read them I’ll let you know. On the basis of what your links say they are about I likely won’t be bothering.

    But they are probably no more tedious that some Western classics. And they are literature. Any more? Cos those 5 won’t fill much of a shelf.

  24. Everyone knows that William Shakespeare was part black and part white – at least, that’s how he looks in contemporary illustrations – black and white.

  25. DBC Reed

    The list includes works written originally in other languages – Thuycidides, JP Sartre, Pushkin, Tolstoy. They are not BAME and they fall into the Western classical canon.

    Mr. Ecks
    They’re examples of art of their day – basically reminds me of stuff like the Decameron or Pilgrim’s Progress. Worthwhile to understand history and context, but not exactly the thrillers of today and very clunky.

    Enjoyable knock-about stuff from the past – Dumas’ Three musketeers series – although perhaps better in the original French.

    I’ve always had a weakness for some foreign stuff, the Russian stuff like Chekov’s short stories and ancient Greek playwrights – Aristophanes.

  26. Err….. unless it is obvious ; e.g. Trevor McDonald’s autobiography how would you know.

    “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole” (the biography of Matt Henson) is the only book I know is definitely written by a black guy in my bookshelves. I would guess that other books are written by Asian-origin guys from the names. Most of them I have no idea at all.

  27. David Mamet on genre fiction v seerius litrachur:

    For the past 30 years the greatest novelists writing in English have been genre writers: John le Carré, George Higgins and Patrick O’Brian.

    Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
    To the playwright David Mamet, pictured here, the precise prose of Patrick O’Brian, whose 20 novels of the Royal Navy won a devoted following, will endure long after many of today’s more arty literary efforts have been forgotten.

    Each year, of course, found the press discovering some writer whose style, provenance and choice of theme it found endearing. These usually trig, slim tomes shared a wistful and self-commendatory confusion at the multiplicity of life and stank of Art. But the genre writers wrote without sentimentality; their prose was concise and perceptive; in it the reader sees the life of which they wrote, rather than the writer’s “technique.”

    For to hell with this putrid and despicable Graduate Degree sensitivity. Le Carré had been a spy, Higgins was a working lawyer and district attorney, and God knows what Patrick O’Brian had not been.

  28. Jung Chang, Wild Swan. Woman and Chinese, do I get a prize? 🙂

    More people (especially at the guardian) should read this, about the wonders of communism.

  29. LPT – I recommend Octavia Butler’s work.

    Out of interest, why?

    I’ve never read Butler, because the blurbs of her books make them sound about as exciting as washing the dishes.

    I did make the mistake of reading Ursula Le Guin, Connie Willis, and Anne McCaffrey, because right-on librarians and awards.

    They were terrible. Absolutely tedious, as miserable as eating a packet of Fisherman’s Friends on a rain-sodden beach in Scunthorpe.

    But if you ever want to read a time travel novel where nothing of interest happens and the heroine spends most of her time feeling sorry for herself, Willis has you covered.

  30. Reading works in translation always loses something.

    So it’s reassuring that all Guardian articles are published in the original whiny bollocks.

    Of course in English they would be much shorter. If they existed at all.

  31. Anne McCaffrey can be good – I didn’t enjoy all her novels but over half her Pern series I liked.

  32. The Inimitable Steve,

    People dismiss “genre” works, even when they’ve got a serious undertone, like The Incredibles, or the works of Dorothy L Sayers. The Lord Peter Wimsey books are about an aristocratic detective solving mysteries and murders and entertaining, but they’re also about the issues in the society. And handled without beating people over the head.

  33. I read the ‘Just William’ books as a lad. Didn’t realise at the time that Richmal Crompton was a woman.

    Didn’t worry me when I found out. Does that make a feminist? I hope not.

  34. This from the comments there…

    The publishing industry is absolutely dominated by privileged white people and its attendant media is absolutely dominated by privileged white people – it is therefore no surprise that the vast majority of the books that are published and promoted, and therefore read, are by white authors (preferably from privileged backgrounds, or at least eager and willing to jump through the hoops that the privileged white gatekeeper class deign to hold out)

    I can’t even start to…………………….

  35. I agree that it must be. So are Moby Dick, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow as examples.

    They are all, however, steaming piles of shite to read.

    Add anything written by Marcel Proust to that list and you have literature’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    The finest English professor I had in college once told me the bare truth about literature: “99% of the classics are shit. Your job is to find the 1% you like with the least time and effort expended. Any fool can read Joyce; it takes a wise man to read 2 pages and then stop.”

  36. As I wrote about here, one of the problems is the BAME and foreign writers are expected to write only about fashionable things the SJWs and other Lefties like: if they write an ordinary story that is irrelevant to their origin or skin colour, they get looks of disappointment.

  37. I wonder how many Nigerians are sitting around reading Jane Austen today.

    Those that read books read either The Bible or self-help books with deeply religious undertones to the exclusion of everything else.

  38. I read the ‘Just William’ books as a lad. Didn’t realise at the time that Richmal Crompton was a woman.

    Great books by a very observant author.

  39. DtP: I wonder how many Nigerians are sitting around reading Jane Austen today.

    I shouldn’t be remotely surprised if there were a good many.

    Browsing hotel bookshops reveals surprising things. South Asia has lots and lots of P G Wodehouse and when I was holed up in the Addis Abbaba Hilton (in the days of nice Col. Mengistu) there was nothing there but an extensive range of Barbara Cartland novels.

    It’s a legacy of empire that all over the world there are traces of nostalgia for a Britain that never existed.

  40. @ AndrewC / Tim N

    Were she with us now wouldn’t she be surprised that The Outlaws have disappeared and that Violet Elizabeth Bott is everywhere.

  41. Martin – It’s more my fault than Anne McCaffrey’s. I don’t actually like dragons. Scaly, gold-stealing bastards. Why do they hoard gold anyway? It’s not like dragons could fit inside Asda.

    AndrewC – Bloody hell. I assumed Crompton was a tweedy old buffer with a meerschaum pipe and a copy of the Torygraph.

    BiW – Yes. I reckon Bill Shakespeare was the Elizabethan equivalent of a genre writer.

    Tim N – Zackly. BigPubs are mainly interested in “diverse” writers as funny little pets who echo their effete PC bumfartery in adorable foreign accents.

    Amazingly, the general public ain’t much interested in reading racially-charged tales about African women exploring their postcolonial intersectional feminist blackness at Space University.

  42. “Is VS Naipaul a BAME writer?” Of course not; he’s excellent so he doesn’t need any of that crap.

    If wogs begin at Calais, let me recommend Camus.

  43. I read ‘An Equal Music’ by Vikram Seth once, because it was on a reading list for parents (not compulsory!) that my daughter’s school produced on a termly basis. I finished it, but it didn’t really do anything for me. I’m currently reading ‘The Three-Body Problem’ by Liu Cixin, and I really quite like it – SF from a non-Western perspective. I’m not one for ‘the classics’, though I did read (much of) Les Miserables, and actually, War and Peace was quite interesting for the insight into Tsarist Russia at that time.

    Otherwise for me it’s Lee Child, Tom Clancy (not the recent ones!), John Grisham, Michael Connelly and a few others. I also read most of the novels by Ted Allbeury – I’m still a bit surprised that they weren’t more popular. Definitely not in the style of John le Carré or Len Deighton but I liked his characterisations.

  44. It’s ethnic minority, not minority ethnic. Ethnic is an adjective, not a noun, minority is a noun, not an adjective.
    And Black and Asian in this country people ***ARE*** ethnic minorities.

    So, the correct english is just simply “ethnic minority”.

    What is it about certain people that destroys their ability to use language?

  45. “Such as what?

    Unless you are thrilled to read the Travels of Ibn Battuta or endless texts of Buddhist doctrine or the Vedic ramblings of the Rishis.

    Texts yes–literature tho’ ”

    Fuck off Ecks. You can only read ITA by mouthing the syllables first then waiting for an adult to give you permission to say it out loud. What the fuck do you know about books?

  46. Tractor Gent

    If you like old Clancy, I’d recommend Eric L Harry. He only wrote 4: 2 Red Storm Rising types, one sci fi, and one very-near-future Red Storm Rising.

    Older Larry Bond was also Clancy-esque.

    I enjoyed them all.

  47. I’ll read absobloody lately anything- genuinely. You name it, I’ve read it. Marcus Aurelius, Caesar, Shakespeare, Austen, Trollope, Confucius, Milligan, King, Strugatsky, Chandler Asimov, Smith (various), Chang, Hsun, Orwell, Achebe, Clancy, Cussler, whatever. Don’t care.

    The only thing I would say is: the best books let you pick out the subtext or a message yourself. Nothing turns me off a novel like someone telling me what to think about stuff whilst I’m reading about characters doing things I’m supposed to care about.

    Its why i loathe Dickens.

    It’s all fine and stuff, and then he’ll start lecturing me about society, and it just feels clumsy. Like some blokes trying to inveigle me out of my knickers.

    Bollocks to him. He’s not the only one, but if you want to get me to muse on things you as a writer want to say, say it through the story, not through a megaphone.

  48. Meiac–What’s your problem Numbnuts?

    Given the general level of your intelligence as shown in your posts the only way you ever heard of Ibn Battuta is Googling the name after I mentioned it.

    There is something eating you chum. The other haters on here –Arnold, Reedy etc –are ideologues. You aren’t bright enough to know shit about ideology . You’ve picked up a few words here and there–libertarian, totalitarian –but I doubt you have much clue what the words mean and aside from street punk verbiage you don’t have any arguments.

    Oh yeah–my wanting to “purge”– ie defund by sacking– Marxist Uni lecturers is “totalitarian”. So the taxpayer stumping up to pay for their kids to be indoctrinated by a death cult –socialism–that has already murdered 150 million people is OK by you then?

    So what’s left is that I remind you of somebody–probably somebody who has stuck it to you somehow. Too bad. Take it to your therapist. Talking shite on here isn’t going to settle old scores for you.

  49. I’m looking forward to reading Nkechi Amare Diallo’s “In Full Color: Finding My Place In A Black And White World”

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/rachel-dolezal-white-professor-who-posed-as-black-gets-new-nigerian-name-a3479741.html

    Where does Kazuo Ishiguro fit in then? I haven’t read any of his books but enjoyed the films of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go and a more well observed view of the imagined English character (lots of repression and sacrifice) would be hard to find.

    What about Sheikh Speare?

    “The most bizarre of all the pretenders is Muammar al-Qaddafi’s choice, Sheik Zubayr bin William. Quaddafi came up with his champion in 1989 when Radio Tehran announced that Libya’s “Great One” had declared that an Arab sheik named Zubayr bin William, who had been born in the sixteenth century, was Shakespeare.”
    http://arabshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/qadhafi-shakespeare-was-arab-named.html

  50. 7% isn’t a million miles away from the actual proportion of the ‘BAME’ population in the U.K. So we are lead to believe anyway. Given the amount of time they have been established in such numbers is fairly limited, it all sounds pretty appropriate really.

  51. dearieme – “If wogs begin at Calais, let me recommend Camus.”

    If they begin at Casablanca, he would still count. He is an African writer, right?

  52. @ Monoi

    +1 for Jung Chang, Wild Swan. Woman and Chinese

    In my bookcase I have books by Murakami and Ishiguro. Do they count?

  53. Most writers are leftists who are horrified by Trump, Brexit, ordinary people, etc. However, this is probably one lefty cause they’d not be overly keen on, deep down anyway, they wouldn’t want the deplorable masses to stop buying their books.

  54. You might get some painless SJW points by reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

    Don’t be put off by her idiotic politics – her prose style in this book is quite beautiful. Won the Booker Prize in 1997, but, despite everything, an excellent read.

  55. @TMB
    Comment about Violet Elizabeth Bott is brilliant!
    I will appropriate it and use it in anti-Conservative rants.

  56. Comment about Violet Elizabeth Bott is brilliant!
    I will appropriate it and use it in anti-Conservative rants.

    says Violet Elizabeth Gotnowt.

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