Viewing entries tagged
diversity

Book Talk: The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

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Book Talk: The Book Itch by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

I also had a chance to give a book talk on a special book that I recently read--The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore. It's book that represents my desire to see publishers publish more diverse books to more fully represent kid readers of various backgrounds. It is also a book that touches on my favorite period of American history--the Harlem Renaissance. And it represents one of my favorite places to hang: the local indie bookstore.

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2016: Reading in Review

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2016: Reading in Review

My personal reading this year has been specifically targeted toward reading more ethnically diverse books. I am on a mission to figure out who I am going to be as a book publishing professional in light of what I see in our American culture. (You can read more about my mission here.) With all the gathering of stories, characters, platforms, ideologies, and perspectives, I don’t have words yet for how I feel like I have been shaped, emboldened, or propelled by what I’ve read.

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To Be or Not to Be Politically Correct—A Consideration of Words and Language

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To Be or Not to Be Politically Correct—A Consideration of Words and Language

Not too long ago, I was editing a book in which I chose to use the words enslaved people instead of slaves. A person reading over the material asked, “Why not just say ‘slaves’?” I thought it was a good question, though I didn't imagine being asked about it. I know why I chose it. It was not a second thought to me. I also understood why the person asked, and it was completely innocent. But it got me thinking about how some people would actually take issue with the word choice—enslaved people—thinking, "Here we go with all this political correctness."

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Graduate School Musings: Finding My Place in the Quest for Many Stories

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Graduate School Musings: Finding My Place in the Quest for Many Stories

Currently the official canon of American Renaissance literature (defined by F. O. Matthiessen as literature written between 1850 and 1855) includes no women and no people of color. Across the US and the world that include American Renaissance, or the like, as part of their curriculum study this time period with only the perspectives of white men. But both women and people of color wrote landmark, culture-shifting works during this time that embody the very meaning of renaissance. I aimed to uncover and explore their works.

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Women's History Month Profile: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—Writing to Power

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Women's History Month Profile: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—Writing to Power

Adichie tells the story of a Nigerian family under the oppression of a fanatically religious father. The story is told through the sensitive eyes of fifteen-year-old Kambili. The wealthy and privileged family consists of father, Eugene; mother, Beatrice; elder son, Jaja; and younger daughter Kambili. They are members of the Igbo tribe and live in Enugu. Despite his tyrannical rule over his family, Eugene is known an upstanding businessman and kind-hearted, generous philanthropist who gives to widows, pays tuition for over one hundred poor children, and funds the efforts of his local Catholic church.

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I Took the Leap and Here's Where I Landed

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I Took the Leap and Here's Where I Landed

Yesterday, I left my career home of twelve years. I was a baby when I started and I am still sort of a baby now (at least that's how I feel). And those who are interested want to know what's next. "Where are you going, Jevon?" It's hard for me to just say the company and the job title without sharing the weight of what I feel this next season is all about for me, and, really, for anyone who has an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to them during what I believe is a time of major transition for God's people around the globe. So I'll start with a little background.

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Sole Sister History for Black Girls Who Run

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Sole Sister History for Black Girls Who Run

In honor of Black History Month and this illustrious group of black women who have done so much to encourage each other to live healthy, well-balanced lives, I share this history of black women who have run before us and whose spirits and drive still run with us today.

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The History Behind Black History Month

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The History Behind Black History Month

I think it's important to place special emphasis on the histories and contributions of the many ethnic groups represented in this country. When we don't, we tend to overlook the beauty of our diverse cultural perspectives—and almost assume that we all think alike and begin to hold each other to certain expectations and standards that if they are not met we feel justified in our expressions of hate or apathy toward each other's struggles and experiences.

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The Genius of Nonviolence and Peaceful Resistance During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s

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The Genius of Nonviolence and Peaceful Resistance During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s

Though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the very deserving front man on whom we shower accolades and credit for the achievements attained during the Civil Rights Movement, it was the collaborative effort of several groups of strategic thinkers who carefully plotted out and executed an irreversible, genius plan to equalize life for black people in America. The strategy used is called nonviolent direct-action protest.

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Doing My "It" Scared—Or Something Like That

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Doing My "It" Scared—Or Something Like That

For the last two months I have been a part of a local cast rehearsing (July and August) and finally performing (this month) the popular play Crowns: the Gospel Musical adapted for stage by Regina Taylor from the pictorial book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

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Black History Month Tribute: 10 African American Publishing Firsts


The first African American to publish a book
Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773. Publishers refused to believe that she was a poet. A group of eighteen Bostonians questioned her then wrote a two-paragraph introduction confirming her talent. The book was finally published in England.

The first African American to publish a novel
William Wells Brown, Clotel, or the President’s Daughter: a Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, 1853. It was the story of a girl fathered by President Thomas Jefferson and born to his African American housekeeper.

The first African American woman to publish a novel
Harriet Wilson, Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, 1859. It was also the first novel by a black writer to be published in the United States. It told the story of a free African American woman’s experiences as a servant for a white Massachusetts family.

The first novel by an African American to become a book-of-the-month selection
Richard Wright, Native Son, 1940. Native Son, the story of a young black man who commits murder in a moment of panic, was a best seller and the first novel by an African American writer to enter the mainstream of American literature.

The first novel by an African American woman to sell over one million copies
Ann Petry, The Street, 1946. It is the story of a young woman struggling to raise her son in New York City’s Harlem.

The first African American novel to be bought by Hollywood
Frank Yerby, The Foxes of Harrow, 1946. An historical melodrama, set in the South just before the Civil War, The Foxes of Harrow was purchased by Hollywood and made into a film in 1947 starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara.

The first African American woman to publish science fiction
Octavia Butler, Clarion, Kindred, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago, and more. Her leading characters are usually independent African American women, and her themes deal with genetic engineering, alien beings, and the use of power.

The first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize
Gwendolyn Brooks, Annie Allen, 1949. Brooks was a poet, mentor, activist, and author of fiction and nonfiction.

The first African American writer to win the National Book Award
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952. The novel was an account of a young African American’s confrontation with discrimination and his inability to be seen apart from his race.

The first African American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved (a Pulitzer Prize winner), Jazz, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Paradise, Love, and A Mercy. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993. “My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger,” she says.

You can find more African American firsts in publishing and other areas in Joan Potter’s African American Firsts: Famous, Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America (New York: Dafina Books, 2002, 2009).

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Black History Month Tribute: Blacks in Publishing


Black History Month always excites me. And why wouldn't it? It provides an opportunity for me and many others like me to be exclusively proud of our heritage--the struggles, the triumphs, the mishaps, the scars, the resilience, and the beauty. It also provides a learning experience for those who are unaware of the huge part black people have played in making America the nation that it is.

Someone asked me the other day, "Is it OK for black people to have black this and black that?" In other words, is it OK for black people to uniquely identify their successes, achievement, status, or lack thereof as "a black thing"? I have to say yes, and I would say the same for any other minority group. If we don't have an opportunity to highlight our presence in history and contemporary times and our hopes for the future, we run the risk of being overlooked. Yes, we really do.

Here is where I digress into my sociological background. A majority does not have reason--and sometimes the ability, because of its position of power--to recognize the plight of the minority unless the minority brings its issues or concerns to the forefront. Think about it. If you are seated on the peak of a mountain, your view of what's happening in the valley is limited. But if a loud noise starts to rise up and maybe your mountain begins to tremble a bit, causing you unrest, you may find yourself climbing off your perch to see what in the world is going on. And even further, if you think of a marriage relationship with one person as a dominate personality and one with a more understated personality, you can see how the one with the dominate personality would overshadow the other--at times, unintentionally, and other times with well-thought-out intention.

I do not say this to create an argument but to make a point. It is important to recognize the innate desire of the minority to create balance--or the necessity to fight for balance. Sometimes the minority needs to make lots of noise to be heard, so that the majority is "encouraged" to have a conversation that welcomes an equal place at the table. This is an eternal struggle. Even if the balance shifts and the once minority becomes the majority (perceived power and all), the new minority will have to make itself known to keep things in balance.

This is why I love Women's History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, and any other time where the minority has a chance to tip the scales and celebrate itself in a big way. My hope is that a residue is left after the celebration that affords the minority increased visibility and voice.

I began plotting out how I would contribute to Black History Month 2011 some time last year. I wanted to discuss our history in the context of my current life focus, which is publishing. I have had an opportunity to explore and discuss with other publishing professionals how people of color are positioned in publishing as decision makers and as the talent--and while things have come a long way since the Jim Crow South, we still have a long way to go.

People of color (not just blacks) make up only 2 percent of publishing professionals, according to Elizabeth Bluemle's Publishers Weekly article "The Elephant in the Room." I can't singlehandedly change that--obviously. But what I can do is talk about the impact of black publishing, and in turn add to the noise that is seeking for ethnically reflective representation in the industry. Because, as Bluemle says, "This discrepancy between the real world and the publishing world limits the range of books published, the intellectual scope of discussion, and—for the bottom-liners among us—greatly stunts the potential market." And we just ain't gon' have none of that!


I invite you to join me for the next several weeks as I explore Black America's contribution to the world of publishing.
    Please feel free to leave comments in any of the posts adding what you know or appreciate about people of color in publishing--as professionals, authors, and readers. I want to get your feedback especially your thoughts about the history, where diversity in publishing is today, and what the future of publishing looks like for people of color. No wrong answers. One rule: be constructive, uplifting, and solution oriented. The rest is for the birds!

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    11 Things You Can Do Now to Encourage More Diversity in the Book Market


    FOR THE BEGINNER
    1. Venture in to any section of the bookstore that shelves books by authors who are not of your ethnic background.

    2. Buy a book from that section on something that interests you--fiction or nonfiction.

    3. Read the book.

    4. Write a brief review of the book and post it on Amazon.com, your blog if you have one, a friend's blog, the author's website, and the like.

    5. Recommend the book to your friends who share your same ethnicity.

    6. Rinse and repeat.

    FOR THE ADVANCED
    7. Research and find blogs by people who regularly promote or feature books by people of color. Follow their recommendations on good books--and read them. Many maybe indie or self-published books, but limit discrimination here as well. This is sometimes the best way for a person of color to get their message out.

    8. Participate in reader groups or book clubs that discuss books by a diverse collection of authors. There are many online, if you live in a homogenous geographic location.

    9. Peruse multicultural or urban bookstores (this can also be done online), buy a book, read it, write a review, and post your review--I think I may have said this already. :) You may be so bold as to send your review directly to the publisher asking for more books like the one you read and liked.

    10. Be ready to explore your biases against other ethnicities. Overcome them by allowing childlike wonder to draw you in to reading books by them and about them. Consider the story over the ethnic background of the characters in the book and the artwork on the book cover. You'll be glad you did.

    BONUS FOR PARENTS AND CHILD EDUCATORS
    11. Buy books for your children/classroom that have stories with diverse characters. Be brave enough to actually talk through the issues presented in the books. ANSWER YOUR CHILDREN'S QUESTIONS about ethnic, social, and cultural issues honestly and with compassion. If you can't, go back to the first two sentences of #10. Also, involve other people who are committed to educating children and adults on diversity issues. Consider that it really does take a village...

    These are deliberate actions that will help you step out of your normal reading habits and inclinations. Consider this a challenge for the year. As you become more aware of good books by people of color and find that they are not available in your bookstore, request that the bookstore order more diverse books. Tell your friends to do the same thing. I've done this a few times with hair/beauty supply stores and grocery stores and still find my requested products stocked on their shelves to this day. Stores will stock and promote what sells and it takes a smart and active consumer to help make a difference in what's readily available for purchase.

    This is a battle worth fighting with all the bullying and other crimes going on these days. Our active engagement and genuine interest in the lives of people who are different from us helps us to break down the walls that separate us and eliminate the ignorance that makes us fear the unknown.

    Will you take the challenge? What other things can you personally do to encourage more diversity in the book market?

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    On Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and the ‘N’ Word


    My response to Publishers Weekly and NPR articles on the new editions of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that remove all racial epithets.

    “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.”
    —Mark Twain

    English class was the one place that we could air all our crazy teenage/twenty-something philosophies about the world, history, language, art, religion, fashion, technology, and so much more. I recall it being the one class I never skipped. We hashed out race and gender issues, theological differences, and ideals verses reality. I feel that removing “offensive” language from literary classics robs students and teachers from being able to have these kinds of meetings in the classroom.


    Of course teachers should be well trained in how to facilitate effective and beneficial conversations on controversial topics, but I remember leaving my classes feeling enlightened and more aware of my neighbor’s plight. My professors were brilliant! We didn’t have to agree, but we were encouraged to respect and understand.

    Are we so politically correct that we are afraid to confront the hard stuff of life head on and then make our way back to common ground? It is a scary thought. My husband and I stay happily married because we aren’t afraid to confront the hard stuff. Our “talks” can get pretty heated. However, we approach them with the desire for understanding each other a little better and being able to empathize with the other’s feelings or position. This is a discipline. Empathy is a discipline. We were taught this at home and at school through many avenues, one of which was open discussion about cultural, religious, and racial differences. Twain's novels encourage this kind of discourse. Do we care that this is at stake with NewSouth Books' way of thinking?

    I’d have to say that this removal of the racial epithets in the Twain novels is not the beginning of our lack of addressing cultural/ethnic differences. Our discussions have been decreasing in frequency and substance over the last several decades to the point that our children lack empathy and understanding of people who are different from them. I believe that NewSouth’s thinking is partly the kind of thinking that has contributed to the rise of bullying and cold-heartedness in our schools.

    You may be able to hide relics of the past, but the memories bubble up in the form of passive aggression.
    NewSouth has continued to stand by their decision to publish the novels without the N word, saying that they have provided a detailed introduction that examines the use and context of various racial slurs and why their edition will not contain them. But I agree with Stephan Tawny, who said in his blog Tuesday, If the publisher finds it acceptable to confront the language head-on, why not place the note in the front of the book and then leave the original text alone?”

    We can rob the upcoming generations of their opportunity to have an understanding of other ethnic groups if we erase the historical context of what makes these ethnic groups who they are. None of us want to glorify the past or stay stuck there, but we need it to stay in tact so that we can grow from it.

    What I’ve also been privy to is that the editor, Dr. Alan Gribbean, who sought to make these changes is white, and because I am blessed to have a multiethnic group of friends and colleagues, I understand that my white friends are very sensitive to the N word—sometimes more than I am. It hurts them to the core. So I do hear Dr. Gribbean’s heart on this. However, let’s not cover up the past or erase it. Let’s use it as a learning tool, as a jumping-off point. Maybe from now on, books should be careful to not use the N word.

    So what does this one move by NewSouth Books mean? Should we start hiding Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Roots, Birth of a Nation and The Color Purple? Then what do we do about classic books that have demeaning messages about women (The Scarlett Letter was pretty deep) or any other minority group for that matter? Why stop with just those two books?

    This is a bad idea. Cover-ups like this have the potential to promote further ignorance, which leads to fear, which leads to hate.

    I’m thinking I’d better go buy the editions of these books with the racial slurs in them before they’re all wiped out!

    What are you thinking?

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