The future of Black storytelling: 'We need complete creative freedom'

‘If a Black writer wants to write about any given subject – yoga, magic, goldfish, politics, race – there should be avenues for them to do that,’ says Magdalene Abraha.

True inclusivity includes creative freedom.’ 

This is something the 26-year-old award-winning publisher and writer is hoping to create with her latest venture – a groundbreaking new book series titled A Quick Ting On (AQTO).

When we speak about inclusivity in relation to Black writers, more can be done in terms of creating space for Black writers to write what they want to write,’ Magdalene tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Stories give us a medium to understand, in depth, who we are as well as others. It is life’s invisible DNA.

‘Representation is hugely important. It is important that this idea extends to many areas – authors, illustrators, marketers, publicists, publishers and so on. But representation must be multifaceted so change can truly shape the many elements that facilitate the world of storytelling.’

For Magdalene, seeing Black faces and voices reflected in storytelling is a good start – but it is not enough. She wants to see intrinsic changes and shifts in the balance of power that exists in the UK publishing industry.

‘More opportunity needs to be given to Black publishing creatives at all levels – from entry to senior,’ she says.

‘If you look at some of the brilliant and important developments within publishing as it pertains to Black writers, you often find it is a Black person who has pushed for it or created it. Opportunity gives space for change.

‘Then of course, importantly, we must also support the existing Black institutions, organisations and individuals that have been doing the work – from publishers, bookclubs, all the way to bookshops.’

First announced in 2019, her long-awaited A Quick Ting On is an eight-book series that explores Black culture, told from the perspective of young Black voices in the UK. Topics range from Afro hair to Grime, Afrobeats to plantain, and everything in between.

‘This project was inspired by my friends, my community, and the everyday conversations I have had and continue to have,’ says Magdalene.

‘In that sense, the series is really an extension of and a nod to the conversations that Black people have all the time – from politics, hair, fashion, food all the way to music and culture.’

Despite only being in her 20s, Magdalene’s achievements have already been widely recognised. Initially working as a music journalist, she became one of the youngest columnists for the Independent newspaper and as the the editorial and marketing manager for non-fiction at Jacaranda publishers, she is behind some of the most important initiatives for Black creatives.

Her approach is community first, and she has clear ideas about how to create space for Black writers.

‘Opportunity and removing “topic barriers of entry”,’ are both crucial in this,’ she says. ‘If writers have the opportunity to writer freely, we will. 

‘My vision is complete creative freedom. That Black writers are able to write about whatever they want, without limitation or being pushed into writing about delineated topics. And also that authorship and storytelling, particularly from an industry perspective, is demystified for our community. All of us have stories within us.’

Is there a story inside Magdalene? Speaking of her own writing, she says she isn’t fixed to any particular topics, themes or genres.

‘I guess over time this will change, but where I am at now, I want to tell stories that chronicle forgotten histories and also those that reimagine futures,’ she says. ‘A fun balance of fiction and non-fiction. The scope for what can be created and archived (both real and fiction) is plenty, which is exciting!

‘I don’t really see my creative endeavours as separate to creating space for others to do the same –  the two are intrinsically linked. And as for balance? I am still trying to figure that one out.’

The landscape of publishing has undergone a major shift since the summer of 2020. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement created a new demand for diverse storytelling and fresh, new voices. Magdalene is excited to see how AQTO will fit into this space.

‘After the past two years, I think the books will resonate powerfully with readers,’ she says. ‘So much happened and these global changes are now chronicled in the books. The writers have done a brilliant job in creating contemporary works that equally work to archive important histories. 

‘I can’t wait for what writers have produced to finally be shared.’

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