THE PEN EQUITY PROJECT
Recent statistics make it clear: The publishing industry overwhelmingly excludes people of color from just about every facet of the creation, marketing, and sale of books and stories. We’ve read the surveys. We see the results daily in book catalogs, on bookshelves in schools and in bookstores, and in the pages of book reviews. If literature is the art form through which we explore the complexities of humanity and articulate what it means to be human, what values are we perpetuating through such widespread cultural erasure and blindness? What values are we passing on to the children of the unrepresented—and to white children—when their stories are so infrequently present?
At PEN America, we’ve been asking ourselves, at what point does this perpetual and institutional exclusion become an issue of freedom of expression, whether that’s through market forces, commercial viability, pandering, or the insistence on universal narratives. It’s what drove us in late 2015 to begin a series of initiatives we hope will address issues of equity in publishing throughout the entire life cycle of a writer, from being inspired as a young reader to getting that first book deal to hitting the book tour and getting reviewed. Our mission is to keep the conversation going while helping to bring about tangible and immediate change. This is what we have going:
What can and should we all be doing to bring about equity in publishing? We went to established and emerging writers and publishing industry professionals to have hard-hitting discussions about what’s at the root of some of the most difficult problems preventing a broader and more diverse literary landscape.
Fatima Shaik, Cheryl Klein, Wade Hudson, Daniel José Older, Robie Harris, and Alvina Ling discuss the effect the availability of diverse books had on their sense of identity growing up and what tangible changes they would make to bring about more diversity and equity in publishing.
Reimagining the Mainstream (Podcast) (October 26, 2015)
Gregory Pardlo, Willie Perdomo, Saeed Jones, and Cate Marvin discuss how to diversify mainstream literary culture, including the role of small presses in supporting a wide range of voices.
Equity in Publishing: What Should Editors Be Doing? (October 24, 2015)
In light of recent conversations on the lack of equity and diversity in the publishing industry, editors and other industry gatekeepers weigh in on how to mark out a new path forward. Featuring Alexander Chee, Anna deVries, Hafizah Geter, Amy Hundley, Amy King, Greg Pardlo, Morgan Parker, Camille Rankine, Danniel Schoonebeek, and Jeff Shotts.
WRITING WHILE MUSLIM
A series of events convening groups of Muslim and non-Muslim writers across specific genres including fiction, screenwriting, comedy, and opinion to probe topics of unity, identity, and self-expression in today’s society and culture.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks and with the 2016 election in view, Ayad Akhtar, Rozina Ali, and Haroon Moghul discuss identity politics, the normalization of hate speech in the media, and the global rise of anti-Muslim sentiment.
THE BOOK REPORT
PEN’s Book Report is a weekly series that challenges the notion of “best of,” “top,” and “seasonal must read” lists and the default books and authors that regularly appear on them. We simply asked contributors to share with us a list of books they turn to over and over again, ones that both inspire and challenge how they engage with the world. Participants include Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Melissa Febos, Kelly Forsythe, Nathalie Handal, Abeer Hoque, Gene Luen Yang, Loma, Lisa Lucas, Joseph Mains, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Celeste Ng, Khadijah Queen, Camille Rankine, Jeff Shotts, and many more.
WHAT’S FREE EXPRESSION GOT TO DO WITH IT?
We’ve asked writers and publishing professionals if bottom lines, market viability, and narrow definitions of universality—common reasons cited for the exclusion of so many voices in publishing—are issues of freedom of expression. Responses by Evie Shockley, Natashia Deón, Kima Jones, Jennifer Baker, Syreeta McFadden, and many more will be published in the coming weeks and months. Interested in taking part in the conversation? Take our Diversity and Free Expression Survey.
We’ve put together online resources to help publishing professionals, writers, and readers expand and diversify their personal, professional, and reading lives.
To truly comprehend how bias operates, we must look at it from many different angles. Provided here are historical, political, and cultural resources on the way privilege and conscious and unconscious bias function as a barrier to achieving equity for marginalized groups.
A reading list and resource guide concerning issues of universal narratives, tokenization, appropriation, privilege and bias in the publishing industry and the organizations working to overcome these challenges.
A list of resources about representation, racism, censorship, and equity in children’s and young adult literature.
We’re compiling a list of writing professionals of color: editors, agents, publicists, marketing and sales, curators, board members—any and everyone involved in the multifaceted world of publishing. This rolodex will be made open to the public to be used as a resource to help bring visibility to industry professionals of color who are out there every day doing the work of getting diverse stories to the public. If this is you, please join the rolodex today.
SURVEYING THE FIELD
Lee and Low’s 2015 Baseline Survey presented a significant first step in establishing hard stats about who works in publishing. We’d like to move one step further by surverying how and by whom works are solicitated, published, and marketed in print and online. Take the beta version of PEN’s Equity survey and give us your feedback.
THE PEN EQUITY CHARTER
We hope to enlist publishers, journals, and literary organizations both mainstream and independent in a partnership to develop a series of initiatives, goals, and data collection that will help bring about substantial and sustainable equity in the publishing industry. For more information or to become a partner, contact Antonio Aiello at: antonio[at]pen[dot]org.