In 2014, we celebrated our 60th anniversary as a publisher. That’s a big accomplishment, and it no doubt means we’ve seen just about everything. One of the greatest things about being around for so long is our large and expanding catalog; these great books published by Blair and our distributed lines are a constant in an industry that seems to be changing all the time.
This New Year’s, readers on social media called for more diverse books. What started as a hashtag (#WeNeedDiverseBooks) is now an official campaign to strive toward books for children that include diverse characters, are written by all kinds of authors, and are illustrated by unique artists. That’s a great call to action by readers, and we’re hoping this takes root in 2015 just like #ReadWomen2014 did last year.
Here at Blair, we’ve been publishing books by a diverse group of authors and about various topics since the beginning, and we’re very proud to continue that tradition in 2015. But, we are going to resolve to make even more of an effort to be thinking, always, about who we are publishing and representing and supporting. A lot of industries have a bottom line of sales, and it would be pretty disingenuous to say the same wasn’t true of book publishing. However, what is most inspiring and motivating is the idea that each book sold is a book in the hands of a reader. More so: there’s a chance that reader finally found someone to speak for them or who speaks to them. That’s a pretty phenomenal bottom line, we think.
There are vital, moving, hilarious, and heartbreaking stories out there that aren’t being read simply because the industry often overlooks the authors that don’t look like Hemingway or Faulkner did. That’s a huge problem, but independent publishers (like us, and the fine folks for whom we distribute) can buck that system and so can readers who demand equality in publishing. There are also great resources like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that highlight these problems and outline solutions. The Vida Count is something that’s been exposing gender disparity in literary (and other) publications since 2010. In 2014, 4 of our 7 books were written or co-written by women; including N.P. Simpson’s novel, B.O.Q. which touches on the military culture’s effects on women, and Badass Civil War Beards, Anna and Julia Hider’s fun approach to the facial hair of the Civil War. Chained to the Land, edited by Lynette Ater Tanner, was part of our Real Voices, Real History™ series, and presents interviews with former Louisiana slaves in their own words. Many people have called on the VIDA count to look at other demographics (race, country of origin, etc.) and that’s a job we should be doing, too. In 2015 and beyond, we’ll have a broader range of authors bringing exciting titles to shelves.
Here’s a look back and a look forward at Blair’s #DiverseBooks. We’re proud to publish memoirs, biographies, historical fiction, slave narratives, ghost stories, good home cooking, and more. We love publishing someone’s first book as much as we like representing an author again and again. We know our readers aren’t all from the same place or have the same background or look the same; why should our authors?
- John F. Blair’s Real Voices, Real History™ started with the WPA slave narratives and has since expanded to be a series that readers can count on to bring buried or overlooked voices to the page, now including Native American histories and still spotlighting narratives from former slaves. The series is meant to educate the reader about a certain history, through the stories of those who lived through it.
- Our distributed lines are always a great source of diverse books, too.
- Our lead title for Spring 2015, The Cherokee Rose, is the debut novel by MacArthur “genius” Tiya Miles, an African American professor and greatly awarded researcher of the interrelated experiences of black and Native American people in the antebellum South. In the summer, we’ll celebrate the return of Winston-Salem’s own Sweet Potatoes Restaurant owners for their second cookbook, Soul Food Odyssey. The fall promises more debut fiction from a female author, a close look at the black communist movement that stirred before America’s Civil Rights Movement was fully underway, and more.
Below are just some of the books from Blair and our distributed lines that are written by or about diverse communities.
We’re proud of what we’ve published, and are vowing to strive harder to publish diversely each year. We hope you’ll join our staff, too, in reading #DiverseBooks in 2015. Why not start with a Blair book?