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Anglia Ruskin University launches UK’s first bursary to improve diversity in children’s book illustration




Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has launched the UK’s first £11,200 inclusivity bursary to improve diversity within children’s book illustration.

Only seven per cent of children’s books published in the UK in 2019 were by authors or illustrators from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background. And from 2017-19, only seven per cent of books published in the UK for ages three-11 featured characters of colour.

Anglia Ruskin University, East Road Campus, Cambridge. Pcture: Keith Heppell
Anglia Ruskin University, East Road Campus, Cambridge. Pcture: Keith Heppell

Supported by the publishing industry – including Bell Lomax Moreton literary agency and Bloomsbury Publishing - the bursary can cover fees for ARU’s MA children’s book illustration course, while the charity Picture Hooks will provide mentorship for a year following the student’s graduation to help them forge a successful career.

Course leader Shelley Jackson said: “There is a pressing need in our industry for children to see more diversity in the characters and stories they read. One contributing factor to this issue, of course, is a lack of diversity within children’s book creators.

“This can only really happen when the diversity of children’s book creators reflects that of society. And this is a vicious cycle because if you don’t grow up seeing yourself in books, why would you think that making books is a thing you can do for a living?

“We can see this same imbalance in our UK student body. We need to work together with industry to disrupt this cycle and this bursary is just the start for us. We hope that with further support we can expand in future years to offer even more opportunities. In addition to applicants from diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds, we also welcome those from other underrepresented groups to apply for the bursary.”

Olu Oke, an illustrator from Battersea in London who has just completed the MA and will graduate from ARU later this year, said: “After nearly 20 years of trying to break into the industry I started to question my skills and the worth of my voice. The MA gave me confidence to speak out, to find my creative language, to hone my skills. Whatever the future may hold for me, doing this MA has been a pivotal moment in my career and my personal life.

“My advice to creatives from underrepresented communities be they black, people of colour, LGBTQ+, neurologically, physically atypical, or other is: people are listening and looking, so if you don’t want others to talk for you or tell your stories, pick up your pencil, brush, whatever and draw and write your own.

“At the moment there is a massive push to rectify decades, if not centuries, of misrepresentation. So get to it! Be part of the change, the new wave, and illustrate. This new bursary is another wedge in the door that is being opened in children’s publishing.”

Masters student Mariajose Gajate Molina, who won the New Talent overall award at the prestigious World Illustration Awards for her submission Flooded while on the MA children’s book illustration course at ARU. Picture: Keith Heppell
Masters student Mariajose Gajate Molina, who won the New Talent overall award at the prestigious World Illustration Awards for her submission Flooded while on the MA children’s book illustration course at ARU. Picture: Keith Heppell

Paul Moreton, managing director of Bell Lomax Moreton literary agency, said: “We love children’s illustration and are delighted to be helping to fund and support ARU’s new inclusivity bursary – an important practical, tangible step towards growing a more diverse community of artists making books for all children, everywhere.”

Lucy Juckes and Vivian French of Picture Hooks said: “We at Picture Hooks believe passionately that a career in children’s picture book illustration should be open to all, and we’re delighted to support this initiative. We live in a diverse society, and our children need to see themselves reflected in the books they read, and in the authors and illustrators who create them.”

The bursary is open to applicants who are eligible for UK fees and facing financial disadvantage, and/or are from an underrepresented group. The closing date for the 2021 bursary is 5pm on August 13 and further information is available by visiting https://aru.ac.uk/student-life/preparing-for-university/help-with-finances/scholarships/childrens-book-illustration-bursary.

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