Searching for books by Black female authors this month? Take a look at authors we’ve featured

Black characters in children’s literature are disappearing as schools limit history courses

In mid-January, two weeks before Black History Month, the Florida Department of Education rejected the new A.P. African American Studies course. The state agency claimed the content “significantly lacks educational value.” Earlier this month, the College Board announced it revised the Advanced Placement course, making parts of the curriculum optional like those that touch on intersectionality and contemporary issues.

How the precollegiate course was trimmed down over complaints of alleged untruths became part of the bigger conversation: Black children being impacted by the removal of instructional materials that show people who look like them.

More books focused on accurate U.S. history and featuring Black characters are being banned nearly every day across the country. The stakes are higher, with the rise in legislation such as Florida’s Stop WOKE Act and bills to ban books with “sexually explicit” content. These efforts impact all children, but Black children are seeing a higher impact with not being able to see themselves in books that have been on shelves for years and generations because a parent filed a complaint about revisionist history and inappropriate references.

There was a 306% increase in Black main characters on the front book covers of children’s best-sellers between 2012 and 2020. But by 2021, a year after the Black Lives Matter movement was spurred by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black characters had been disappearing, with a 23% decline in children’s best-sellers having a Black main character.

This data is from WordsRated, a research data and analytics group. The group also recognized 2020 as the first year that Black characters outnumbered White characters on the front covers of children’s best-sellers. But these are books that had already been approved for publication a year or two earlier.

Yet there was a decline as the attention on the Black Lives Matter movement declined, WordsRated finds. In 2020, at the height of the movement, many literary agents said they would prioritize works queried by Black aspiring authors in the name of social justice. It’s not clear if enough of a new crop of traditionally published Black authors have emerged as beneficiaries to these industry promises.

Book bans multiplied by schools cutting Black history curricula means children are not given the full picture. And families may struggle to fill those gaps when parents and guardians work during the day. Some families are going out of their way to buy banned books to make these books featuring Black characters best-sellers. We saw this phenomenon last year with the astronomical sales of Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby after Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas used it in a presentation in Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings.

Still, the domino effect always comes back to the freedom to read and learn beyond biased interpretations. There is hope we’ll see Black main characters in more books once fresher data is available.

Black History Month is a time to reflect on the contributions of people of African descent in the U.S. More than ever, their creative and artistic contributions are being hidden from children who may not seek the knowledge later in life if they’re not exposed to the information in the first place. Here’s a video from Black Miami Dade that talks about how a group of Black teachers wrote a book to ensure Black history entered and remained in their classrooms.

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What we’re highlighting

HarperCollins and union end monthslong strike

The largest New York unionized book publisher and its union have come to an agreement to end a three-month strike. The union, which represents around 250 members, will head back to the office after the Presidents’ Day weekend. With a major demand being higher pay, employees will soon earn an annual starting pay of $47,500 that will rise to $50,000 by 2025. The strike inspired Hachette and Macmillan to announce similar changes.

Black queer authors score 7-figure book deal

All Boys Aren’t Blue memoirist George M. Johnson and You Should See Me In a Crown novelist Leah Johnson have negotiated an undisclosed book deal with Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, a Macmillan imprint. The authors, who are not related, will write a romantic series starting with There’s Always Next Year in 2025. The story focuses on two cousins trying to improve their romantic and social lives around New Year’s.

Two women-owned bookstores open doors in LA

Named after science fiction novelist Octavia E. Butler, Octavia’s Bookshelf is the newest Black woman-owned bookstore in the Los Angeles area. Nikki High, the owner and founder, grew up in Altadena and wanted to have a bookstore in nearby Pasadena, Octavia’s hometown. The store will open on Feb. 18, the same day as the much-anticipated Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica. With Manhattan literary socialite Zibby Owens at the helm, the bookstore will have a two-day festival starring authors such as biographer Anna Malaika Tubbs and her husband and former Stockton, California, mayor Michael Tubbs; Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey, Younger creator Pamela Redmon, and Luckiest Girl Alive writer Jessica Knoll.

Also what’s lit…

Viola Davis reached EGOT status when she won a Grammy Award in the Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album category for the audiobook narration of her memoir Finding Me.

Hillman Grad Books unveiled its forthcoming titles in partnership with Zando Projects.

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Garcelle Beauvais reveals production on the book-to-TV adaptation of The Other Black Girl has wrapped.

Actress-activist Kerry Washington plans to share her ups and downs in Hollywood in her upcoming memoir Thicker Than Water.

The first Black Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay Abasolo, unboxed copies of her second book, a romance novel.

The Afro-Minimalist’s Guide to Living With Less author Christine Platt will have a new kidlit chapter series centered on a Black girl journalist.

What we’re reviewing

What we’re watching

Not Dead Yet is a new ABC half-hour comedy on Wednesdays (Thursdays on Hulu) starring Gina Rodriguez as a down-on-her-luck journalist who sees dead people while writing obituaries for her local newspaper. It’s loosely based on the British novel Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up by Alexandra Potter.

What the plans are

PEN America and the NYC Literary Action Coalition is hosting the Literary Activism Summit on Feb. 25 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

The Savannah Book Festival in Georgia will take place on Feb. 16-19 featuring authors like Nina LaCour, Katie Gutierrez, and Gayle Jessup White.

Noname Book Club will end the month with its book club picks hosting several meetings across the country from Feb. 22-28.

Where the opportunities are

Feminist Press is looking for an executive and program assistant who can help with the administrative needs of the mission-driven feminist publishing company.

The Hurston/Wright Foundation welcomes submissions in literary nonfiction for its Crossover Award honoring unpublished Black writers.

Liveright Publishing, a W.W. Norton & Company imprint working with authors Glory Edim, Mahogany Browne, and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, needs a publicity manager with knowledge of promoting nonfiction and literary fiction works.

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Write us at shewrites@shelit.com.

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