‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing

The nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice have set off conversations in nearly every industry about the treatment of Black workers, and book publishing is no exception.

The industry has long been criticized for hiring and retaining so few employees of color — according to a survey of the work force released this year by the children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books, only 5 percent are Black. But the calls to diversify have intensified in recent weeks, as Black professionals have publicly shared long-suppressed frustrations about how racial prejudice has affected their work. In publishing, that has included discussions of hiring practices, workplace microaggressions and publishing companies’ treatment of books by Black writers.

Publishers say they are listening. They are seeing books about race and racism dominate best-seller lists, and several companies have committed to changing their hiring practices and the books they publish.

Eight publishing professionals — working in different facets of the industry, including an author, literary agent, marketer, publicist, editors and booksellers — told us what they are seeing now and what they’ve seen before, how being Black has affected their careers, and what they hope the future will bring. Here are their responses, which have been condensed and edited.

Tracy SherrodEditorial director, Amistad

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