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More work needed on diversity in literature, says BBC short story award judge

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Irenosen Okojie said that she had to look to American writers to see herself represented when she was growing up.

Irenosen Okojie

Diversity in literature “is a subject we need to keep working on”, according to a judge for a BBC short story award.

Irenosen Okojie said that while the issue “has been on the agenda for the last two or three years”, there is more to be done to ensure there are writers from a range of backgrounds.

The award-winning writer said that there was a shortage of British writers for her to look up to when she was growing up.

The author said that ‘we can’t just rest on our laurels’ about diversity in literature (BBC National Short Story Award/PA)

Ms Okojie, who was born in Nigeria, said: “I think it is a subject we need to keep working on.

“We can’t just rest on our laurels about it and think that because it is slowly starting to change that the work is done.

“We always have to make sure different types of voices are included.”

She added that when she was growing up there was a shortage of British writers she felt she could identify with.

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“I had to look to American writers to see myself reflected,” Ms Okojie said.

“We need to bridge that gap and I think that needs to happen organically.”

She said that rather than have people “jump on the bandwagon”, diversity needed to be woven into the “structure of publishing”.

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Ms Okojie, who won a Betty Trask award for her debut novel Butterfly, is on the judging panel for the BBC National Short Story Award.

She says she is going to work with her fellow panellists to ensure that writers from a variety of backgrounds submit their work.

BBC Radio 1’s Teen Awards – London
Katie Thistleton is one of the judges (Ian West/PA)

Also on the panel is journalist and author Jonathan Freedland and Radio 1 presenter Katie Thistleton.

Laura Bates, who founded the Everyday Sexism Project, a reporting service for gender discrimination, is also a judge.

Mr Freedland, who is the chair of the judging panel, said that the short story format “allows for narratives of great economy and, with that, particular intensity”.

He added: “As Roald Dahl, whose stories I lapped up as a teenager, proved, a good short story can linger in the mind long after countless voluminous novels have been forgotten.

“It’s the three-minute pop song of literature – a discipline that seems easy but requires complete mastery of the craft.”

The BBC National Short Story Award winner, along with the winner of the junior BBC Young Writers’ Award category, will be announced in October at a ceremony at Broadcasting House.

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