Literary industry experiences sales boom of black authors and non-fiction titles on race
America’s racial awakening in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd has resulted in a major shift for the book publishing industry, with titles by black authors and those dealing with race issues seeing an uptick in sales.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s 2019 book “How To Be An Antiracist,” described as “a primer for creating a more just and equitable society through identifying and opposing racism” found itself back on the New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction list days after the Floyd killing rocked the world.
The acclaimed title sold out at various retailers as it catapulted to the No. 1 spot and remained there consecutively for three weeks (through July 5).
Other nonfiction tomes taking up the majority of the 15 spots on the prestigious listing have included former First Lady Michelle Obama’s wildly popular memoir “Becoming,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ poignant letter to his son “Between the World and Me,” and political heavyweight Stacey Abrams’ urgent and inspirational narrative “Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America.”
British social media social media influencer and podcaster’s Layla F. Saad’s how-to guide “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor,” has received renewed attention on the best sellers list, as has Austin Channing Brown’s illuminating 2018 memoir “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.”
CNN analyst, attorney and politician Bakari Sellers’ debut literary offering “My Vanishing Country: A Memoir” is also a consistent best-selling title.
For Amistad Press, a multicultural imprint of HarperCollins Publishers specializing in nonfiction books that released it, Sellers being a part of this racial reckoning-related renaissance in the literary industry underscores the company’s longtime mission to celebrate black life and culture.
“It’s exciting to see an abundance of books authored by black writers on the bestseller lists,” Amistad’s editorial director, Tracy Sherrod, told the Daily News. “It showcases the vast, powerful, entertaining and informative array of literature we have to offer.”
“To know these titles are being read widely gives me hope that there will be lasting change, as our words are speaking to the consciousness of America,” she added.
Amistad also recently published prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump’s “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People” and has political analyst Tiffany D. Cross’ “Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy” going on sale July 6.
“[It] also shows our literature is and always has been a resource for achieving change, initiating progress, and raising consciousness,” Sherrod continued. “It shows how important our voice and vantage point is in directing America toward its full aspiration.”
Acclaimed writer and activist Kevin Powell has never ever witnessed anything like what he’s seeing in the literary world.
“I think it is incredible, never thought I would see anything like it, but also know America is in midst of upheaval unlike anything we’ve seen the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s,” he told The News.
“Back then there was a similar uptick in black book sales and black books being published because, one, black folks wanted to learn more about themselves,” he continued. “And, second, because white Americans and other Americans realized they knew very little about race, racism, or themselves, even.
“Same is the case since George Floyd tragedy and the protests which have come as a result,” Powell, 54, added.
The former Vibe magazine journalist gained notoriety starring in the first season of MTV’s “The Real World” in 1992 before authoring 14 books and becoming a political activist. Powell’s latest effort is the e-book, “When We Free the World,” available via Apple Books.
“Never in my lifetime have I had so many folks, white, black, all backgrounds, asking me about my books, asking me for reading lists, what to read, who to read,” he shared. “It feels like I am dreaming, honestly, because folks like myself have been writing about all of this for years. We’ve been saying these things for years. People are now finally paying attention.”
Many of these books — including the paperback version of antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 no-holds-barred exploration on racial inequality “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” and Ijeoma Oluo’s hard-hitting examination “So You Want to Talk About Race” can be found on the Amazon Bestsellers list.
So are “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein, and equal justice activist Bryan Stevenson’s 2014 bestseller “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” (which the 2019 Michael B. Jordan film was based on).
Not only are people snapping up physical copies of the books during the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of the audio versions on race-related titles are soaring, too.
According to Publishers Weekly, audiobook sales have grown by double-digits, year after year, registering more than 1.2 billion dollars in sales in 2019,
Titles about race relations are doing well in audio formats, too, particularly on Amazon’s ever-evolving audiobook subscription service Audible.
“We’ve been excited to see some of the antiracism titles hit our bestseller lists,” the company’s vice president of content, Diana Dapito, told The News. “At Audible, we know the inspiring power of listening to diverse voices and stories and will continue to use our editorial efforts to highlight black voices.”
The company has created its own black lives matter-related portal, Raising Up Black Voices, which leads users to their collection of offerings featuring Black creators, performers, scholars, activists and allies “forwarding the conversation.”
Dapito said the company is offering works by diverse authors and antiracism titles to approximately 85,000 public school students around the country free through its Audible for Schools campaign.
“And we intend to add many of those titles to stories.audible.com, our free service for young listeners,” she added.
Throughout June, Audible is donating all of its profits from the U.S. sales of the titles on its antiracism list, up to $250,000, to Newark Working Kitchens to deliver meals to Newark residents in need and to help sustain jobs at local restaurants that are at the heart of our community.
“It’s part of our longstanding commitment to creating economic equality and opportunity in our hometown of Newark,” Dapito said.
A longtime veteran of the book publishing industry, Sherrod said this current rise in sales by black-related titles is reminiscent of a time almost 30 years ago.
“Another moment that inspired interest in the work of Black writers…was in the 1990′s when Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker were on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously,” she said. “It made readers take an interest in what was happening in Black women’s fiction.”
“The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged older Whites to take an interest in literature written by Black authors, as well as the murder of George Floyd,” the Cambridge University alum added. “It’s helping people examine their role in the murder, because we all contributed to that moment and are all responsible in some way, be it from staying silent to full out not tolerating violence in any form. No one’s hands are clean.”
Although it was brought forth from tragedy, the current sales boom solidified what the award-winning book editor has always known: “I’ve always believed that there is a large audience for literature written by black authors. Black Books Matter. Black Voices Matter!”