Organizers have designated June 8, 2020 as a “a day of action in solidarity with the global uprisings in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the many, many others in the long history of Black people murdered by the state.” Nearly 1,500 people signed a “Statement of Solidarity from Workers Across Publishing” posted over the weekend as a public Google document (it is no longer online). The statement, addressed to the CEOs of the Big Five publishers, read in part:
We protest the book industry’s role in systemic racism, its failure to hire and retain a significant number of Black employees (and pay them equitably), to publish a significant number of Black authors (and pay them equitably), and its pursuit of profit through books that incite racism.
We appreciate the gestures you’ve all made on social media, but it’s not enough. We want more books by Black authors. Too often, the books acquired from Black authors are “trauma stories.” There are other stories that Black authors want to tell and we want publishing to amplify narratives that don’t rest on the trauma of living in a Black body. We want more Black co-workers and more Black coworkers in leadership positions. The voices of junior staff, often more diverse than senior staff, are too easily excluded from decision-making processes.
As part of the day of action, many publishing professionals have stopped work, or are working exclusively on projects related to Black writers. Others are donating the day’s salary to related causes, or spending the day “in service of the Black community.” Black publishing workers are encouraged to take the day to rest and heal.
Many publishers and agencies have responded. Penguin Random House sent a letter to staff that reads,
Our company and our industry haven’t published enough works by authors of color. We can, and must, do much more, and in particular, we must live up to our goal of publishing books for all readers. In order to publish more diverse books and reach more diverse audiences, we need to achieve the goal of creating a more diverse and inclusive employee population and culture. Without diversity at all levels of the organization, with full access to decision-making, we will always fall short of our goals as a business and as a cultural institution. Reaching the goal of a diverse population will not be easily or quickly achieved.
They pledged to increase the number of books published and promoted by people of color, and announced plans for internal change.
Simon & Schuster told Publishers Lunch
The events of the past few weeks have been heartbreaking, and we stand with our employees on the need for change. Although we have done considerable work in recent years to reflect and support diversity in our recruiting, promotion, mentoring, retention, culture and publishing programs, we know that more needs to be done. We are committed to working with our employees, authors and the publishing community to make our company and our industry a safe and inclusive environment for all, and a publisher of works that represent the breadth and depth of our diverse population.
Hachette Book Group declared their “recruitment and hiring initiatives and our in-house diversity programs have resulted in improvements in the diversity of our workplace and publishing over the past several years, but this is not enough.” CEO Michael Pietsch sent a video message to staff last week saying, “For many years we have said the words, we have expressed our good intentions, we have taken steps. And we have made progress. But we have a very long way to go to become the diverse, anti-racist company we need to be. And I pledge to do that work, together with all of you.”