This week we catch up with Aimée Felone, co-founder of Knights Of - an inclusive publisher which launched a pop-up bookshop in Brixton in October, and again this month, to bring books with BAME leads to the masses. Their goal is to raise £30,000 in order to open a permanent #ReadTheOnePercent shop. Here's Aimée's story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? How would your friends and family have described you?
Felone: I remember adults calling me “mature for my age” and my friends rolling their eyes whenever they were around to hear.
I was extremely reserved and wary of showing the “real me” to new people but my core group of friends got to see the outlandish, playful side of me - to a large extent, I’m still the same.
Newnham: What was your favourite book as a child and why?
Felone: Jacqueline Wilson was my go-to author when it came to my almost weekly trip to the bookshop. There are too many to choose from, but one of my absolute favourites was Best Friends. It mirrored so much of my life at that time – the drama of a best friend becoming friends with someone else, as well as having a friend that was the polar opposite of me.
Newnham: Can you talk us through your career pre-Knights of?
Felone: Pre Knights Of I was in the chapter of my life I like to call ‘Interning’. I spent a year after I graduated working my way through four different publishing internships at literary agencies and publishing houses. Most of them were unpaid, so I also spent my weekends working a café job. The internships were a great introduction to the world of publishing and showed me that a lot of getting ahead is based on who you know.
Newnham: Can you explain why you started #ReadTheOnePercent? What do you hope to achieve with it and why is it so important?
Felone: After the Reflecting Realities report by CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) was published, we started the hashtag to further highlight that only 1% of kids books published in 2017 featured a BAME protagonist – we wanted to shine a light on the 1%, hence the hashtag #ReadtheOnePercent. It can be easy to see the numbers and spiral into a conversation of how awful things are – the bookshop and hashtag have been a great way to celebrate the authors and stories that already exist.
Newnham: You have re-opened your bookshop – how is it going?
Felone: By the time we finished our first pop-up we were inundated with questions of “When will you be back?” It’s been amazing to see the community support, we’ve had returning and new customers and people who have specifically traveled to Brixton to come and buy books. The reactions have all been positive, a lot of people love that we exist and appreciate the range we have on offer - from baby board books to YA (young adults), we try to cater for everyone.
We’re also now crowdfunding to make the pop-up a permanent bookshop in Brixton and bring the pop-ups on the road across the UK and Ireland. The crowdfund target will also help us to hire a permanent bookseller for our Brixton location. 2019 is also the year that Knights Of launch Jason Reynolds’ New York Times bestselling RUN series in the UK, Ghost will be out Feb 2019 and we’re publishing debut author Sharna Jackson’s High-Rise Mystery in April 2019
Newnham: What are some of your favourite books and why?
Felone: My favourite children’s book of 2018 is Knights and Bikes by Gabrielle Kent. It was the first book published by Knights Of and is a fantastic story of two girls riding bikes on their summer holiday and fighting knights. When it comes to adult fiction I’m currently reading and loving Well Read Black Girl by Glory Edim. A collection of essays from Black women writers recounting the first time they saw themselves reflected in a book. It highlights just how important representation is and how books can shape our understanding of ourselves.
Newnham: As big believers in representation ourselves (via Our Stories Matter and Black History petition), how do you think we get the books you sell into the homes and libraries of kids everywhere? And what impact will that have?
Felone: Demand is the best way to show that these books are necessary – to the industry that means putting money where our mouths are. Buying inclusive fiction, requesting specific books if your local bookshop doesn’t stock them and supporting authors.
Diverse books need to be implemented as a normal part of the publishing process – not an afterthought or addition to a regular schedule. People need to be hired not on specific BAME/diverse schemes, but as part of the regular hiring process. Changes like these will make for not only better books and companies but also a stronger industry that caters to all.
Newnham: Finally, what advice - if any - would you offer a younger Aimée?
Felone: I wholeheartedly believe that it’s our experiences – positive and negative - that make us who we are. There’s nothing I would necessarily go back and redo, I’d just encourage younger Aimée to believe in the power of her voice, and let her know that its OK to not always have everything planned out.