The Thursday Book Beat: Diversity Discussions in Publishing Take the Transcontinental Stage

Welcome back to Book Beat, readers! It’s been a pretty busy week for the book industry, and leading the news charge is the release of Lee & Low’s diversity baseline survey results. 34 publishers and 8 literary review journals participated, including Big Six publishers Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Macmillan.

Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey 2016 - Editorial Teams
Excerpt from Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey 2016 – Editorial Teams

Unsurprisingly, the results of the survey skew heavily white, female, cisgender, and able-bodied in most departments. The only exception is at the executive level, with almost an equal number of cis-men and cis-women identifying as leaders in their respective organizations. 79% of respondents are white, 7% are Asian or Pacific Islanders, 6% are Hispanic, and 4% are black.

Lee & Low does acknowledge the complex identities that are not expressed through the questions asked: over 50 respondents chose to write in their answers instead, explaining their discomfort with the choices presented to them. The company is working on a second version of the survey, which will both hopefully draw in organizations that did not participate and show some much-needed changes in industry demographics.

With diversity discussions at the forefront of many publishing initiatives these days, the Lee & Low survey will hopefully serve as a concrete first step to recognizing the unequal opportunities for non-white/cisgender/able-bodied people.

But Angel, you might say, aren’t we already aware of the systemic problems in the publishing industry? That might be true for some, but a quiet controversy swirling around the TS Eliot Prize winner this week proves otherwise. Sarah Howe was awarded the honour for her poetry collection Loop of Jade, and several male journalists and critics have criticized the judges’ choice.

Howe is female, half-Chinese, and has studied at both Cambridge and Harvard, all qualities that these men believe make her less than worthy of the poetry award. With outlets such as the Private Eye, a news and current affairs magazine in the U.K., and journalists like Oliver Thring writing condescending pieces about Howe’s work, it’s clear that sexism and racism are still very much present in the publishing world.

But all hope is not lost.

The 2016 Canada Reads shortlist was announced last week, and it features a stunning array of characters and stories by Canadian writers. Some readers may recognize Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes. His newest novel, The Illegal, will be defended by six-time Olympic medalist Sarah Hughes during the week-long event. Screenwriter/actor Vinay Virmani will defend The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami, and fellow actor Adam “Edge” Copeland represents Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter.

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz has been entrusted to Farah Mohamed, founder of G(irls)20, and debut author Tracy Lindberg will see her novel Birdie defended by G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip. The selections are sure to encourage nuanced and complex discussions of Canadian literature, as diverse and creative as it can be.

We here at WWAC will be holding our own debates over the Canada Reads books in March – be sure to stop by and check them out!

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz is a writer and boy band scholar. You can also find her at Book Riot for endless discussion and flailing over all things literature. Ice cream, Broadway musicals, and Arashi are her lifeblood.