Thursday 15 December 2016

Emma's speech at the 2016 Michael Marks Awards

The Emma Press won the Publishers' Award at the 2016 Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets! The announcement was made at a special dinner held at the British Library on Tuesday 13th December, and I'm still reeling from the shock. It's thrilling to get this kind of recognition this early on, and it means a huge amount to me to have our pamphlet programme highlighted in this way.

The life of a very small press publisher can be quite a solitary one, so I relished the opportunity to spend an evening amongst my industry peers. All the shortlisted publishers had to give a 3-minute presentation about their presses before the winner was announced, so I took the opportunity to talk about something I don't often address publicly but which I think about all the time, as it informs everything I do: diversity in publishing.

You can read the full speech below, and you can see our full range of poetry pamphlets in our webshop.

Emma Wright delivering her speech at the British Library (© Tony Grant)

Emma's speech at the Michael Marks Awards

I'm Emma Wright and I started the Emma Press just over four years ago, after quitting my job at Orion Publishing Group. I never thought I would start my own company, let alone a publishing house, but then – in 2012 – I got tired.

I got tired of seeing men's surnames in the names of the imprints I was working on, and I got tired of looking around the publishing industry and seeing women pretty much everywhere other than at the very top. And I was tired of waiting for other women of colour to rise up the ranks and show me that it was possible, and that this wasn't exclusively a white man's club.

I needed representation in a way that's hard to understand when you're already represented everywhere. I was tired of waiting, so I moved back to my parents' house in Reading, I quit my job and I decided to try and be part of the change.

And now I'm here. I've published 33 poetry books, with 17 more due out next year. I've run two Arts Council-supported poetry tours and, though it's always a financial struggle running an unfunded press full time, my developing sense as an entrepreneur has allowed me to keep the press – and myself – afloat in my new home city of Birmingham.

Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright, after the awards dinner
I've worked with my good friend and brilliant poet and editor Rachel Piercey to champion writers we believe in and produce books which appeal to readers beyond the usual poetry book-buying audiences. We work hard to develop our authors and bring them opportunities, and we're especially proud of our three pamphlet series: the Picks, which are themed and have black and white illustrations; the Pamphlets, which include introductions from other poets as another way in for the reader; and the Art Squares, which are lavishly produced, with full-colour illustrations.

And it's hard. Of course it's hard. I'm running an unfunded poetry publisher, putting books out into a wider cultural conversation that is dominated by vocal, entitled white men, voicing their opinions often without a clue about the toxic state they're contributing to. It's dispiriting, but I'm hopeful that things are changing. Other people are tired too, and I'm seeing more movement now to tackle publishing's lack of diversity.

So, recognition like this means a lot. It's wonderful to be here tonight amongst other poetry-lovers, celebrating the poetry pamphlet, and I want to thank the Michael Marks Awards team for drawing attention to this small but vital part of the poetry ecosystem. Being here tonight, I'm feeling positive about the future.

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