This week we meet Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies. Here, Melanie chats to us about working in partnership with Words of Colour and Spread the Word to launch a virtual development programme for emerging writers of colour.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies, where I teach and research topics related to Publishing and Book Cultures. My main research interest centres on contemporary authorship, publishing, and reading, with a focus on children’s and young adult fiction (YA) books. So, I basically talk about books - particularly children’s and YA books - all day, which is delightful and a complete privilege.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been at UCL since 2014. Before that I was a Lecturer at Loughborough University, and before that I was a PhD student.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I’m fortunate to do a lot of work that has direct impact on the publishing and wider book industry. I am working in collaboration with the BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, to examine the representation of children’s authors and illustrators of colour, published in the UK (2007-2021), and exploring ways of better supporting them. The first report can be found, and downloaded, here. The statistics are also summarised in The Guardian.
In direct response to the recommendations from my report, I am working in partnership with Words of Colour and Spread the Word to launch the Take Flight Hub , a virtual professional and creative development programme for emerging writers of colour. Some of the country’s leading novelists, poets, playwrights, literary agents and publishers of colour shared their expertise through the free talks, masterclasses, workshops, panel discussions and presentations that took place over five weeks (30 June to 30 July), made possible by a grant from the UCL Knowledge and Innovation Rapid Response fund.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I am working on a collaborative, interdisciplinary research project - Adolescent Identities - with my lovely friend and research partner Dr Leah Phillips. This project investigates how YA reflects the realities of marginalised readers: really centring young people, from underrepresented communities, and their experiences. We have been working closely with schools, libraries, and bookshops; hosting reading groups and focus groups with teenagers across the country; and engaging with the wider YA and bookish community online.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Argh. This is super difficult. I (unsurprisingly) read a lot of YA and one of my favourite YA authors is Elizabeth Acevedo, who has written three excellent books, in verse, in the last few years: The Poet X; With the Fire on High; and Clap When You Land. I love a novel in verse - my other favourites include The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, and That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu. I’m very excited about Joseph Coehlo’s new novel in verse, The Girl Who Became A Tree, which is coming out at the end of the month.
My all-time novel though? Hmmm. Maybe Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It depends on my mood; I can’t commit to one, really (for any of the categories!)
Albums are difficult too. Maybe Elliot Smith’s Either/Or, purely for nostalgic reasons, but I also love Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions or anything by Sly and the Family Stone to dance to. I listen to both Illinois and Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens a lot. But, to be fair, the album I listen to most at the moment is Snacktime! by the Barenaked Ladies: it’s my toddler’s favourite.
My favourite films have been, for such a long time, The Royal Tenenbaums and Princess Mononoke but I’ve, more recently, added The Grand Budapest Hotel and Hunt for the Wilderpeople to the mix.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
I’ve always liked this publishing-related joke:
What makes Civil Disobedience such a great work?
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
I miss my wee parents - I haven’t seen them since January - so they’d be my dream dinner guests at the moment.
What advice would you give your younger self?
(Now that I’m a parent) Be kinder to your parents. Also be present and slow down: being super busy is not something to aspire to.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
People usually think I’m very social and quite chatty but I’m just Scottish, and actually very introverted.
What is your favourite place?
Anywhere cosy, reading with my wee one. And Scotland.