by Miriam Sautin
Literature - in all its forms - is a wonderfully versatile and transformative artform which offers a unique and profound perspective on individual and community experiences. Nurturing a sense of empathy lies at the heart of literary engagement which in turn can often lead to a shift in perspective. Crucially, literature can also empower individuals and communities by assuring readers that their outlook on the world hasn’t been formed in isolation. ‘You are not alone’ and ‘you are understood’ are both undeniably powerful and constructive sentiments. This double-sided dynamic of broadening outlooks and empowering readers, underpins the importance of creating and promoting a diverse and representative literary culture. Put simply, a diverse and representative literary culture feeds into forming a more cohesive society and this work should begin from the moment a child first learns the alphabet.
The ground-breaking inaugural Reflecting Realities report published in 2018, coincided with the development of Literature Wales’ 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. Presenting shocking and often humbling statistics, the report helped our organisation focus our efforts of addressing historical and structural inequalities and platforming diverse voices. We identified Representation and Equality as one of our three priorities and in turn, the findings continue to inform everything we deliver as we work towards driving systemic change. We are passionate about the fact that people who currently don’t see themselves in the literature they read and hear should be able to see writers with similar lived experiences in published books, in performed work, as community champions, as workshops leaders, creative writing tutors, and laureates. We’re keenly aware that not recognising yourself in the literature around you can compromise your relationship with the artform, even from a young age.
With a more targeted and impact-led approach to our projects, we launched our Platforming Under-represented Writers project. One of the key outcomes of this project was the publication of Alex Wharton’s poetry book for children, Daydreams and Jellybeans (Firefly Press). Following this project, we developed our flagship programme, Representing Wales which develops 12 writers of colour with the aim of establishing a pipeline of diverse Welsh talent that will be recognised across the UK and beyond. On top of this, our newly appointed Children’s Laureate Wales, will be focussing on empowerment through poetry during his two-year tenure as he works towards nurturing a healthier, more creative, and more diverse generation of readers and writers across Wales.
The report also illustrates the power of comprehensive and meaningful research, with definite statistics replacing anecdotal concerns. Inspired by CLPE’s methodology, we will continue using research to refine our own activity, making sure it is the best fit for Wales’ audiences, writers, and readers. By providing insightful data, and blueprints for how to reach new audiences, we hope to further contribute towards change within the sector.
Seeing the sector in Wales and the wider UK coming together to create meaningful change feels incredibly positive. We welcome the news that there has been a year-on-year increase in representative output in the UK and celebrate the real and concentrated effort to portray characters of colour sensitively and authentically. In Wales, we’re aware that there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in the Welsh-language sector. The exciting AwDuron campaign to translate representative and inclusive children’s books into Welsh aims to address the lack of representation in Welsh-language literature as we wait for more Black Welsh authors and other marginalised Welsh voices to emerge. Our work of developing those writers, paired with our collaborations with educational organisations in Wales, aim to make long-lasting impact to children’s reading journeys. Alongside a growing number of organisations within the sector, we will continue to be grounded and spurred on by the annual Reflecting Realities report, ensuring that the literature surrounding us accurately represents our interconnected and diverse society.
For this year's Reflecting Realities Report blog series we have asked our friends from organisations close to CLPE to write blogs about what Reflecting Realties means to them and how it aligns with their organisations work.
Miriam Sautin is the Creative Executive at Literature Wales. Literature Wales is the national company for the development of literature. Our vision is a Wales where literature empowers, improves and brightens lives. They are a registered charity, and work to inspire communities, develop writers and celebrate the literary culture of Wales. Literature Wales works in Welsh, English and bilingually across Wales.
Find Literature Wales on Twitter here.