“My hindrances have come from trying to penetrate a “publishing culture” that has a very Eurocentric, elitist and class bias. Publishing and literature in this country is a very white exclusive space and BookLove has come to “mash up de place”.
Samantha Williams is founder of the award-winning Book Carnival, now in its 4th year, “BookLove – The Travelling Multicultural Book Carnival” has no physical permanent base as it functions like a mobile bookshop travelling round the country to any space where the BookLove Carnival can set up.
After 15 years of working in Television Production, discontented and frustrated by the lack of diversity in TV and books, she founded BookLove which represents the nuances of multicultural and bilingual communities. Without any prior publishing experience, she was driven by her passion to balance the scales by sourcing the best multicultural books/toys and content there is from across the world, for both children and adults. In demand by schools the carnival travels around the country helping teachers find culturally diverse books and toys that are representative of the world we live in.
As described by Williams.
“We take books out of bookshops into communities, schools, pop-ups and offices up and down the country, that is central to the work we do. Everyone must have access to multicultural books and we want ‘Book Love’ to take readers, especially classrooms, on a journey of discovery, where those who don’t see themselves find themselves or where readers discover new cultures about a friend, neighbour or community they perhaps previously knew nothing about.”
Now with the whole world on lockdown BookLove like many businesses across the world is looking at new ways to meet the challenges that lie ahead but Samantha is optimistic. In our first series of business interviews ALT spoke to the Samantha.
Firstly, what is the concept behind the business “BookLove – The Travelling Multicultural Book Carnival”?
I don’t categorise BookLove as a business. That sounds too stark and simplistic. It is a way of life. A movement whereby culture and identity are celebrated. Where cultural sharing and learning within our community is encouraged. None of this, “leave your personality, culture and identity at the door”, personality, identity and culture is the special guest at our party – this is central to BookLove’s own identity too and I want everyone to wear their culture and identity with pride.
Our culture and identity are a beautiful and unique thing, it makes us who we are, and BookLove is striving to create a space for all of us! We do this through adult and children’s multicultural books, bilingual content, dolls, flags, toys, storytelling and music – we try to create an environment where everyone is represented and included. A good friend, Michaela Richards a Senior Leader in education, said to me, “BookLove – it’s a place where those who don’t see themselves, find themselves”. It’s a double meaning and she’s right!
- Why was it important to start BookLove?
Historically it is rife in British culture to attempt to dumb down one’s cultural identity. On the surface yes, we have Mela, various street carnivals and several front facing events – but these are managed, staged and “permitted”. But what about in everyday life, when we go home, to work or to school? On the high street in school, at university, at work, we are encouraged to leave our culture at home, to eat cheese sandwiches at your desk instead of daal, roti, saltfish or plantain. In the classrooms we study colonised texts and theories by old white dead men. We are encouraged to keep our “good hair” tied back. Afros, cornrows are a no no, we must not wear bright colours or our Ankara cloth in the office. Theatre spaces and the arts are whitewashed so BookLove is pushing back on that. I grew up in Barbados, where it was the complete opposite, where celebrating your culture was normal – wave ya flag! Caribbean society is vibrant the arts, theatre, education, music, calypso, carnival. BookLove is trying to decolonize spaces and energies in the same way – using adult and children’s multicultural content to ” mash up de place”. Not literally, but I know for sure now, figuratively what “mash up de place” means, now more than ever! For me it is also really important that BookLove gives self-published and independent writers & illustrators, a platform and a place to shout about their books and content – real stories that are uncensored and beautifully authentic. We are not only influenced by the high-street’s “bestsellers list” that tells us what we should read and buy. Independent writers from have their own messages and narratives and we love that!”
- As a woman in business what has been some of the hindrances/obstacles along the way?
My hindrances have come from trying to penetrate a “publishing culture” that has a very Eurocentric, elitist and class bias. Publishing and literature in this country is a very white exclusive space and BookLove has come to “mash up de place” (there’s that expression again). There has been some resistance and obvious blockages put up. I work alone, I don’t play by the rules, or care to… I am winging it the whole time. I came up into this with no plan and had no idea that this industry could sometimes be so unfriendly and competitive. BookLove has taken me on a journey, and I am learning as I go. I have learnt in publishing (like when working in the media ) it’s all about who you know, your PR, who will endorse you, who will ‘let you in’ and who might sign post you to money or financial support. I know no one “of influence”, I have no PR and am totally self-funded, so things take quite a bit longer for me! But I am ok with that, I march to my own beat, however I would love to find a partner, a funder, a permanent space and collaborate one day with people or organisations who share the “BookLove” value and vision. I do thank those who have supported “BookLove” so far, it means a lot .
- Let’s talk about the Covid-19 pandemic what has self-isolation been like so far?
Every day is a journey. A good friend and member of the “sisterhood community” lost her mum yesterday, so it’s real. Anecdotally it appears lots of Black people are dying from Covid-19 in Lambeth and Southwark. I heard these boroughs have the most cases. These boroughs also have very high numbers of Black people living in them. That worries me.
- The government has been very reluctant to help the self-employed and small business how will you be affected by this crisis?
The government’s policies on this are changing weekly, so I am optimistic there will be support somewhere. My customers have been supporting me online and I thank them profusely. We have ramped up our online bookshop by loading new books every day and posting across all social media, so I am trying. We are looking for people to review our books. We are sending out free books in exchange for reviews, so would love people to contact us if they want to get involved. We are traditionally a moving carnival of books, moving around the country to events, festivals and schools, but everything is cancelled. Summer is a going to hit me hard and the main thing right now is getting the news out there that our amazing books are still available to buy or review via our new online bookshop which you can find here www.thisisbooklove.com
- Small businesses are having to make dramatic changes to survive what are you doing that you can share?
As mentioned, we are focusing on our online bookshop by loading new books every day and posting across all our social media, so I am trying. So, we are temporarily moving from our traditional model of a moving carnival of books, around the country to events, festivals and schools to now focusing on our online function. Summer is a going to hit me hard! To be honest I interact with my customers on a very personal level, so I am well prepared for this new approach. New customers call me, DM me and just turn up at my house or we meet in cafes or on the street where we hand over books. It’s proper old school. People tell me now I need to get on screen, read stories live on Instagram – not sure I like that sort of attention.
- The government have said it might take 3 -6 months for things to start getting back to normal what is your biggest fear for your business?
No fear, only opportunity. BookLove found me, and I found Book Love, we aren’t going anywhere – (God willing).
- More people than ever will now pick up a book, what do you recommend from This is BookLove?
Books that take you into a new space, a new realm or a new community. A place, religion or country that you’ve never been exposed to before. For example a culture that you’re not familiar with e.g. Native American Stories, Indian Folk tales, East African poetry – learning a new language like Yoruba or Arabic or reconnecting with your mother tongue if you have one – we have bi-lingual books in most languages from Twi and Tagalog to Spanish and Somali. When you can’t go outside, go inside to yourself and look for books that take you into lands, cultures and communities you never knew about. Expose yourself and the children to new worlds and new characters – use books to escape!
- Who are your fave authors?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Maya Angelou, Terri McMillan and Rohinton Mistry ….
- What do you say to people at home worried about their livelihood?
Plan and take this time to look to the future. Create peace and take care of each other, support other small businesses and check in on one another. All of us will back out there soon and let’s say hi and support each other when we see each other next, on the market and festival scene. Mention this article and you will get 10% off – 🙂
Follow: @thisisbooklove _ on Instagram or Twitter @thisisbooklove
Editor’s note: If you are a woman of colour and have a creative venture /business story to share during this pandemic please get in touch editor @ alt – africa . com.
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