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EVENT REVIEW: Nikesh Shukla, Coco Khan and Miss L: The Good Immigrant

9 October 2016

Saturday 8th October

Palace Green Library

Words by Amrita Paul

 The Good Immigrant was crowd funded in just three days, with a £5000 pledge from one Joanne Rowling. At the wake of the referendum, it is being referred to as a timely book, but months before that it started out as an idea, a platform for 21 marginalised voices whose skin colour, according to the traditional publishing industry of the UK, doesn’t make for a viable marketing strategy.

Rachel Kerr from Unbound, the book’s publisher, introduced the ethos behind the book as one that matters, ‘it had to happen’ she says. And so it did, after Kerr and the book’s editor and contributor, Nikesh Shukla, started discussing the lack of diversity in publishing after attending a literary event by New Writing North. The book emerged out of the ideas and shared yet diverse experiences of immigrant writers.

Miss L reads from her essay The Wife of a Terrorist, where she recounts the advice of her professor at drama school, to market herself as someone suited to play the wife as a terrorist because of her Middle Eastern background. While she was called ‘funny-coloured’ in her school, another panellist Coco Kahn recalls how her peers at school were convinced that she was the sibling of another girl because of where their respective families came from.

‘But I am British, I was born and brought up here, and I wasn’t related to her,’ she exclaims.

Nikesh Shukla calls it the twice as good rule, ‘You have to be twice as good to have half the opportunities,’ he laments as he gets up from his chair to read from his essay, ‘Namaste’.

He jokes,’Oh, my flesh coloured microphone got stuck with my phone. Can you spot it?’

Shukla who admits he has gotten into arguments with people on Twitter says, ‘There is a nuance and texture to racism… but you do make a difference when people actively disagree with you.’

Being in the Amazon’s top 10 list for non-fiction, this book’s success should hopefully pave the way for many more like it. Hopefully, in the long term, writers from BAME backgrounds will not feel stifled in a broken nation, but will be comfortable in identifying as citizens of a country in which they have full agency of their own voice.

Shukla ends by saying, ‘I just don’t want to justify my place at the table anymore.’