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Publisher: Marisa Pintado

Read Monday, 29 Nov 2021

As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we invited independent publishers to respond to equity and inclusion in the publishing industry – how their own work engages with it, as well as the change they believe is most essential. Here, Marisa Pintado reflects on her work at Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing.  

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When I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s, I was lucky to have bookshelves filled with old classics I’d inherited from my parents, newer books from birthdays, and everything in between from the 20c table at the school fete. The books included everything from What Katy Did to Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, plus a large quantity of R.L. Stine’s horror novels, and they had one thing in common. You can guess what it is: their authors and their characters were, with few exceptions, overwhelmingly white, cishet and non-disabled. 

I now live in an amazingly multicultural part of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, and many of these books have been absorbed into my own shelves, where my two children will one day discover them, along with newer books published by me and by my industry cohort. Looking at them all, I’m struck by how much has changed, and yet how the decades of white-supremacist publishing still weigh heavily on my shelves, and how little it reflects the streets in our neighbourhood. It’s impossible to unsee, and will take a long time to fix – which just serves to highlight how we must urgently prioritise the work necessary to transform the publishing industry. 

I’m struck by how much has changed, and yet how the decades of white-supremacist publishing still weigh heavily on my shelves

These ideas were front of mind when my colleagues and I created the Bright Light imprint in 2020, a new illustrated list at Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing dedicated to books about privilege, anti-racism, sovereignty, and equality for modern families. The resurgence of the Bla(c)k Lives Matter movements was definitely a factor, but we had also been moving in this direction as a publishing team in the years prior, with books like Sophie Beer’s Love Makes A Family and Adam Briggs’ Our Home, Our Heartbeat selling out multiple print runs. We felt there was a clear gap in the trade and a significant commercial opportunity for books that gave parents the resources they needed to navigate these conversations and answer the difficult questions that would come up around the dinner table – not to mention reflect families and communities who are marginalised in mainstream media. And, most excitingly of all, it aligned with our passions as a publishing team, particularly Head of Design Pooja Desai and Publisher Alyson O’Brien, who would together lead acquisitions on this list.

We wanted to prioritise First Nations and People of Colour (FNPOC) authors and illustrators on the Bright Light list, but the intention was emphatically not to silo them away from the rest of our publishing. As the list took shape, we made a point of analysing the proportion of FNPOC creators across all titles to use as a baseline for improvement in the future. This is a recommendation made by Radhiah Chowdhury in her excellent 2020 Beatrice Davis report on diversity in Australian publishing, which highlighted the need to perform this analysis regularly across all our publishing, or else we’re effectively siloing the Bright Light list regardless. 

Bright Light is just one part of how we are tackling inclusivity across our publishing and within our teams – Hardie Grant also has an endorsed Reconciliation Action Plan, a phenomenal and rapidly expanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander publishing program, and involvement with several internship programs for FNPOC, as well as a comprehensive and ongoing cultural competency program that includes unconscious bias and safety training – and I’m tremendously proud of what we are achieving with it. I can’t bring myself to throw out all the books from my childhood, but I would love to crowd them out with more reflective publishing before my own kids are old enough to read.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves is presented with Spread the Word and the Melbourne City of Literature Office and supported by the UK/Australia Season Patrons Board, the British Council and the Australian Government as part of the UK/Australia Season.

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