When I was invited to join Faber, in 1984, the fiction editor was Robert McCrum. He was excitable then, and so was I. I couldn’t wait to be on his list of writers, since he was publishing Kazuo Ishiguro, Milan Kundera, Josef Škvorecký, Peter Carey, Mario Vargas Llosa, Caryl Phillips, Paul Auster, Lorrie Moore, Danilo Kiš, Marilynne Robinson and Vikram Seth. Not long before, Rushdie had won the Booker prize for Midnight’s Children and that masterpiece, with its echoes of Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez, suddenly seemed like a great opportunity. The world was coming in. What had been a narrow and sterile place was opening up. These books were successful; readers discovered that they wanted them. Today something similar can happen to Penguin.
McCrum, of course, is one of those white Oxbridge men. The list of authors in this paragraph rather undercuts the thesis of the piece, since it provides evidence that a lot of diversification has been under way for quite some time — though it would appear that the authors were chosen not for ethnic reasons, but for the quality of their work. Kureishi, I gather, would prefer that an author's ethnicity be given pride of place.
The British creativity I grew up with – in pop, fashion, poetry, the visual arts and the novel – has almost always come from outside the mainstream: from clubs, gay subcultures, the working class and from the street. Many of the instigators may have been white, but they were not from the middle class – a class that lacks, in my experience, the imagination, fearlessness and talent to be truly subversive.Why art that is subversive is better than art that is not escapes me. As for the suggestion elsewhere that Lionel Shriver may not realize that "greatness can come from anywhere," I can assure our sanctimonious author that she is well aware of that.