The publishing industry is important; there is no doubt about it. It provides an outlet for writers’ voices. However, as protests for Black Lives Matter sweep the nation and the world, there is no ignoring the industry’s blatant lack of diversity.
Lee & Low Books (one of the very few minority-owned, multicultural children’s book publishers) recently conducted a study on this prevalent issue, revealing that 76 percent of the industry itself is white. This is a 3 percent difference from Lee &Low’s’ study in 2015, in which 79 percent of the industry consisted of white staff. These statistics alone negate the purpose of the publishing industry: to amplify the voices of others. Black voices deserve to be deemed as essential as white voices; according to Lee & Low’s statistics, the industry does not seem to fully align itself with that belief. Now, more than ever, black voices are more than necessary, considering their stories and voices have often been disrespected and silenced in the past.
Nonetheless, there are many influential people tackling these statistics. Writer and poet Kima Jones started her own literary publicity firm, Jack Jones Literary Arts, in 2015. According to their website, the firm’s roster is 98 percent black women and women of color. Jones’s firm specializes in “projects to audiences who seek literary art that is unorthodox, underappreciated, and unparalleled.” Jones has worked on the publicity team for multiple bestsellers, including Angie Thomas’s novel, The Hate U Give, and Tyehimba Jess’s poetry collection Olio. Jones and her firm emphasize the importance of broadening the publishing industry in all departments, including the executive, editorial, and sales levels.
As the Black Lives Matter movement brings more awareness to this diversity gap and magnifies the need for black voices in the publishing industry, many are looking to purchase books from black-owned businesses, such as Mahogany Books in Washington D.C., Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Black Pearl Books in Austin, Texas.
Exposure of black artists and authors is fundamental to our perception of the world and ourselves; there is no industry without them. As Lee & Low Books states on their website, “The people behind the books serve as gatekeepers, who can make a huge difference in determining which stories are amplified and which are shut out.”