The most high-profile Black woman in publishing leaves post to write second book
Simon & Schuster announced this week that its senior vice president and publisher Dana Canedy is leaving the position she’s held for two years.
After her 2008 memoir was turned into a film last year, she says she plans to write a follow-up. But with her hiring coinciding with the racial unrest of 2020 and coming into question in last year’s controversy over the acquisition of former vice president Mike Pence’s memoir, Dana’s departure still feels like a blow to diversity and inclusion in book publishing.
Directed by screen legend Denzel Washington, A Journal for Jordan opened in theaters Christmas Day 2021 starring Michael B. Jordan playing the late U.S. Army First Sergeant Charles Monroe King, Dana’s fiancé who died in 2006 in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Their son, Jordan, was only six months old. Dana’s narration of their relationship and their decision to have a family along with letters from father to son is reflected in A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor published by Penguin Random House’s imprint Crown Publishing Group.
Though Dana hasn’t tweeted much since President Joe Biden’s inauguration, there are a flurry of tweets supporting the film that grossed close to $6.6 million in global box office sales and received bad press for its low performance during a high-volume holiday weekend. The positive feedback contributed to her decision to leave her lofty publishing position to write a follow-up book expected to be released in 2024 under Simon & Schuster.
Dana’s short-lived stint at the top of a major publishing house also came with criticism. When news broke that Simon & Schuster will publish Mike Pence’s memoir, outsiders as well as insiders attacked the move, pushing that Trump administration officials should not have their books published especially when the Jan. 6 insurrection and claims of illegal actions from the onetime administration were still coming to light.
Simon & Schuster at the time, like most publishers, have been trying to add more BIPOC, short for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and LGBTQ+ authors to their rosters. Hence Dana’s appointment. More than 200 members of Simon & Schuster staff members signed a petition calling for the publisher to cancel the seven-figure book deal with the former vice president, The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2021.
“What I don’t want to do is what the industry does. It has to diversify. We need much more range. Through the people I’m hiring and the books we’re acquiring, I’m already trying to do that,” Canedy told the audience at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. last October. “I didn’t make the decisions for the wow factor. I’m not the Black publisher, I’m the publisher.”
A Pulitzer Prize winner, Dana worked in several positions at The New York Times over a 20-year span and eventually served as the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. She has a deep-seated journalistic mindset, so nabbing Pence’s book would not only be a potential goldmine for the publisher but also would let readers know the selection was unprejudiced.
On the other hand, like readers and staffers who protested against Pence’s book deal, the move looked like it went against diversity and inclusion efforts since most voters who identify as BIPOC or LGBTQ+ didn’t vote for Trump or agree with some of the administration’s most controversial actions. But the publisher sees the book as still supporting diversity of thought.
Jonathan Karp, who held the publisher position prior to Dana’s appointment, will reassume the title in the interim. He says in the memo announcing the job change that Dana will still consult on Pence’s memoir and books by Eugene Robinson, a Black columnist for The Washington Post, and Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a Black historian.
The question remains if Simon & Schuster will hire another person on the diversity spectrum who can boost diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and in the book market. Also, if the next permanent publisher identifies as “diverse,” then they may also have to deal with the decision and the criticism over acquiring a blockbuster book from a prominent White figure.