“If we are to dismantle a system that is oppressive because it pushes certain people to the periphery, we must bring those same people to the center.”
– Leonicka Valcius, blogger, author, editor and traveler
A demand for an “equitable literary landscape” within the publishing community reflects the larger socioeconomic and political disparities among racially and ethnically diverse communities. Publishers Weekly, an international news website for book publishing and bookselling, conducted a 2014 report identifying industry characteristics within the publishing houses. The report showed that the larger socioeconomic disparities by race and ethnicity translated into the publishing communities workforce. It concluded that 89.3% of respondents identified as white, while the remaining 11.3% identified themselves as Hispanic (any race), black or African American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, mixed race or other nonwhite race (Publishers Weekly).
These numbers summarize the annual survey sent to nearly 7,500 subscribers who work at publishing houses in the industry—about 800 responded, 650 identified their race.
The shortage of racially and ethnically diverse employees within the publishing community has a direct correlation to the low number of racially and ethnically diverse authors being published. In comparing the Top Ten Books of 2014 for both the New York Times and the Washington Post, there is a significant difference in the diversity within each newspaper’s list. For example, the New York Times’s Top Ten Books of 2014 is racially represented as 9 out of 10 authors identifying as white, and one identifying as Indian American. While six female and 4 male authors represent the gender gap. In contrast, the Washington Post’s Top Ten Books of 2014 is more racially representative with a Jamaican male author, an Indian-American male, a lesbian author from Wales, as well as individuals from Tasmania, Canada, and Britain. In contrast, seven males and three females represent the gender gap. However, both lists show no women of color. This is not unusual considering that women of color are still one of the most marginalized groups worldwide.
The publishing world only begins to reflect the socioeconomic disparities that exist among racially and ethnically diverse communities. However, by increasing the number of racially and ethnically diverse employees within the publishing community we can begin to see a shift in the types of books that are being published. By publishing more authors of color, we may also begin to see an increase in readership among marginalized communities.
As children, we are often told not to judge a book by its cover. However, as a reader, it is important to see oneself reflected within the literature. How can a person of color self-identify or see themselves reflected within the literature if white men write most of the books being published?
The publishing community needs to consider the diversity of their employees and its effect on the types of authors being published. Diversifying employment will assist in creating a more equitable literary landscape. Diversifying this conversation will help shape that dialogue.
Please follow #WeNeedDiverseBooks and look for tweets from CALYX.
I can only speak personally. I understand, however, that as a privileged member of the publishing community it is my responsibility to step aside, to ask, to listen and to not assume something I do not know or understand. So I ask you, with questions provided by Leonicka Valcius, how does the publishing industry provide greater access to people from marginalized groups? How does the publishing industry begin to create an equitable literary landscape? How do we stop limiting our literature?
Written by: Karen Osovsky, P.R Volunteer