Interview with Alice Curry, winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize

Alice Curry is the Founder and Publisher of Lantana Publishing, a London-based independent publishing company nominated for the Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year 2017. She is this year’s winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

1) Huge congratulations on winning the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. What does it mean to you?

Thank you! It’s a huge boost to my confidence and that of my team, and it means a great deal to me. I was honoured to be shortlisted beside four incredibly inspiring women and, for me, winning the prize is both recognition that we are living in an exciting time in publishing where women are breaking new ground, and acknowledgement that small, independent publishers have the power to make change in the industry.

2) You publish children’s literature with strong diversity representation. How has this helped you stand out?

From the start, we have been committed to working towards greater equality of representation in children’s books and this gives us a mission statement that resonates strongly with some consumers, including teachers, librarians and education suppliers. However, the label ‘diverse book’ often comes with a set of pre-conceived ideas that can be damaging to the wider project. We are working hard to dispel any stereotypes associated with diverse literature – that it is worthy, text-heavy, old-fashioned – since a book has the potential to do all the good in the world but will fail in its most fundamental sense if it isn’t simply a great book.

3) What are you most passionate about when it comes to diversity in children’s literature?

Outstanding initiatives like #WeNeedDiverseBooks have documented that a monolingual and monocultural book landscape benefits no one, and the positive consequences of children seeing themselves reflected in the books they read cannot be underestimated. What we tend to talk about less often are the dangers for a majority culture – in this case white, middle class – of seeing nothing but their own image in the books they read. An open and outward-facing society is one that recognises and celebrates difference, and I am passionate about widening representation to include those in our societies who are often excluded, not simply because this should be a basic human right for any minority but because everyone is poorer if we fail to give our children the opportunity to develop empathy, compassion and a sense of wonder through the books they read.

4) Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

Lantana is less than three years old, with a tiny team and tiny budgets, so in many ways we are still in the start-up phase. In five years’ time, I hope to have grown the business – both here and in the US where we are launching this autumn – into a sustainable company with an increasing backlist of well-loved children’s titles and a growing portfolio of talented authors and illustrators from all backgrounds. At the same time, I hope the need for diverse books will have lessened, with many more individuals and publishing houses working in this space than there are now. In five years’ time, wouldn’t it be great if we had no more need for the word ‘diverse’ and could simply produce outstanding books for all children?

5) Tell us about a few women in publishing whose work you really admire. What makes them special?

I have always admired the indefatigable Verna Wilkins who founded Tamarind Press more than twenty-five years ago. Her passion, her dedication and drive to work in a space she knew little about at the time purely on the basis of seeing a need for change, resonates strongly with me. A more current example is Deborah Smith of Tilted Axis Press, a publishing house even younger than ours which aims to bring exceptional literature in translation to the UK. The dearth of translated literature in the UK feeds into the same problem I spoke of above – that everyone is poorer if our window onto the world is reduced to our own back yard – and that Deborah became an awarded Korean translator and set up a small independent house to address some of these issues speaks volumes for her passion and commitment. Finally an example from overseas: Ghanaian Deborah Ahenkorah, founder of the not-for-profit publishing house and writing prize, Golden Baobab, dedicated to nurturing home-grown writing talent, is one of those incredibly inspiring women who sees a social problem and goes to unimaginable lengths to fix it. She is making real and resounding change to the African literary scene and the world is better for it.

6) Why should women in trade publishing apply for the KSW prize (or let others nominate them)?

When my colleague nominated me for the KSW prize, I was – although touched – entirely convinced that I wouldn’t stand a chance, given that I was working in the margins of the industry and a world away from mainstream publishing. What winning the prize has shown me is just how welcoming and inclusive the publishing industry can be. I would recommend that all young women with a vision, a goal and a passion for publishing apply for the KSW prize since the feeling that you have support – that there are people out there who are rooting for you to succeed – is invaluable, and I am deeply grateful to the prize, its founders and its committee, for allowing me to step back and feel a little proud of everything we’ve achieved.

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