British author discusses race, immigration issues in the UK

Author Nikesh Shukla examines the problem of in today’s literature

Alexandra Cline

At JFK International Airport, British author Nikesh Shukla debated whether to continue on his travels or stand in solidarity with immigrants restricted from boarding international flights.

In his talk at Washington and Lee on Tuesday, Shukla discussed recent travel bans on citizens of predominantly Muslim nations and the impact of ostracizing certain groups.

As the editor of “The Good Immigrant,” a collection of essays discussing race and immigration in the United Kingdom, Shukla wanted to tell the stories of those groups he considered ostracized.

“The book isn’t a political manifesto,” Shukla said. “It really gives the narrative of immigration back to immigrants and children of immigrants.”

Being a person of color, the Britain native has witnessed first-hand the impact of appearing different from others—even in his work.

Shukla discussed the role other authors and the publishing industry has played on the careers of non-white authors—particularly in regard to writing opportunities. He said others often downplayed his accomplishments or felt he was awarded for his writing simply to increase diverse representation.

“This is the problem with diversity: you never get a seat at the table because your writing is hot,” Shukla said. “People will assume it’s because you’re a mate with the journalist or it’s out of guilt.” In spite of professional setbacks, Shukla was hopeful that his book and those written by other authors of color will make minority groups

feel more connected to their communities. To increase the amount of books like his, Shukla said publishers

simply have to provide material that people will want to read—outside the traditionally targeted demographic of middle-aged women.

“A lot of times we’re told that people don’t read books by people of color,” Shukla said. “It took us three days to raise money on Crowdfunder for my book, and it went on to be a best-seller on Amazon. We feel as though we proved our point.”

For Shukla, the rhetoric about minorities has also influenced his home life—particularly the way he educates his young daughter.

“I’m careful to ensure that her books contain positive representations of people of color and people with disabilities,” he said. “I want to make her feel represented and not an ‘other.’”

Within the publishing industry especially, Shukla identified severe underrepresentation of books authored by people of color. Of the 165,000 titles published in the UK last year, only one was a debut book by a black, male British author.

However, Shukla was confident that books have the power to change to world and inspire empathy, allowing a variety of people to tell their stories.

“I didn’t expect my book to sell more that 500 copies, but it ended up being a best-seller,” Shukla said. “I didn’t really wish for the book to be that timely and important, but it is.”

Released around the time Britain voted to leave the European Union, Shukla’s book has become increasingly relevant in light of international immigration policies. He considered the rhetoric about immigrants and minorities on a global scale particularly concerning,

especially with President Donald Trump’s executive orders on travel bans.

“I’m very worried,” Shukla said. “Young people didn’t get what they voted for, and they’ll have to live with the consequences for a long time to come.”