Nadiya Hussain stunned many people when she won “The Great British Bake Off” in 2015. The 30-something stay-at-home mother of three won over many people over the course of the show with her bakes, which were infused with spices she’d use in her cooking. In a tearful victory speech, she vowed that she was never going to tell herself she was incapable of doing something.
Since then, she’s shown no signs of slowing down, releasing her first cookbook, baking for the Queen’s birthday, and hosting a 2 part documentary when she visited her family in Bangladesh. Last year she also released her first children’s book. 2017 started no differently for Hussein, as she released her first YA book, “The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters.”
However, her trying her hand at writing was met with hostility by some.
Against the backdrop of many British politicians expressing their apprehension about their fellow citizens who come from immigrant backgrounds, and their ability to assimilate into British society, there was a push back with #traditionallysubmissive in 2016.
With the UK’s departure from the EU (Brexit), now more than ever it’s necessary for people with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds to assert themselves as being British. One of the avenues through which that’s possible is literature.
A main concern raised in criticizing Nadiya on her latest venture was the fact that there is only so much shelf space to go around for writers. This is absolutely true, and needs addressing. During my latest visit to a local bookstore, I had the choice of 5 books in the fiction section written by WoC with minority female protagonists. This is particularly alarming because the majority of the population are of African and East Indian descent.
The notion that in order to be an accepted writer, it needs to be living out a childhood dream is deeply flawed, and ignorant. How can minority persons, in their childhood especially, know that their stories matter if they’ve never read them? They never read a book with a name similar to theirs, the illustrations were of children who looked different, and lived in far off places they needed an atlas to find.
It wasn’t until I became an adult I started actively seeking out books written by authors of diverse background that I was able to find these stories. Things may be starting to improve a little but there are still shortfalls when it comes to Caribbean women representation in particular.
Added to this is the idea that books written by minority writers should be a fable; that their stories should feature a talking tiger, arranged marriage, and colorful vibrant clothing set in enchanting palaces, maybe in Agrabah. To think that these stories must tell of something polar opposite from your life or not at all is absurd, and plays into the othering and exoticism of minority groups.
I honestly don’t know why Nadiya’s latest release has been met with this criticism, but it does demonstrate that the literary world is an exclusive one; you need to be x, y, and z in order to call yourself a writer or for your story to be worth telling. But isn’t that what books are about? To enter someone else’s world, while escaping your own? To find solace that you’re not the only one going through a particular struggle? That your life and story has meaning?
The boundaries which cut people off in society shouldn’t exist in the literary world, rather it should be limitless. Trying to build these walls goes against what books were meant to do- bring you into another world, be it familiar or vastly different.
The time has come for people to stop saying which stories are or aren’t worth telling. The next time I have my cup of chai, I can curl up with a book that’s my own. It’s about damn time too.