Last night, the publishing world and all of its bookish friends donned their finery and knocked back a cocktail or two for the British Book Awards.
The annual event, lovingly nicknamed The Nibbies, is a celebration of the best in the UK book trade, bestowing on its winners a glitzy pen-nib trophy. Begun in 1990 and run by The Bookseller, the event is ordinarily an evening of tuxedos and ballgowns, of publishing professionals and authors gathered around tablecloths and champagne flutes, with lights and music and speeches. This year, of course, things were a little different.
The publishing world might not have been together in one room but we celebrated through computer screens, some in our finery and some comfier in pyjamas and slippers.
The publishing world might not have been together in one room but we celebrated through computer screens, some in our finery and some comfier in pyjamas and slippers. With cocktail-making in the interval, a special #DrawWithRob led by illustrator Rob Biddulph and big names such as activist and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and author Ian Rankin announcing the awards through their laptop screens, the online event was still finely and glamorously cultivated.
I loved the commitment of M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman of Macmillan Kids UK for their costumed, glitter-explosion of an announcement of Children’s Bookseller of the Year, going to the amazing Moon Lane bookshop in London, a non-for-profit dedicated to raising equality in children’s books.
Bernardine Evaristo picked up her Nibbie for Author of the Year while her novel Girl, Woman, Other received Fiction Book of the Year to accompany its 2019 Booker Prize.
Bernardine Evaristo picked up her Nibbie for Author of the Year while her novel Girl, Woman, Other received Fiction Book of the Year to accompany its 2019 Booker Prize. Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie took home Fiction Debut of the Year and Overall Book of the Year; the author used her acceptance speech to remind us on the industry’s attempts to diversify and look toward what else still needs to be done, reflecting that while she might be the first person of colour to win this award, she is certain there were other equally deserving people of colour who came before her.It was also brilliant to see black-owned Jacaranda Books, an award-winning independent publisher which prides itself on diversity and inclusivity, take home the Nibbie for Small Press of the Year, and regional bookshop Book-ish in Wales take home the Nibbie for Independent Bookshop of the Year.
[Candice Carty-Williams] used her acceptance speech to remind us on the industry’s attempts to diversify and look toward what else still needs to be done.
However, it is sad that the event was somewhat overshadowed by a controversial award recipient. JK Rowling took home the Nibbie for the 30th Anniversary of the British Book Awards Award for Bloomsbury’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
I don’t think anyone would argue that JK Rowling and Harry Potter hasn’t had an immeasurable literary and cultural impact across the world. Millions of children and adults across the world have devoured the books. For a lot of us, Harry Potter may have been the series which cemented our bookish ways.
This decision felt like a slap in the face to real diversity in the industry.
But in light of JK Rowling’s recent transphobic comments on Twitter, it felt drastically inconsiderate and unsympathetic to the trans community for the author to be awarded a Nibbie on the same night that #TransWomenAreWomen was trending on Twitter in direct response to her exchange with The Shining author Stephen King.
While some might argue that we must separate the artist from the artwork, on a night in which the publishing industry was giving itself a massive pat on the back for finally and rightfully awarding some hugely talented people of colour, this decision felt like a slap in the face to real diversity in the industry.
Why do we commend the dismantling of the historically white, middle-class publishing industry through the inclusion of talented people of colour if we simultaneously ignore the prejudices faced by the trans community?
I believe the UK Publishing industry wants to do better – so why don’t we?
Watch the full ceremony here.
Photo courtesy of Susan Yin