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Transforming the literary landscape

Impact case study for REF 2021: English Language and Literature (UoA 27)

Over the past decade, The Brunel Centre of Contemporary Writing (BCCW) has been driven by a clear vision – to bring together some of the country’s leading writers and academics to explore and improve society through literature and the written word.

Where many of Brunel’s successful REF submissions focussed on a single strand of research or partnership, BCCW aimed to demonstrate how the team had collectively changed their industry, making it more inclusive, more diverse and more reflective of 21st century Britain. It wanted to show how the team, working to a shared philosophy, had not only changed the kind of works we were reading and enjoying, but had begun to change the very institutes that hold the balance of power in the literary world.

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“I think what brings us all together is that we are interested in making an intervention into society, that we believe in social change, that we believe in giving representation to underrepresented voices, and that we believe that a really healthy literature society is one where it is pluralistic, where everyone has a chance to tell their stories and to reach as wide an audience as possible,” said BCCW’s Prof Bernadine Evaristo.

In 2019, Prof Evaristo was cast into the global limelight as the first black woman and first black Briton to win the Booker Prize, joining a list of famous recipients that includes the likes of Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hilary Mantel. Based on extensive research, her novel, Girl, Woman, Other, has already sold over a million copies in the English language and been celebrated for telling the story of twelve characters whose backgrounds have traditionally been underrepresented in contemporary literature. The book gained an army of influential fans, including former US President Barack Obama, who named it as one of his favourite books of the year.

“That means that a lot of people in this country who are not from the communities I'm writing about have read the book, and are reading a book that’s an experimental text,” said Professor Evaristo. “And I think that is incredibly rewarding. Because if, before the Booker, you said to these people, “you know, this is a book, it's about black British women, it’s experimental and it's called a fusion fiction,” they might not have wanted to pick it up. But because it won the Booker, they picked it up, and then found, actually, that it's something that they can read and enjoy.”

Mainstream success for members of the BCCW has helped propel them into influential positions within some of the country’s most important institutions, where they’ve able to start to transform things from the inside. The team currently includes Prof Daljit Nagra, the first BAME chair of the Royal Society of Literature, who immediately pursued ‘over-representation’ by appointing 60 BAME fellows, Prof Benjamin Zephaniah, who won a BAFTA for the UK’s first mainstream poetry show, and Costa Book of the Year Winner Dr Hannah Lowe, whose work with the National Trust helped the organisation better understand its historical ties to China.

“We view this idea of Transforming the Literary Landscape and emphasis on this combination of theoretical analysis of contemporary culture and studies, and the practical responses to that in the form of literary output and institutional change on the back of that as the basis of all our research going forward,” said Prof William Watkin, Professor of Contemporary Philosophy and Literature.

“It's a clear strategy that we had, that at the end of all this, can you change something institutionally, so that it's not just us talking about it, but actually making the situation better in a way that you can demonstrate and prove.”

Related Research Group(s)


Contemporary Writing - The group facilitates, promotes and disseminates cutting-edge creative, critical and socially-engaged work within English Studies and affiliated fields.

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Project last modified 09/01/2024