On Thursday 6th June, Penguin Random House UK gathered to celebrate some of our most exciting authors, their forthcoming books, and the transformative power of reading. From Malorie Blackman, Stormzy and Bill Bryson, to Dolly Alderton, Simon Sinek and Ai Weiwei – the show brought together an incredible, diverse – and unexpected – line-up of authors and actors to explore what sparks the imagination and the way that reading and books can change people’s lives.
‘Penguin Presents’ saw 1,500 colleagues, alongside select guests from the creative and media industries, come together and invited to rethink the traditional role of the publisher and our place in the wider creative industries landscape. Through the theme of ‘Penguin Imagines’, we asked our authors to share their vision for a hopeful future and how reading can have a positive impact in the world. We wanted the show to contemplate tomorrow and acknowledge its challenges without falling into dystopian clichés: instead, offering a much-needed antidote to pessimism.
Here we’ve compiled some of the incredible highlights from the show:
Tom Weldon, our CEO, gave an opening speech in which he talked about how, more than ever, books are leading the cultural discourse. He talked of how publishing has never been more alive, exciting and influential, and how there’s never been a more important moment for Penguin Random House UK. Tom also paid tribute to three colleagues who have very sadly died this year.
The one and only Stormzy was joined by Malorie Blackman to announce the winners of the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize. Unable to choose just one winner, the first prize was awarded jointly to Hafsa Zayyan for her novel We Are All Birds of Uganda, and Monika Radojevic for her poetry collection 23 and Me. Curated by Stormzy, #Merky Books is dedicated to publishing a new generation of voices, across fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
The brilliant Ai Weiwei, who will be publishing his autobiography with The Bodley Head in 2020, was our very special guest for the afternoon. Interviewed by journalist and writer Emma Jane Kirby, Weiwei talked of the way his life has mirrored that of his father’s – also an artist – including both being detained by the Chinese government. He also talked of his writing process: “to write is to learn and to understand. When you start to write you realise that your knowledge is very limited, and there are so many more questions you need to ask.”
Kerry Hudson, the author of Lowborn, talked about her experiences of re-visiting her childhood school and what it was like to grow up in poverty. She was joined by Darren McGarvey – aka Loki – with both exploring the way that creativity and the arts supported their journey out of hardship.
Anand Giridharadas joined us to reflect on some of the themes covered in his recent book, Winners Take All, which was published earlier this year. He talked about the power of storytelling, and how in a world of distractions, books are more important than ever: "I have learned that the more quick our culture gets, the more psychological space people make for a book."
Jojo Moyes and Dolly Alderton met in one of the Palladium’s royal boxes to discuss the importance of creating female characters who can support, raise up and love one another. Jojo also talked about her upcoming novel, The Giver of Stars, which traces the story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond.
Much-loved writer Bill Bryson was interviewed by BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Dr Adam Rutherford on his return to science writing after sixteen years, The Body: A Guide for Occupants. Bill talked about his desire to learn more about the building blocks which make up all of us, and some of the eccentricities and peculiarities of the body that people just don’t know – like why we have fingerprints, or chins!
Comedian, YouTuber and children's author Humza Arshad was joined by three children from one of the schools taking part in our Puffin World of Stories programme, which has helped transform the libraries and reading spaces in 50 schools across the country.
Business guru Simon Sinek gave a talk about his vision of a world that doesn’t exist – one in which everyone can wake up feeling inspired and safe and return home fulfilled – and how he hopes that people reading his books will help us get there. He also spoke of how, at the moment, we are all players in games which have no finish lines – the ‘infinite game’, which is also the title of his next book, published in October.
Performer and broadcaster Cerys Matthews took to the stage to share some anecdotes and stories behind the publication of her new book, Where the Wild Cooks Go, which brings together her love of travelling, food and music, as well as treating the audience to a very special performance.
Finally, we also put the spotlight on some of the most exciting books we are publishing later this year with a video round-up.