People of Color in Publishing’: Striving for More Industry Diversity

Emma Kantor, Publishers Weekly, December 12, 2107

The pervasive lack of diversity within the book publishing industry, both in terms of the composition of the workforce and the types of books being produced, has been the subject of numerous surveys and discussions, and the inspiration for the We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices movements. Publishing staffers from a number of houses and agencies have recently gathered to form People of Color in Publishing, a grassroots organization addressing the need for greater inclusivity within all areas of children’s and adult publishing. The group was founded this past July by Patrice Caldwell, associate editor at Disney-Hyperion, with the aim of “supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members throughout the industry.” An official launch event was held on December 6 in New York City.

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Founder Caldwell told PW, “The idea for the group came from wanting a safe space for people of color within the publishing industry. I wanted a place for activism and organizing, where we could vent our frustrations but also work towards solutions.” The core members of the team came together during the summer, after Lee & Low marketing and publicity assistant Jalissa Corrie reached out to Caldwell, whom she’d met through online networking. {snip}

Team Building

To date, People of Color in Publishing’s private Facebook group connects more than 470 members, many of which support the organization’s work through participation on five subcommittees. Porscha Burke and Saraciea Fennell, co-chairs of the PR and Communications subcommittee, are responsible for managing the organization’s social media outreach, blog, and growing newsletter. Burke, who is a publishing manager at Random House, joined the group in its initial stages. {snip}

Fennell, who is a freelance publicist and formerly worked at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, said, “Our goals are to continue to build our platforms and connect even more meaningfully with current industry insiders, while also helping advance opportunities for other people of color to break into publishing.” Fennell is also involved with Latinx in Publishing, and described plans for continued partnerships, including another Three King’s Day event next month with National Book Award finalist Erika L. Sánchez.

Ebony LaDelle, senior marketing manager in HarperCollins’s YA division, joined the group via Fennell’s invitation and became co-chair of the Outreach and Partnerships subcommittee following Emi Ikkanda’s departure in September. A particular focus of the committee is on reaching out to individuals of diverse backgrounds who are working to break into the business. {snip}

In addition to recruitment of diverse staffers, the group is also dedicated to supporting individuals of color who are already established in the industry. Saba Sulaiman, an associate agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, serves as co-chair for the Mentorship and Retention Committee, alongside fellow literary agent Beth Phelan.

People of Color in Publishing is also committed to serving the needs of diverse authors and illustrators. A member of the group since its early stages, Jalissa Corrie is now co-chair of the Writers and Illustrators subcommittee, which she said is working “to better serve the needs of writers and illustrators of color including Native/Indigenous writers and illustrators.” One of the group’s first projects has been to design and distribute a survey assessing the needs of diverse children’s book creators. “Overall, the writers and illustrators who have completed the survey are thrilled that we, as an organization, are dedicated to [assessing] their needs so that their voices will be heard,” Corrie said.

Off to a Good Start

On December 6, People of Color in Publishing held an official launch event, open to all members of the publishing community, at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. There was a line out the door to enter the sold-out event, which had been relocated from its original venue to accommodate the crowd. The event was sponsored by Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, Lee & Low, Scholastic, the Children’s Book Council, and Inkluded.

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During the launch, Caldwell and fellow members of the various subcommittees introduced themselves and their group’s mission, and revealed the official logo. Addressing the need for a wider range of “mirrors and windows” for readers and publishing staffers alike, Caldwell said, “We often forget the most powerful mirrors and windows are people—role models to look up to. It’s never just about books.” She spoke of her group’s mission to “find the [diverse] talent, and ask them what they need to succeed.” Caldwell offered a final word of encouragement to her peers: “You are all unstoppable.”

Next, Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander took the stage to deliver the keynote address. He stressed that diverse books are for all readers. “The books don’t necessarily segregate themselves; we do that,” he said. Alexander echoed Caldwell’s statement on the importance of hard work, determination, and mentorship, saying, “I am a 24-year overnight success.” The author cited his friend and former professor Nikki Giovanni as someone who helped shape his career. He concluded by telling aspiring authors and publishers, “You have to be willing to be mentored. Always be present and say ‘yes’ to that opportunity. If it was meant to be, it will be.”

Buoyed by the success of the group’s first year, Caldwell and the rest of the team are looking toward future goals, including potential partnerships with the We Need Diverse Books internship program. Though all agreed that much work remains to be done, they are encouraged by the community’s growing support. As Caldwell said to the attendees during the launch event, “By stepping inside these walls tonight, you’re moving beyond just asking, ‘Why is publishing so white?’ ”

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