Being Black in Publishing

A series of interviews in The New York Times about what it’s like to be Black in the publishing world. This bit from an interview with Tracy Sherrod, Editorial Director at Amistad, stands out.

It took seven years of interviews for an editorial assistant position. I used to make a joke that I was the oldest editorial assistant in the world. But it didn’t matter to me because I was very, very happy to be working with books. Once I discovered that this could be a career, there was nothing that was going to stop me. And I think that’s the spirit of all the Black editors in publishing: There’s nothing that’s going to stop them from doing this job.

I think publishers hold certain beliefs about what is universal, and oftentimes we don’t fit, our stories don’t fit into that equation. At Amistad, I’m trying to feed our community by shining a spotlight on Black stories, Black culture, Black history. Because oftentimes what’s in the headlines is not the full story of our humanity. What I think has changed or not changed in publishing is that there’s more diversity in terms of what is being published in the African-American marketplace, in terms of the variety of stories that are being told. But there’s only like seven of us Black editors who have some authority, real authority and power — and it’s not full authority and power.

Given my sales history, I think if I weren’t a Black woman, I would probably have a higher title. But titles don’t really matter to me, just the opportunity to publish books for my people is what matters most, so I don’t really focus on that. People who have racist ideas and racist actions do not bother me. I don’t let any of those issues influence what I do or the way I think or what I publish. That is a personal problem. I don’t let it become my problem. Racism is prevalent in all aspects of American society, and publishing is no different.

dé Léon, Concepción, Alter, Alexandra, Harris, Elizabeth A., Khatib, Joumana. (2020, July 1). ‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing. The New York Times.

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