Large and in charge: people who are making it and making a difference in the book industry.
In today's parlance where the desire for diversity has all but replaced the imperative for affirmative action, and it sounds almost inappropriate to ask if blacks wield power in the book industry commensurate with the $326 million that blacks spent on books in 2003 (the most recent study), according to Target Market News, which tracks spending by African Americans.
But BIBR asked the questions: In the 15 years since blacks became recognized as a bankable book market, have African American individuals made commensurate strides in book industries, and are we in charge of our own cultural destiny? We chose to ask these questions now because 15 years is a generation for the industry, and most would identify 1992 as the demarcation of when the book industry saw black readers as book buyers.
That was the season that, as Toni Morrison recalled in a 1994 interview with The New York Times Book Review, "there were four books by black women on the best-seller lists--at the same time. Terry McMillan's, Alice Walker's and two of mine." She also noted that Brothers and Sisters (G.P. Putnam, 1994) by Bebe Moore Campbell was a Book of the Month Club main selection. (Walker had the 10th anniversary edition of The Color Purple (Harcourt) that year and Morrison had Jazz (Knopf, 1992) and Playing in the Dark (Harvard University Press, 1992).
All surprised their publishers, as well as booksellers, with phenomenal sales. McMillan's Waiting to Exhale (Viking, 1992) sold 1.75 million copies and remained on the New York Times Best Sellers list for 24 weeks. The following year, Morrison also won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940 and The Street by Ann Petry in 1946, the industry had seen an occasional best-seller by black authors and in 1992 books by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison had graced The New York Times best-seller list at the same time. (Morrison's Song of Solomon, in 1977, had sold 3 million copies and was on the New York Times best-seller fist for 16 weeks.)
What made that 1992 season different was that these authors were writing for black readers, and blacks were buying their books in numbers that made publishers and booksellers take notice. The numbers indicated that a lot of white readers must be buying them, too. To capitalize on that momentum, the industry would need more books and authors that appealed to the same audience.
Before and after it became apparent to white people that African Americans were a market (We knew we were), a few blacks had been in place inside the industry bringing the occasional quality book by black authors to the market. In the 1990s, they stepped in to fill the void, along with newcomers who were sought out by publishers. These black managers built imprints inside major publishers or created books on their own, generating a phenomenal rise in titles and genres in fiction and nonfiction, reflecting the black experience in America. An eager audience snapped them up, churning up millions in sales.
Those factors also led to the creation of Black Issues Book Review in January 1999, and as we thought about our 7th anniversary, we wanted to look at the industries that bring black books to market--publishing, distribution and sales--and for blacks in positions of power in these industries. Our researchers consulted Internet resources, made direct queries to individuals known in the book industries, drew on BIBR's knowledge base and checked out word-of-mouth sources.
What emerges from the list we compiled is insight into who is controlling the black literary landscape. Writers write, but decision makers in these industries provide or block access to publication and distribution.
They essentially lock and unlock the gates of black book culture. Yet we found that few blacks were in positions of power in the established book publishing, distribution and retail industries. That is the bad news. Our search turned up only three black people at the vice president level at major publishing houses, none at a major distributor and none at a national book retailer.
Owning the Press
The good news is that ownership, often starting with self-publishing, is beginning to translate into power, although with great struggle. Our list includes a healthy number of black-owned publishers, distributors and booksellers, who together have had a huge impact on the growth of black reading culture these past 15 years.
(That number is sadly diminished by the deaths of Toni Trent Parker in September 2005 and Glen Thomson in 2001. Parker was founder of Kids Cultural Books and Black Books Galore!, and almost single-handedly brought black-interest children's books to the widest possible audience with her traveling book fairs and huge events at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C., and St. John the Divine in New York City.
Thomson's publishing house, Writers and Readers, made a strong mark on the cultural landscape since its founding in 1974. His "For Beginners" documentary comic book series covered subjects from Marx to Malcolm X and his Black Butterfly children's books won numerous awards.
The list is alphabetical with sidebars on some subspecialties. It is not ranked because no blacks are in true power positions or are owners of companies with major competitive power in the overall $23.72 billion book industry. There is simply not enough difference between these individuals to rank the list. All have impact and influence, and together they are the creators of the current vibrant black book industry.
Though unintentionally, we have almost certainly left people off the list who should be on it. Let us know where we erred. (Contact us at www.bibookreview.com.)
Finally, it will undoubtedly be asked, why we limited this list to blacks. Since today's watchword is diversity (gone are the stronger terms equality, affirmative action, reparations, economic justice), we'll be questioned about our concern for Hispanics, Asians and others. We do care deeply that everyone fully participates in the book industries. We are committed to diversity. As our founding editor Susan McHenry said so aptly at a recent staff retreat, where we worked ham to redefine our purpose and future goals, "We have to stay black, so the world can be diverse"
The Power List
Senior editor, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. She is author of Up South: Stories, Studies and Letters of This Century's African American Migrations and coauthor of the text for Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (with Lucy Hurston and the Hurston Estate). She has a power list of authors including Zane, Camille Cosby, Lloyd Boston, Ellis Cose, Tananarive Due, Price Cobbs, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Voletta Wallace, Blair Underwood and Vickie Stringer. She understands the whole range of black books, from street to executive suite.
Blackwords, Inc. publisher, poet, playwright, author and commentator. His goal is to make his company, founded in 1995, the "Motown" of black poetry and literature, and he is on his way with rifles like 360[degrees] :A Revolution of Black Poets and Tough Love: The Life and Death of Tupac Shakur. A force in independent black literary publishing.
T. B. BOYD, III
President and C.E.O. of the R. H. Boyd Publishing Corporation, the more than 100-year-old family business that publishes Bibles, hymnals, as well as other Christian and church-related books. It supplies the National Baptist Convention churches, and its direct-selling reach into churches and homes is phenomenal.
Literary agent who was in the first generation of black editors at the major publishing houses, along with Toni Morrison, Lawrence Jordan and a few others. She was a senior editor at Doubleday for more than a decade, one of the first blacks to hold such a position and quietly opened the publishing gates for hundreds of black authors, mentoring a generation of black editors and other African American publishing professionals. Power is more than position and visibility; it is also influence and longevity, and Brown tops the list in these. Specializing in giving voice to new black writers, she has represented such writers as Susan L. Taylor and Randall Robinson.
Founder of the National Book Club Conference, an annual event that attracts more than 500 book club members and authors from across the nation to Atlanta, Georgia. A sports journalist and published author, he has turned the concept of the book club meeting into THE glamour weekend retreat of the year and created a book-marketing event that has no parallel.
JESSICA CARE MOORE-POOLE
Publisher of Moore Black Press, this acclaimed poet (The Words Don't Fit in My Mouth) has an eye for publishing gifted poets, including Saul Williams; and her Literacy Through Hip-Hop program has brought literary excellence to audiences interested in hip-hop.
Publisher and book distributor, he founded and runs Africa World Press and has published more than 400 titles on African, African American, Caribbean and Latin American topics, most of which have remained continuously in print. He published his first title in 1983, Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya by Ngnugi wa Thiong'o, and his list continues to reflect important political concerns. He is also publisher of Funu: The Unfinished Saga of East Timor by Jose Ramos-Horta, the co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Twenty years ago, Checole began distributing books by other publishers and now sells titles from more than 250 other companies, making it an important source for books on the Horn of Africa. Checole maintains offices in New Jersey, London, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Ghana and his influence has had a huge impact on the global black book community.
Literary agent. A lawyer by training, this power agent told BIBR in an interview in 2000, "I do what I like and what I like is very often literary fiction, serious nonfiction and literary nonfiction." Her biggest challenge she said, "is trying to convince editors in a market-driven economy that work with literary merit has value" She has consistently met the challenge. The list of authors she has represented includes Benilde Little, Paule Marshall, Valerie Wilson Wesley and Ralph Wiley.
Founded Blackboard African American Bestsellers in 1991, the first popular listing of top-selling black titles and the first list compiled with emphasis on black-owned bookstores. Her company, Blackboard Publishing Company, now hosts important awards events and other cultural activities celebrating black authors and books.
Publisher of Black Classics Press, he keeps important works by black authors like W.E.B. Du Bois in print and available. He started one of the first businesses to offer print-on-demand, a process that has allowed self-published authors to print their books. He has also published fiction and essays by Walter Mosley and has been a board member of esteemed industry organizations.
WIL AND NIANI COLOM
Wil publishes romantic fiction, and his company, Genesis Press, was among the first independent publishers to specialize in the genre. Daughter Niani's leadership was key in uniting black publishers to form the African American Pavilion at BookExpo of America, the book industry's mega trade show.
Vice president and editorial director of Amistad/HarperCollins, she is credited with making the already esteemed black-interest imprint a prize-winning profit center. It was founded in 1986 by Charles Harris, who is now semiretired and organizing another entrepreneurial publishing venture. Amistad was acquired by HarperCollins in 1999 and relaunched in 2003 under the direction of Davis. Her power list of black authors includes Edward E Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize, other awards and impressive sales for The Known World.
Senior vice president and executive director of public relations at Penguin Putnam, this quiet veteran of the business rules publicity for one of the most powerful companies in the business. She heads the department and personally directs the campaigns for the topmost, best-selling authors, making her one of the most powerful individuals in the business.
Linda Gill, former vice president and publisher at BET Books, recently acquired by Harlequin Enterprises, is general manager of its new division dedicated to African American literature. Gill grew the Arabesque imprint, purchased from Kensington Press, into the premier list of black romance and women's fiction.
Founder of the Hurston-Wright Foundation and Awards, this novelist conceived and established the only monetary awards given specifically to writers of the African Diaspora and structured programs to nurture and sustain black writers. Her own first work, Migrations of the Heart, established her decades ago as an important writer, but her reach in literary philanthropy, aided by the work of Hurston-Wright Executive Director Clyde McElvene, has surpassed her very substantial contributions as a writer.
Associate publisher of Amistad/HarperCollins, formerly the advertising/promotion director of HarperCollins, she is a powerful presence at Amistad and the veteran marketing strategist who helped make the imprint a success.
L. PEGGY HICKS
Publicist and book marketer, she is founder and owner of TriCom Publicity, Inc., a literary publicity/marketing company. She is credited with starting black book club/author tours, which opened the way for self-publishers to market directly to reading groups, with huge sales results.
Vice president and executive editor at Doubleday, she is one of only three blacks in major publishing houses who have VP stripes. She founded the imprint Harlem Moon, and her list of authors includes Connie Briscoe, J. California Cooper, Marita Golden, E. Lynn Harris and Dorothy West.
CHERYL AND WADE HUDSON
Publishers of Just Us Books for young readers with their Afro-bets series, they challenged racial stereotypes in early reading materials. They founded their company in 1988, and, among other accolades, have been named "Small Business Pioneers of the Year" by Income Opportunities magazine. These publishing entrepreneurs are THE cornerstone of the industry for black children's books. Their daughter Katura Hudson, who handles marketing for the company, is in the young, gifted emerging generation of publishing professionals.
President, Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). The organization of black librarians has grown into a force of influence, lobbying and purchasing; and its awards for excellence have a powerful effect on the book industry. In addition to his position at BCALA, Jackson belongs on this list for the amazing work he has accomplished at his branch of the Queens Library in New York.
Web master and founder of AALBC.com, African American Literature Book Club. Even though he does it in his spare time, he has THE best black book Web site in the industry with the measured hits to prove it. One of the earliest founded on the Internet, AALBC.com has maintained consistent excellence and brought books and booklovers to the Web.
KARIBU BOOKS OWNERS
Hoke S. Glover III a.k.a. Bro. Yao (at right) and Simba Sana are the leading black book retailers, with six locations in the Washington, D.C.-metro and now Baltimore areas. Their insightful buying often brings titles to their customers before the publishers of the books understand their sales potential. Karibu's merchandising and marketing reflect a true understanding of contemporary black culture. Nobody on the East Coast does book retailing better.
Founder of The Literary, a Philadelphia public relations firm, publicist and book promoter, her strategies for black authors turned book events into literary/fashion/lifestyle gatherings. She expanded book promotion far beyond stores into hip venues and made marketing chic with evening parties, champagne sips, etc. She also pushed for black authors to be guests on radio shows.
Editor for Black Expressions Book Club, which has reached 400,000 black readers. The club was conceived by Juanita James, formerly executive vice president at the Literary Guild, and defined by its first editor Monica Harris. Mackey's time at the helm has matured it and made it a vehicle that can bring a book instant national attention. Mackey's mix of literary, commercial and street fiction has created opportunities for scores of black writers and independent publishers.
NAOMI LONG MADGE'TT
Founded Lotus Press in 1972 and publishes literary poetry by African Americans and others. Lotus Press has published titles by notables such as Houston Baker, James A. Emmanuel and Claude Wilkinson and brilliant emerging poets such as Ruth Ellen Kocher and Mendi Lewis Obadike. Madgett is poet laureate of Detroit, professor of English emeritus at Eastern Michigan University and one of the country's most distinguished and decorated poets.
Founder and owner of Third World Press (TWP), one of the most enduring independent publishers of black thought and literature. In nearly 40 years, TWP has published hundreds of progressive works by such writers as Amiri Baraka, Derrick Bell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Marl Evans, Hoyt Fuller, Dudley Randall, Sonia Sanchez and Margaret Walker. His services to the black publishing community are too numerous to recount. He has organized conferences and writers' retreats, mentored two generations of writers and cultural activists. Madhubuti has written and published 28 books himself. His impact on the national black book community is immeasurable.
Vice president, executive editor at Pantheon/Random House. A powerful, long-term presence at the most literary of imprints. He has published a stellar list of literary authors, white and black, and is Toni Morrison's editor.
NUBIAN HERITAGE OWNERS
Richelieu Dennis and Nyema Tubman have created a winning formula that combines books with body-care products, which they manufacture, as well as art, jewelry and collectibles. Their five stores in the New York metro area make them a key distributor and retailer of books for blacks in the region. Their merchandising and marketing are totally Afrocentric, and book sales thrive.
LINDA M. PEAVY
This former director of marketing for Judson Press of American Baptist Educational Ministries was named acting publisher of Judson Press in June 2003. The publishing arm of American Baptist Churches USA creates a wide range of books, including hymnals, used by 1.5 million denomination members throughout the United States. She was previously marketing director for Pilgrim Press/United Church Press.
BRENDA PIPER AND CAROL ROGERS
Owners of C&B Books, these two book distributors sell self-published titles to street vendors and other small black retailers. They are partly responsible for the phenomenal rise of urban fiction.
GWEN AND WILLIE RICHARDSON
CushCity.com founders. The couple has one of the most enduring and often-visited e-commerce Web sites for books (began 1998). The mix of books with other targeted leisure products for blacks keeps books top of mind along with those competitors to reading--DVDs and CDs. The site is a sure source for obscure, up-and-coming and self-published authors--works not widely available elsewhere online.
Bookseller, co-owner of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas, her reach is far beyond the doors of her bookstore. By her insightful buying and hand-selling, she often popularized authors beyond the sales potential their publishers thought possible. One of the early booksellers to encourage in-store events and book club meetings, she also co-founded the Romance Slam Jam, an annual gathering of black romance authors and readers. The Emma Award, which recognizes excellence in African American romance novels, is named after her. For years, she has been a coordinator of the programs of the African American Booksellers Conference at BookExpo of America.
Founder QBR: The Black Book Review, the first dedicated exclusively to books about the Africana experience, established in 1993, and of the Harlem Book Fair, which began in 1999. Rodriquez continues to head and expand on the fair, attended by more than 40,000 people.
TONY AND YVONNE ROSE
Founders and owners of Amber Communications Group, the largest African American nonfiction publishing company. Specializing in self-help, finance, career and how-to, with an imprint for celebrity biographies, Tony Rose has brought years of marketing experience in the music business to books, with results in visibility and industry presence that are impossible to ignore. Rose's energy is felt throughout the black publishing community. His leadership was key in uniting black publishers to establish the African American Pavilion at BookExpo and the National Black Book Publishers Association.
Editor, mentor, the mother of contemporary romance, she edited for Harlequin, Dell (Candlelight Romances), Bantam and other publishers, where she published national best-sellers by Sandra Brown and Jayne Ann Krentz, having discovered their manuscripts in the "slush pile" Her editing pioneered modern American romance, taking the genre from the castles of European history to the contemporary, American bedroom. She spearheaded the founding of the Romance Writers of America and established Women Writers of Color to help authors write commercial fiction and get it published. (Its goal accomplished, the latter organization no longer exists.) The influence and longevity of her editing make her one of the most powerful forces in the genre.
Publisher and founder of Walk Worthy Press, the former power agent based in Detroit who represented Pearl Cleage, T. D. Jakes, Queen Latifah, Omar Tyree and Iyanla Vanzant, among others, created an imprint for commercial Christian fiction and nonfiction that has successfully brought those genres to the market. [See "Between Mission and Message" FAITH, page 64.]
VICKIE M. STRINGER
Founder and publisher of Triple Crown Publications (TCP), this self-published author of hip-hop fiction has leveraged the success of her own novels (Let That Be the Reason, 2001; Imagine This, Atria Books, 2004; and Dirty Red, 2006) into a company. TCP has 34 published titles by a variety of authors, 10 licensed to Japan, and the company is venturing into film with her newly established Triple Crown Productions.
Director of sales and marketing at Oxford University Press Religious Publishing, this quiet 30-year veteran of the book business rules Bible sales and marketing for one of the most powerful companies in the business of scholarly religious publishing.
Recently retired from Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem--and that is after having retired previously from her bookstore of the same name in Denver--the veteran bookseller still holds her power seat as a key coordinator of the African American Booksellers Conference programs at BookExpo.
Associate director of corporate and educational sales at Borders, he handles the lucrative business at the giant book retailer of selling in bulk to libraries and companies.
News anchor of The Tom Joyner Morning Show weaves book news into her morning commentary. While she does not have nearly the impact that Oprah has, her comments reverberate in buzz and sales.
Through her television talk show's book club, she has brought reading to national prominence at a time when television was only competing with reading as a leisure activity. She has always included black authors in her reading selections, propelling their books to success.
She zoomed from nearly unknown status as an author of erotic fiction on the Web, followed by a steady stream of successful, self-published books to being a coveted catch for a major publisher (Simon & Schuster). She is also publisher in her own right for nearly 40 aspiring authors through her company, Strebor Books.
Carolyn Hardnett Robinson is senior researcher in news history at the Newseum in Arlington, Virginia.
Agents Who Take Books To The Bank
Our list is just too short to include every agent who has a strong presence in the business. Here are others worth watching
JANELL WALDEN AGYEMAN, an agent with Marie Brown Associates based in Miami, Florida, initially worked in an editorial capacity for a commercial publisher and university press and now handles fiction and nonfiction for adult audiences and young readers. Authors represented include Sharon M. Draper, author of Copper Sun and several young adult and middle-grade novels; Wendy Coakley-Thompson, the author of the romantic novels Back to Life and What You Won't Do for Love; Dana Davidson, author of the young adult romance Jason & Kyra; and Nnedi OkoraforMbachu, the author of the young adult fantasy Zahrah the Windseeker.
AUDRA BARRETT is dedicated to supporting talented authors whose style reflects urban or contemporary culture, and those whose work evokes debate, informs, or inspires through profound, thought-provoking narrative. Authors include Candice Dow, Caught in the Mix; Elliott Lewis, Fade: My Journeys in Multiracial America; Tony Lindsay, One Dead Preacher and Chasin' It.
MANIE BARRON [The Menza-Barron Agency] A star Random House marketer, then editor, he later became an agent at the elite William Morris agency. With Barron's departure, none of the major agencies has a black literary agent, although all have high-earning black clients. Barron now has a small boutique agency, where he will likely do big things.
REGINA BROOKS started as an aerospace engineer, and her solo agency--hailed by Writer's Digest magazine as one of the top 25 literary agencies of 2004--is appropriately called Serendipity. The not-yet-35-year-old recently sold a 10-book children's series on the animated feature film Food-fight!, scheduled to be released from Lions Gate in Fall 2006 with a $200 million marketing-promotion budget.
MARLENE CONNOR was in the first wave of black publishing professionals, and her Minneapolis-based agency specializes in illustrated books.
SHA-SHANA N.L. CRICHTON is president of Crichton & Associates, Inc., which represents writers of fiction and nonfiction works, including materials with African, Caribbean and Latin American themes. Published authors include Cassandra Darden Bell, Tia McCollors, Maureen Smith, Daaimah Poole and Kimberley White.
MONDELLA S. JONES [Mondella Jones Literary Agency], formerly an editor in the BIBR family, she is now an agent whose clients include Keith Boykins, author of Beyond the Down Low.
LAWRENCE JORDAN Along with Marie Brown, he was one of the first black editors for Doubleday. He has manned his own agency, Morning Star Literary Agency, for 20 years, representing such clients as the Paul Robeson estate, Andrew Young, football legend Rosie Grier and comedian Kim Coles.
JOHN MCGREGOR [JMG Books], one of the new thirtysomething generation of black agents, he learned his trade from Marie Brown and turns up his nose at anything but what he calls "good stuff." He sold Valerie Boyd's Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston and Phyllis Alesia Perry's Stigmata.
TANYA MCKINNON is a strong presence at Mary Evans Inc. a literary boutique agency. Her clients include journalists, academics and professionals such as Scott Poulson Bryant (Hung:. A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America), The Hartford Courant (Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery), Craig Marberry (Cuttin' Up: Wit and Wisdom From Black Barber Shops) and Carol Taylor (Wanderlust: 14 Erotic Travel Tales).
TRACY SHERROD, a former Simon & Schuster editor, is credited with bringing Zane into the major publisher's fold. This key player in the new generation of black agents runs a solo agency.. Clients include brilliant discoveries like Kalisha Buckhanon, author of Upstate.
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|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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