NEW PEN AMERICA REPORT: DEEP AND PERSISTENT OBSTACLES IN PUBLISHING HOUSES IMPEDE GREATER DIVERSITY IN TERMS OF AUTHORS AND STORIES TOLD
“Publishers are the curators of America’s stories,” said Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief program officer for PEN America’s Literary Programs. “They are gatekeepers who decide whose stories will be told and whose will not. They have a moral and social obligation to ensure that the pluralism of American society is presented more robustly in our literary canon. Our investigation makes clear that high-profile hires and author signings represent only one layer of the comprehensive transformation necessary to create a trade book publishing industry fit to serve a fast-changing readership.”
Key findings include:
- The practice of basing financial investments in specific titles on “comps” based on other authors of color or from similar backgrounds entrenches inequities in that prior titles were likely not supported well enough to achieve their full potential
- An “identity trap” pigeon-holes authors of color who are viewed as positioned only to write about racially-oriented subjects
- Authors of color can face the conundrum of being expected to write books that represent their culture, but also being urged to reach beyond niche audiences.
- Publishers continue to subscribe to a tacit “one is enough” rule in which a single book by an author of a particular background or focused on a certain ethnic group can foreclose future interest in titles that address ostensibly similar subjects
- Long tenures and low turnover rates in publishing limit advancement opportunities for staff, delaying the diversification of leadership ranks and constraining the influence of editors and other publishers of color within their houses.