By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
When Angela Joy goes to authors conferences, the lines for White ones are “out the door” while only a few line up for Black authors.
This wouldn’t have been the case two years ago. Black authors were a hot commodity at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
“Why was it that after George Floyd all the books by authors of color shot to the top 10s of everything?” Joy asked a crowd of about 50 mostly White booksellers attending the Allyship and Activism in Children’s Books panel at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel on Sept. 11. “It couldn’t have just been the tragedy because we’ve had the tragedies before. Was it the guilt?”
Joy was one of three Black authors on the panel that also included Lesa Cline-Ransome and Doyin Richards. The event discussed inequity in the book industry and how independent bookstores can be allies to authors of color. It was organized by the California Independent Booksellers Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting independent bookstores.
Moderator Linda Sherman-Nurick, who owns Cellar Door Bookstore in Riverside, put the conversation in a national context.
“Pull up the New York Times’ bestseller list for picture books,” Sherman-Nurick said. All of the picture book authors were White on the top-five list Sept. 11. “Not one author of color. Not one.”
This is a far cry from the summer of 2020 when books like “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson and “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo ranked No. 3 in hardcover and paperback nonfiction, respectively. Ibram X. Kendi charted in two genres simultaneously, with “How to Be an Anti-Racist” charting on nonfiction and “Anti-Racist Baby” charting on children’s picture books in mid-August 2020.
Sherman-Nurick also revealed that Barnes & Noble came under fire after multiple authors reported the book giant would put only the top 2% of each publisher’s children’s books into their stores. “That’s book banning on the supply side,” she said.
Cline-Ransome said the policy, reported by several sources but unconfirmed by Barnes & Noble, is likely to disproportionately impact authors of color.