- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

American novelist and journalist Lionel Shriver has been dropped as a literary contest judge in Britain after she issued a scathing critique of Penguin Random House’s push to diversify its authors and staff.

Penguin Random House recently announced that by 2025 its staff and author list would reflect the diversity of British society. In a piece for The Spectator, Ms. Shriver accused the multinational publisher of being “drunk on virtue.”

“… Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books,” Ms. Shriver wrote. “Rather, the organization aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision. Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes.”

She continued, “We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling. Good luck with that business model. Publishers may eschew standards, but readers will still have some.”

Penguin Random House issued a statement defending the new policy, saying they “recruit on talent and potential.”

“Our company-wide goal is driven by our strong belief that the books we publish should reflect the diverse society in which we live. After all, books shape our culture, and this should not be driven only by people who come from a narrow section of society,” the publisher said, The Independent reported. “We acquire all our writers on talent, first and foremost. However, in setting this goal we recognized that we needed to do more in actively seeking out talented writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves.”

The Guardian compiled a sampling of authors who are slamming Ms. Shriver for the article, including novelist Meena Kandasamy, who suggested that “someone should do ironic blurb stickers that say ‘An incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling – Lionel Shriver‘ which diverse writers could dutifully display on their books as a reminder of the hostile environment in which they function.”

Meanwhile, Mslexia, a British-based magazine for women writers, fired Ms. Shriver as the sole judge of its annual short story competition, saying her comments were “not consistent” with its values, The Times reported.


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