Woman of the Week is Stylist’s weekly celebration of women who are making a difference to society. Here, we talk to Sharmaine Lovegrove, founder of Dialogue Books.
Sharmaine Lovegrove spent her childhood immersing herself in stories. Though rather than being a young language snob, or a child seeking escapism, she was consciously using books as a way to understand lives that were different to her own.
“It was a real obsession,” she says. “Learning that different people’s experiences were just as valid as my own, formed the deep sense of empathy I have now.”
Her favourite book growing up, Matilda, fuelled an attitude that she’s carried into her adult life. “[Matilda] used her own spirit to make sure that she had a better life,” Lovegrove explains. “That’s the most inspiring thing you can learn as an eight year old. I always felt like the protagonist in my own narratives.”
Whether it was through working in her local bookshop in Battersea at age 16, moving to Berlin to set up her own bookstore in her 20s, becoming a literary editor in 2016, or founding Dialogue Books a year later, Lovegrove has been on a life-long mission to ensure that the stories available are representative of the world we live in. To this end, Dialogue is an imprint focused on publishing writers of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTQI community and those with disabilities.
“I want to inspire writers and let them know that their stories are valid, and that they should be heard,” she says. “I’m doing it for people who didn’t think they could be part of the conversation. I want them to see Dialogue and realise that we’re absolutely there for them.”
Lovegrove is clear that, while inclusivity is key to harnessing a greater sense of empathy and for cultural progression, tokenism and quota-hitting is not helpful.
“We’re fine doing our own thing,” she says. “But if you don’t include us in the narrative of politics, television, film and publishing, then your pool of engagement is going to get smaller. People see inclusivity as a moral imperative, but it’s a cultural imperative.”
When it comes to introducing the diverse wealth of voices telling brilliant, interesting stories to the world, Lovegrove is set on her goal: hear us as we are.
“I don’t want us to just assimilate and become like a nice white girl, that’s not the point of this,” she says. “I want us to be exactly who we are and still be at the table. It’s not about not seeing our difference; it’s about making the space for the difference for the greater good of everybody.”
If there’s one thing that’s still on Lovegrove’s hit list, it’s changing the rhetoric around “privilege” - in fact, changing the word altogether.
“People need to start owning their entitlement, rather than their privilege,” she stresses. “Privilege equates to being better than, whereas entitlement means you have an expectation, which is more the case.”
As for her advice to young women, Lovegrove says, when in doubt, “be bolder, be braver, be bigger” and, if you happen to be a publisher, “look at your list and ask yourself, ‘am I publishing books for a world that I live in?’”
Lovegrove promises that if you do, the stories you hear will be all the better for it.
Throughout 2018, Stylist will be raising the profiles of important women past and present – and empowering future generations to follow their lead – with our Visible Women initiative. To find out more, click here.
Images: Courtesy of Sharmaine Lovegrove