The Thursday Book Beat: Simon & Schuster Creates Imprint for Muslim Characters and Stories

It’s been a rollercoaster week of book news, everyone, and one of the lowest points has been the death of beloved American author Harper Lee. Few can deny the influence that To Kill a Mockingbird has had on modern American society, and the ways in which 2016 isn’t that much different from 1960s Alabama still makes it a book that can spark discussions.

TKAM was the first book I ever read that really laid out race relations in the South, and it has stayed with me through criticism and praise alike. It may be a polarizing novel, but Lee’s prose is still powerful and her death is a loss to literary circles and readers.

Speaking of the publishing industry, readers may have noticed that there’s been a lot of diversity-related news in this column lately. 2016 seems to be the year for these conversations to really be taking off, with the industry highlighting the work that’s been done so far towards diverse literature and the work still to come.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre has released their newest set of statistics on 3,500 children’s books for 2015, and the numbers are just as unsurprising as Lee & Low’s diversity survey.

Just under 33% (86 titles) of books with “significant African or African-American content” were written by African or African-American authors. The data doesn’t get much better as you go on: 39% (43 titles) of books with Asian/Pacific characters or stories are written by Asian/Pacific authors, and out of 41 books featuring American Indian/First Nations stories, only 17 were penned by American Indians/First Nations people. Latino authors wrote just about half of the books featuring Latino stories or characters, the most optimistic number thus far.

The systemic exclusion of diverse writers, editors, and agents from the publishing industry is highlighted quite starkly in a piece published by Brooklyn Magazine this week. The piece’s title leaves very little to be assumed–“You Will Be Tokenized”. Writers like Stacey Lee and Daniel Lee Older talk about their experiences with editors trying to get their books published; editorial assistant Morgan Jerkins describes how she’s “never shook hands with an editorial assistant who was not white.”

It’s a hard piece to read, because it’s hard to understand how exclusion and dismissal on this level can still happen in 2016. It’s hard to believe that people like me can still be fighting to have their voices heard by an industry that’s putting intellectual content out there and influencing the world. But there is some light on the horizon.

On Wednesday, Simon & Schuster announced the creation of a new imprint, Salaam Reads, that will focus on publishing books about Muslim characters and their stories. It’s an surprising and very welcome initiative that will be headed by executive editor Zareen Jaffery, and one that’s earned rightful praise from readers and creators. I’m incredibly excited to see and read the stories that will come out of Salaam Reads!

I’m also happy to share that Ava DuVernay will be taking the helm for Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time film adaptation! The excitement for this movie has been palpable wherever I turn, and after seeing DuVernay’s work in Selma, I must say I’ve joined the eager ranks.

While we wait for the film to hit theatres, however, I would definitely recommend checking out all the nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards. Naomi Novik’s fantasy novel Uprooted will be going up against Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy and N.K. Jemisen’s The Fifth Season in the Novel category. I was also delighted to find that one of my favourite short stories of the year, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” by Alyssa Wong was also nominated, and I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of the stories this month.

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.