White and Whatever…
Harlem Book Fair: Why, in 2010, when the nation has elected its first African American president, is the book publishing industry still not meeting the need and demand for books that explore the width and breadth of our country’s multicultural experiences?
A panel of professionals will explore the complex issues and suggest solutions to a problem that is garnering a lot of attention. Please tune in on July 17, 2010 via C-SPan Book-TV for this discussion.
Following Independence Day I issued a Facebook challenge to my friends to provide a list of 20 African American editors of Children’s and YA books. A day later no one had submitted a complete list of folks currently working in the industry. At most, an informal committee came up with a list of 30 POC. There were lots of comments about the whole challenge and below is a list of a series of responses I had to my friends via FB and personal e-mails.
Some of the questions included: How many POC apply for jobs in the publishing industry? Who’s responsible for diversifying the industry? How can authors and illustrators make the industry more responsive? What role does White Privilege play in the equation?
I think all the questions are worth raising…again and again. Black Creators for Children (thanks to Tom Feelings and others) was started over 40 years ago as a self empowered group to encourage Blacks interested in the industry to prepare themselves for it. Nancy Larrick (The All White World of Children’s Publishing) and other educators and librarians kick-started efforts in 1965 to wake up the industry. The Council on Interracial Books for Children provided a tremendous boost in the 60s.
The Coretta Scott King Award was established 40 some years ago to recognize the stellar works of African American Book Creators for children. Yet, 17 years after that fact, my husband Wade and I self-published AFRO-BETS ABC book and later established Just Us Books because we couldn’t convince a commercial trade publisher in NY or Boston that this book was a
viable title for the industry to support. Remnants of the 1965 publishing model still exist despite the huge role that marketing and super book stores play in the publishing equation.
I was fortunate enough to have attended Radcliffe College’s Publishing Procedures Course in the summer of 1970. There were 2 other Blacks in the program that summer and neither found jobs in the industry immediately afterward. I landed a job as a trainee at an educational publishing house but trade house were definitely out of reach. Now, 40 years later it’s taken me and 6 other associates to come up with a list of 20 AA editors. And at least 8 of them are not working full time in the industry.
This is not to say that the industry has not changed or grown. There are obviously good, perceptive editors not of color who have recognized and championed the works of people of color. That is a good thing. People of color have demanded equity in school books for their children but the existence of “White Privilege” continues to have a tremendous influence and contributes in a real way to the way business is run and the way that the public at large perceives many books created by people of color.
The fact is that old habits die really hard. Book creators, and their editors tho’ must continually challenge assumptions about who POC write for, who needs African-American stories in school and trade books, why people buy books for their children and what kinds of stories those books tell.