Last year, I applied to become the Chairperson of the Manchester City of Literature; I didn’t make the decision until the eleventh hour and I was probably more surprised than anyone when the steering committee selected me to become its chair. UNESCO designated the title back in 2017 and much is owed to Jerome de Groot for suggesting the idea and for working tirelessly to turn it into a reality. For many years he chaired the Manchester Literature Festival and the qualities he brought to that bore fruit for Manchester in getting the city recognised.
Even before the creation of the Manchester City of Literature, I was deeply concerned about the lack of diversity in the world of publishing and literature in general. Despite all the oceans of ink spilled to reassure all of us that diversity matters, little has changed in the twenty-plus years that I have formed part of the world of literature. It is lovely to see Nought and Crosses reach our TV screens; however, we are still quite far from where we ought to be.
the London-centric nature of British publishing has always been part of the issue. Ironically, London itself is diverse, one of the most diverse cities in the world. Yet, that diversity doesn’t reach the heads of organisations. From a South Asian perspective, the most famous writers hale from overseas, naming no names. A writer friend of mine once told me that although he’d won a prestigious debut novel award he was advised to move to India to increase his chances of reaching the Booker Longlist. All of this needs to change.
I want to see Manchester come to frame what a City of Literature really ought to be like and I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic offers a chance to rethink matters, to reframe the world and to rewrite it the way it ought to be. Of course, it will be a struggle and I’m quite prepared to challenge the status quo and hopefully we will bring the world of publishing, of literature, kicking and screaming to where it should have been all along.