Bestselling writer of books and television Nikesh Shukla addressed an audience at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) as part of the student-led Cultural Exchanges festival.
In conversation with another award-winning writer and DMU English Literature graduate Mahsuda Snaith, he chatted candidly about his writing process, fatherhood and journey to improve representation for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers, poets and artists.
Going from an avid comic book reader and a self-proclaimed ‘average’ rapper in his teens and early 20s, Nikesh struck literary success in 2010 with his debut novel Coconut Unlimited, which was shortlisted for two major awards.
Since then his work has been featured widely, including on Channel 4 and in The Guardian. He co-wrote Two Dosas, an award-winning short film, and has been named in The Bookseller’s 100 most influential people in publishing and one of the 12 leaders shaping the next generation of artists by TIME Magazine.
With so many achievements to choose from, he told the audience that his proudest to date was editing The Good Immigrant, a celebrated collection of essays by 21 British writers of colour sharing stories about race and immigration in the UK.
Nikesh said: “I’m so proud of what The Good Immigrant has become and how it has changed the way we talk about representation.”
A product of crowdfunding, which went viral thanks to support from the likes of JK Rowling, it was voted the British public’s favourite title at the 2016 Books Are My Bag Awards and has inspired a television show, a podcast and a highly anticipated USA edition.
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He said: “I thought a lot about who the book was for and it’s great to see that the writers have gone on to do amazing things.
“I think a lot of things contributed to its success, such as Brexit, but it still may not have done as well if it wasn’t crowdfunded, which helped build a community of champions around it before it was even published.”
He also reflected on juggling writing with other responsibilities: “The reality of being a writer is interesting. The thing I do the least is writing.
“On top of all of my work commitments I also look after my kids two days a week. It’s the the best part of my week, when I just get to be in the world and it centres me for when I’m back at my desk.”
When he does get time to write, one thing is always front and centre: “I love people and I love understanding what makes them tick. It always boils down to wanting to write characters that others can relate to.”
Currently 8,000 words into it, Nikesh didn’t want to reveal too much about his latest book, but he did say: “It’s about two brown people in love, which you don’t get to read about regularly. It’s been nice to write something joyous for a change.”
On the issue of representation, he added: “I do feel like there’s a ripple of change across the publishing industry, which seems to want to address it long-term and not just in the short-term, reactive way it has done so in the past.
“I hope it lasts because no one wants to be talking about this stuff. Writers like Nick Hornby just get to talk about their books. I also just want to talk about my books, without having to bring race into it.”
First-year English Literature and Creative Writing student Edwina Henriques was in the audience. She said: “It was really inspirational to see how a writer takes on the role and the experiences they go through, balancing their writing and other responsibilities.
“Nikesh gave really great advice about what makes a good novel, he talked about the importance of characters and taking your time. Writing really is your journey and your adventure.”
Posted on Friday 1st March 2019