Books

'It was time to change the narrative': How I created the Black British Book Festival

In just three years, the Black British Book Festival has become Europe’s largest Black literature festival

Selina Brown illustration

Illustration: Chris Bentham

In the vibrant heart of Birmingham, where culture and literature intertwine, my journey began – a journey that brought me to the forefront of the UK publishing scene and led me to champion the Black British Book Festival. I am Selina Brown, and I hope to stand as testament to the power of determination, breaking down barriers and the belief that women can balance family and career. 

My life has been marked by an affinity for words, nurtured from an early age as the daughter of a Black British mother and Jamaican grandmother. This deep-rooted connection with language and culture guided me. I achieved milestones, becoming a youth MP for Nottingham at the age of 16 and obtaining two degrees and a Masters by the age of 21. These provided the foundation for a career that would see me at esteemed organisations such as the BBC, MTV, and Freud Communications, with work experience spanning across international locations including New York, Kenya and Gambia. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

My professional trajectory reflects my commitment to promoting diversity within the creative realm. Birmingham’s creative landscape became my canvas for over two decades, and my passion for inclusivity and artistic expression remains at the heart of my mission. Amid the challenges posed by the pandemic, I authored the children’s book series Nena. These stories emerged as a source of inspiration and education for young readers. 

In 2020, I established the Black British Book Festival. This festival, an embodiment of my commitment to celebrating the vibrancy of Black British literature, quickly grew in stature. Today, it is heralded as Europe’s largest Black literature festival. In 2023, it partnered with London’s Southbank Centre, and its significance has been recognised by influential brands and publishing entities including Audible, Pan Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin. 

My unwavering dedication to my craft has thankfully garnered widespread recognition. The Black British Book Festival has drawn enthusiastic engagement from a diverse audience eager to embrace the richness of the Black British literary voice. It’s about paving the way for a more and diverse literary world. 

This year, I embarked on organising the Black British Book Festival while carrying a significant secret – my pregnancy. Initially, I kept this fact hidden, reflecting the pressure society places on working women. This feels particularly acute in fields traditionally dominated by women, such as publishing. However, as the festival took shape, I realised it was time to change the narrative. 

I curated a Black literature event with the acclaimed artist George the Poet at Glastonbury, and I did it while eight months pregnant. One of my core missions is to advocate for working women during pregnancy and early motherhood. I believe women should not have to hide their pregnancies in professional circles and should never feel compelled to sacrifice their careers for their families. My work is about spotlighting the positive shifts in work-life balance while acknowledging that there’s still much progress to be made. 

And then there’s my crusade to transform the publishing landscape in the UK. My vision is to reshape an industry known for its lack of diversity and representation. I am passionately championing Black British authors and voices. The partnership between the Black British Book Festival and the Southbank Centre is a testament to the festival’s growing prominence and influence on the literary arena. 

Headline sponsors and renowned publishers have all recognised the festival’s significance. It stands as a beacon of change and inspiration, with a commitment to engaging marginalised communities and revolutionising the literary landscape.  

I hope my journey is an example for women everywhere. It is possible to balance the demands of motherhood and a successful career in the creative world. You don’t have to choose between your family and your career. With the right mindset, absolutely anything is possible. 

As the Black British Book Festival moves to the Southbank Centre, it promises to showcase the UK’s
finest Black authors, alongside leading content creators, influencers, and journalists. 

My story is a reminder that women can shatter barriers, challenge societal norms, and create a more inclusive and diverse literary world. I hope it will inspire other women to prove that they too can achieve their dreams while celebrating all facets of their lives. 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Weighted Down: The Complicated Life of Skip Spence review – sensitive portrait of a free spirit
Books

Weighted Down: The Complicated Life of Skip Spence review – sensitive portrait of a free spirit

Prospect Cottage: See inside artist Derek Jarman's seaside home for the first time
Photography

Prospect Cottage: See inside artist Derek Jarman's seaside home for the first time

Cocktails with George and Martha by Philip Gefter review – art imitating life in a war of egos  
Books

Cocktails with George and Martha by Philip Gefter review – art imitating life in a war of egos  

Top 5 books about the Troubles, chosen by bestselling author Henry Hemming 
Books

Top 5 books about the Troubles, chosen by bestselling author Henry Hemming 

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know