When Margaret Busby launched her publishing company in 1967, she was the youngest and first black woman to do so in England.
Decades later, when she was asked why she’d fought so hard to launch an indie publishing house, she said:
“So that you don’t only get one perspective all the time, with everything filtered through the usual gatekeepers— we know who they are, whether in London, New York or wherever… Other voices need to get a look-in, not just those that already have the power.”
In 2016, the ‘usual gatekeepers’ means the Big Five – Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster.
Yes, they do publish black authors, but the volume doesn’t begin to reflect the diversity in our day-to-day lives. And with largely white commissioning editors, you have to wonder, how does that selection process work? What is their gatekeeping criteria? Which black stories do they choose to tell?
Author, Tia Williams wrote an interesting piece in Cosmopolitan magazine earlier this year about her experiences finding a publisher for her romantic comedy, The Perfect Find. Her agent shopped the rom-com to major publishers and was told the heroine didn’t explore her racial identity enough.
Williams was shocked.
“How could these non-black women decide that I, a black woman, hadn’t adequately explored my character’s race? Jenna [the heroine] isn’t struggling with her blackness, in fashion or otherwise. She’s struggling with starting over and her ticking biological clock and hiding from her boss that she’d just had an orgasm in the fashion closet with the guy three cubicles down — all multilayered, real situations that white characters are allowed to experience, no apologies.”
So, how do we tell and enjoy the stories we want to? Self-publishing is certainly one solution. Building independent publishers is another.
Here are 5 black indie publishers you should be supporting.
This is the publishing house Tia Williams eventually signed with. It was founded by bestselling authors: ReShonda Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray and has a roster of over 40 authors.
The African publisher is headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria and publishes everything from young adult to crime and literary fiction. In 2014 it launched the imprint, Ankara Press to focus on African romance stories. This year it opened a UK office to further its mission of introducing great African writing to the world.
Genesis was founded in 1993 by attorneys, Wilbur and Dorothy Colom and is now one of the largest African American book publishers in the US. It started out publishing four books a year, and had climbed to 28 books after just seven years. Genesis now has eight different imprints, so whether you’re into Christian romance, erotica, interracial relationships, romantic comedy or paranormal, there’s a book line for you.
Farafina Books is part of the non-profit Farafina Trust. The Nigerian publishing house has published over 30 titles from award-winning writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ben Okri, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. In 2009 they collaborated with a British production company, Slate Films, to produce the movie, Half of a Yellow Sun.
Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke was Submissions Editor of the acclaimed imprint, Heinemann African and Caribbean Writers Series, for 12 years. There she helped publish luminaries like: Wole Soyinka, Ama Ata Aidoo, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, Ayi Kwei Armah, Derek Walcott, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and many others. Once the series closed, Becky and her husband founded Ayebia. The publishing company strives to continue the work of unearthing African and Caribbean writing talent and sharing it with the world.
Can you name another black-owned publisher? Please share in the comments. Let’s lift each other up.