Book Week Scotland: The up-and-coming programmers shaking up the literary scene

Book Week Scotland: The up-and-coming programmers shaking up the literary scene

Yemurai Chaza / credit: Chris Scott

Recipients of the Scottish Book Trust's Emerging Programmers fund discuss the importance of inclusive programming and their hopes for the book world's future

As book lovers across the nation gather to celebrate the written word during Book Week Scotland 2019, the programme is set to look a wee bit different this year. Five individuals or groups were awarded funds to run their own Book Week Scotland event from the Scottish Book Trust's Emerging Programmers Fund, a new initiative that provides the recipient with a £500 budget, dedicated support from the Trust's Reading Communities team, as well as the chance to meet and work with professionals in the industry.

Of this year's Emerging Programmers cohort, three – Yemurai Chaza, Alycia Pirmohamed and Deborah May – have organised events related to the experiences of people of colour in Scotland, highlighting the growing demand for more inclusive programming across the literary scene. 'There are so many brilliant people of colour writing in Scotland right now, and so many advocates doing the work to make space,' says Pirmohamed. 'However, most of the literary sector tends to be white, and, speaking from personal experience, this can often be isolating. Jeda Pearl, Andrés Ordorica, Jay G Ying and I wanted to put together an event that we would have wanted to participate in, that we wish existed for us as writers.' To this end, Pirmohamed organised the BAME Writers Networking Event (Sat 23 Nov), which aims to bring together those in the literary community who identify as people of colour, featuring presentations from the Scottish BAME Writers Network, networking opportunities and readings.

Book Week Scotland: The up-and-coming programmers shaking up the literary scene

Tomorrow's Kitchen: Creative writing food workshop with writer Rebecca Tantony / credit: Najma Abukar

Indeed, there is an increasing recognition of the fact that too often, only one story of Scotland gets told – and that the cultural gatekeepers of the country often tend to marginalise the experiences and contributions of Scottish people of colour. 'Scotland is very dear to my heart,' says Chaza. 'It's my home. Inclusive programming is necessary and should continue to be at the forefront of community engagement activities and initiatives until we get to a place where we have a fair narrative and existence of the work and contributions of Black and other POC in our society fully represented in all industries with equity.' Chaza's event, Visions of Home (Thu 21 Nov), jointly run with the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, will seek to highlight the plurality of Scottish identities, opening up discussions on race, identity and relationships with 'other homes' in a Scottish context, as well as performances by young artists Natasha Thembiso Ruwona and Courtney Stoddart.

Providing a more region-specific look into notions of heritage and belonging, May's event, Tomorrow Kitchen – A Community Meal (Thu 21 Nov), will be a delicious exploration of Glasgow's multicultural community. Founder of the food-led social business Küche, May was working on a graphic novel cookbook created from community contributions when she stumbled across the Emerging Programmers initiative, and realised its potential to help spread the good word about food's power to build connections. 'Our event will be an opportunity to test out and taste some new recipes invented by the city of Glasgow,' says May. 'The event will also be an opportunity for us to perform and share some of the creative writing that has come out of a workshop that we hosted with a regular group that Küche runs, which engages and makes work with individuals affected by the UK immigration system. It is a further opportunity for the public to explore their own recipe ideas, be they traditional, inedible, fantastical…'

Book Week Scotland: The up-and-coming programmers shaking up the literary scene

Tomorrow's Kitchen

With the support of the Emerging Programmers fund, the recipients were able to not only actualise the change they wanted to see in the industry, but also learn the day-to-day reality of bringing an event to fruition. 'There's a lot of trial and error, especially when aiming to make the event as accessible as possible while hitting financial barriers,' says Pirmohamed. 'The Scottish Book Trust has been a constant source of support and guidance, which I'm grateful for. We have had conversations about scope and sustainability, something I've realised emerging programmers (because of our passion to make things happen!) don't always prioritise and really should.' Chaza also notes the crucial support she received in the run-up to the event, particularly from the Edinburgh Carribean Association. 'The experience so far has been an ancillary initiative to me exploring and sharing my identity, history and experiences living and thriving in Scotland,' she says. 'I'm excited to extend this collaboration further to encourage others to educate and share their truth in a safe space.'

So what do they hope their attendees will take away from their events? 'I'm hoping that [they] will come away from our event having tasted something new and different – a taste potentially different from anything they have tasted before,' says May. 'I am hoping that they will come away feeling a bit more empowered to be creative in the kitchen, try out, taste and make mistakes!' Indeed, this desire to empower others and build communities have driven them all to stage the best event they possibly could. 'We need positive action and outcomes,' says Chaza, '[and] this starts with holding, claiming and creating safe spaces for communities to raise and share their concerns and truths. The intention of my event is to have a conversation sharing the Black and Scottish experience. I hope to add to the conversation and action that builds towards a sense and eventually a feeling of belonging in Scotland.'

'Diversity and inclusion policies are a hot topic, but it's not always clear what inclusive programming looks like,' says Pirmohamed. 'As a person of colour, I know how important it is to see my story reflected in what I read. But representation can sometimes be tokenistic, or minimally include projects by marginalised groups. We are hoping that our networking event can work against the pattern of a select few becoming representative of what is actually a broad spectrum of writers working within a variety of genres and themes. Also, by partnering with literary organisations under the Scottish BAME Writers Network, we hope that this event will be a way to advocate for structural change – to continue to create opportunities for writers of colour to enter positions of power. Representation of our stories is so important, and one of the best ways to achieve inclusive programming is when people of colour are on both sides of that process.'

Book Week Scotland, various venues, 18–24 November,

Book Week Scotland

A 'national book festival' for Scotland courtesy of Creative Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust and many other collaborators across the country. A packed programme of star-studded author events, kids' activities and the distribution of free books all combine to form a week-long national celebration of reading.

Tomorrow's Kitchen: A Community Meal

Tomorrow’s Kitchen – A Community Meal is a sharing and exploration of recipes, ingredients and the multiculturalism present within Glasgow. The community meal will test out, for the very first time, a series of new (creative) recipes for you and the community to try, as well as sharing food-related stories that might be…

BAME Writers Networking Event

We're looking forward to connecting BAME writers in Scotland with literary organisations, publishers, agents, booksellers and more! This event aims to bring together the literary community and work towards inclusive programming. This event especially encourages writers of colour to attend. Please be mindful of this when…

Visions of Home

Discussions of race, identity, heritage and home in a Scottish context, alongside performances by young Edinburgh creatives.