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Black authors still struggle to get recognized for their creative freedom

At the height of the racial justice movement in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black authors started tweeting about their realities in the publishing industry.

Floyd, a Black man whose life is the subject of the new book His Name Is George Floyd by The Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, died after White police officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. A worldwide uprising followed people into their workplaces. Black authors like L.L. McKinney wanted to know how unfair pay can be for someone like her.

The A Blade So Black fantasy young adult author created the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag two years ago, where White authors were asked to share the amount of money they had been paid for their books. But Black authors and other authors of color began to share how they had been lowballed for their books. With more attention to the Black experience, L.L. McKinney started the Juneteenth Book Festival.

The festival, which was held in 2020 and canceled in 2021, played virtually on YouTube with authors such as Ashley Woodfolk, Mikki Kendall, and Nichole Perkins headlining panels. This year, the festival seemed to be offline; the last tweet posted in 2021 with L.L. being “on hiatus.” But in Portland, Oregon, Nanea Woods decided to have The Freadom Festival, the city’s first Black book festival this weekend.

“How we obtained our freedom has a lot to do with reading and literacy,” she told The Oregonian.

Juneteenth is the holiday many Black communities across the U.S. had been celebrating for generations to mark the official end of slavery when people who had been enslaved in Galveston, Texas, finally received the message in 1865 they were free. Over the racial uprising of 2020, the federal government moved to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021 observed on June 19. For many employees, this coming Monday is the first time Juneteenth is a paid day off.

We started the week with best-selling White male author James Patterson telling the U.K.’s The Sunday Times “that it is hard for white men to get writing gigs in film, theatre, TV or publishing.” This stirred debate on social media.

Many commented that most of the authors who make the best-sellers lists are White men such as Bill O’Reilly, David Sedaris, and Dan Pfeiffer, all sharing The New York Times Best-seller list for Hardcover Nonfiction with Patterson, who has the top spot with his eponymous memoir. Famous Black actress Viola Davis is the only woman and person of color in the top five this week with her memoir, Finding Me.

It should be common knowledge that non-White authors do not dominate the charts most of the time. In fact, many authors of color never see a publishing deal. And if they do, they’re not paid adequately, evidenced by #PublishingPaidMe. L.L. McKinney vowed this week to focus on the positive when it came to Patterson’s remarks.

“I been thinking about saying something on James Patterson for the past couple of days, but instead I’ve decided to talk more about books by BIPOC that I have written or that I have read/loved,” she tweeted Wednesday, mentioning Black, Indigenous, and people of color authors.

Patterson has since apologized. In 2020, data analysis group WordsRated found a record 26% of children’s best-sellers were written by Black authors. In 2021, that percentage fell to 18%, below the numbers in 2019. This shows there is a lot more work to do in the publishing industry.

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