Four book critics recently hired by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have quit or reduced their hours to protest a lack of diversity in the new hires.
A group of five critics were employed in May on a one year contract to write about the arts under grants issued by the Copyright Agency and the Judith Neilson Institute. All of the hires, however, were white writers.
Two of the hired writers, Bec Kavanagh and Jack Callil, took to Twitter on Monday to announce they’d quit their new roles in “opposition to the lack of diversity in the selection, which resulted in an all-white group of peer”.
Hi friends. I am resigning, with @Jack_Callil, as an emerging book critic for @theage/@smh, an initiative generously funded by @CopyrightAgency and @JN_Institute. The selection of all-white critics fails to reflect Australia's cultural diversity. Full statement below. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/XoPxAD7tKp
— bec kavanagh (@beckavanagh) June 22, 2020
Another newly hired critic, Tiarney Miekus, has not quit, but has said she will give up some of her salary to enable Nine to hire more black, indigneous and people of colour (BIPOC) writers.
I know I’ve been silent on @theage and @smh hiring five white critics for their arts coverage under their grant from the @CopyrightAgency and @JN_Institute – from the outset I have found this completely appalling and shameful. 1/6
— Tiarney Miekus (@tiarneym) June 26, 2020
Cassie Tongue said she is “in discussions” to share her job with a BIPOC writer.
Miekus wrote on Twitter: “I know I’ve been silent on The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald hiring five white critics for their arts coverage.
“From the outset I have found this completely appalling and shameful. It shows the media’s bias when it comes to supporting the voices and opinions of people of colour and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers in arts publishing.
“The selection was not ethical or representative of arts writing and art practices in this country today. Since the announcement, I’ve had many exchanges with multiple editors. Having essentially halved the number of pieces I’ll be publishing, I’ve been advocating the extra funding set aside for my role — visual arts in Melbourne — be used to publish arts pieces by BIPOC writers.”
Miekus said the Nine-owned had agreed a “large portion” of funding originally set aside for her role will be used to commission BIPOC writers to publish visual arts pieces.
She said The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald “have agreed a large portion of funding” originally set aside for her role will be used to commission people of colour and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers to publish visual arts pieces.
Tongue, another of the hired critics, said: “I’m having discussions with Fairfax (now called Nine) about how I can use my role to share space, facilitate relationships between Fairfax and emerging critics of colour.”
In a statement, Nine said: ‘We accept the reasons why Jack Callil and Bec Kavanagh have decided to resign. We are reopening applications for the two freelance book critic roles, considering the previous applicants as well as seeking to ensure the roles are posted more widely to encourage a greater diversity of applicants. The successful applicants will need to have expertise as literary critics and strong writing skills.”
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