Aimée Felone and David Stevens launched Knights Of in October 2017 in a bid to improve diversity in children’s publishing, making inclusivity core to the DNA of the company by hiring as widely as possible. To celebrate their first birthday in October 2018 they launched a pop-up bookshop in Brixton that only stocked children’s books with BAME protagonists. The store was a great success, and a crowdfunding campaign to launch similar pop-up shops in cities around the UK and open a permanent store in Brixton has since raised over £49k
Tell us about Knights Of and the #ReadtheOnePercent campaign.
Knights Of was born out of a passion for children’s publishing and a desire to make books better. We’ve made deliberate steps to move away from conversations about how we can make children’s publishing a more diverse, inclusive space, and instead committed our entire company ethos and structure to ensuring that the books we publish are from as diverse a team as possible.
We started the hashtag and #ReadtheOnePercent campaign on Twitter after the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s (CLPE) Reflecting Realities report was published, which found that only one percent of books published in 2017 had a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) protagonist. #ReadtheOnePercent highlights the books and authors that make up that one percent.
How did you get to where you are now, and what made you want to launch Knights Of and open the first pop-up?
Aimée: I’m an English Literature graduate who spent a year after graduating interning in many paid and unpaid publishing positions. I went on to take a job at Scholastic Children’s Books, where I was Assistant Editor, and since then have left ‘traditional’ publishing to launch Knights Of. David has worked in children’s publishing and media for over fifteen years – including at Penguin, Brown Bag Films and Scholastic Children’s Books.
We launched the first pop-up in order to bring the online hashtag offline and into a physical space and to also celebrate our first birthday. The hashtag had brought so much attention to the authors and books that place BAME characters at the forefront of its stories, that we wanted to give everybody the opportunity to support them. It also gave us the opportunity to have a place where we could throw a massive party and sell books at the same time.
Why did you decide to make the bookshop permanent and focus on children’s literature?
Honestly, it was the demand of the people that made us run the crowdfunding campaign. The first time we ran the pop-up in October we were inundated with requests to pop up again and open permanently. We took the step to launch the campaign just days before we popped up for the Christmas period, and hit our target thanks to all those who support us and what the shop represents.
Knights Of is centred around the need for more diversity within publishing. Could you talk a little bit about the current industry climate in terms of diversity and what you hope to see change in the future?
The 2018 Reflecting Realities CLPE report showed that in a year where 9115 children’s books were published, only one percent featured a black, or minority ethnic protagonist. The Publishers Association Publishing Industry Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Survey 2018 went on to reveal that BAME people occupy only 11.6 percent of positions within the publishing industry. It is clear that publishing has a major problem when it comes to representation both in its workforce and its output; a problem that is being addressed by the larger publishing houses, small independent presses as well as individuals in a variety of temporary and permanent ways. In order for the industry as a whole to stay relevant, to appeal to the masses and reflect the society we live in, it needs to redress the way it publishes and hires. It needs to ensure that diversity isn’t just a topical trending discussion, but that it becomes the norm.
Finally, what exciting titles can we expect to see in your new Brixton bookshop?
The shop will be home to a wide range of diverse kid’s books, for babies all the way up to young adults. We are extremely excited to have our own titles in the shop too – Knights and Bikes by Gabrielle Kent; For Every One and Ghost by Jason Reynolds and High-rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson.