A Place at the Table - Ambassador Report
By Meg Quibell, Inclusion Ambassador
I was so honoured to be asked to be an ambassador for Inclusive Minds and attend their A Place At The Table, which this year hosted around eighty people, including publishers, library reps, booksellers, authors, illustrators, literary agencies and even international delegates!
The wonderful Juno Dawson was the keynote speaker and opened the event with a speech all about diversity and how far we’ve come since the first event three years ago. However, she noted we still have a lot left to do since you can’t just “tick diversity off the list”, hence why this event is still so important.
The round table discussions tackled some general questions and got really quite boisterous! We were asked what barriers we felt were stopping diversity and how we felt we could overcome them. It was so lovely to hear that although there were many barriers to full inclusion, there were even more possible solutions, such as consultation and greater transparency and diversity within publishing houses.
We heard the first of two parts of industry highlights and case studies, the second being held later that day. Many wonderful people spoke, but I was really excited to hear about how many inclusive and diverse events the Southbank Centre is hosting this year.
After that, we were lucky enough to have a reading by Jay Hulme, performance poet extraordinaire and ambassador for Inclusive Minds. His brilliant performance has me needing to get my hands on Rising Stars: New Young Voices In Poetry as soon as possible!
Following lunch, Robin Stevens spoke about how much Inclusive Minds has helped her in her writing and how their specialists have assisted her in accurately representing diverse characters. Then came the forum sessions – and when my job as an ambassador really started!
The forum sessions were fascinating – I personally had so much fun discussing diversity, specifically involving disability, with my table, alongside the lovely Emma Clarke. I think what our table really got by the end was how invaluable it is to just talk with people who have different life experiences and that you should see people, not disabilities. Other ambassadors included Jay, Heather who has cerebral palsy, two brilliant students from Hackney New School and many more – all proving, I believe, how invaluable the innovative ambassador system is for authors and publishers when it comes to representing diversity in books. After each table discussed amongst themselves, we all shared the key points that had been brought up. Some of my favourite notes were on how important consultation is and how we need positive, beautiful stories for everyone in the world.
Then we had tea and cake – you have to have a bun break, as Robin Stevens would say! And the cupcakes provided so generously by Child’s Play were truly delicious! After that, the amazing Cerrie Burnell was there as a guest speaker. She spoke so honestly and frankly about her own childhood experiences and how she couldn’t see herself in books. I loved the snippets she read from some books she brought with her, showing how easy it is to include diverse characters in magical and wonderful stories. She also spoke about how libraries need to be more accessible, because to a dyslexic person, “libraries are like a locked room.”
Then came another round of industry highlights and case studies – it was so lovely to hear all of the speakers, with the Usborne Academy and Knights Of opportunities for people from underrepresented backgrounds being especially incredible. It was also amazing to hear from Penny Joelson, author of the brilliant and spine-tingling I Have No Secrets: her message was to publishers, saying that they shouldn’t be afraid to publish inclusive books.
Finally the wonderful Di Airey wrapped up the event and reaffirmed how important it is to have inclusive books, stating that, “Children are born with an open mind – it’s what happens around them that closes it.” She also added, and I can’t agree with this statement more if I tried, that, “If today has created momentum and energy, what counts is what happens after we leave.”
The event was, for me, a very inspirational and hope-inspiring day and I can’t thank Alexandra Strick and Beth Cox enough for organising it all.
‘A Place at the Table’ (now in its third year) provides a unique space for children’s book publishers (and other parties) to come together in order to explore ways of effecting real change, share good practice and commit to specific practical action on inclusion and diversity. Taking place on 6 February 2018, the event was hosted by Penguin Random House on the 10th floor of 80 The Strand. Inclusive Minds was delighted to work with key partner the Publishers Association. Child’s Play and the Bookseller's Association kindly sponsored various elements of the event.
Thank you to the amazing team of facilitators, speakers, ambassadors, specialists and to all those who attended APATT 2018.