SHE LIT: Editing Authors Amid Banned Books 📖

#currentlyreading Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell

Why authors of color tend to lean into indie publishers to get their work distributed

Maggie Tokuda-Hall went viral this week for claiming she declined a book deal with Scholastic over an edit to remove any references to the word “racism” in her children’s book. Her actions show the reason why many authors of color prefer to have their books published through indie publishers and self-publishing companies: To be able to tell the stories they envisioned with their authentic lived experiences.

The author from Oakland, California, wrote Love in the Library, a children’s book centered on a love story set in a World War II incarceration camp for Japanese Americans. The story is inspired by her grandparents who fell in love at one of these camps. She writes about the inspiration in an author’s note. But Scholastic allegedly wanted to tweak the contents of that note to make the book more consumable for classrooms, as many are dealing with banned books.

In the author’s note, Maggie writes her grandparents’ “improbable joy does not excuse virulent racism, nor does it minimize the pain, the trauma, and the deaths that resulted from it. But it is to situate it into the deeply American tradition of racism.”

Scholastic wanted to remove the word “racism” and the words around it, according to the author and the letter she posted on her website discussing that edit.

“I wrote this author’s note for a lot of reasons,” she wrote in a letter to Scholastic. “Philosophically, because I genuinely believe children deserve the truth, and the truth includes racism. Ethically, because I believe talking about my grandparents in isolation would be misleading, dishonest and wrong — when we do not call what happened to them racism, when we do not connect them to others experiencing racism, we only allow it to happen again.”

In her blog post, Maggie expresses gratitude to the original publisher, Candlewick Press, and her publicist and editor there. What Maggie shared seems to be common for authors of color who may feel like they have to strip down their work for a chance to be published because they mention racial elements in their storylines, or in this case before the storyline starts.

After Maggie went public with her story, Scholastic said it had apologized to her for its editing approach.

“This approach was wrong and not in keeping with Scholastic’s values,” the company’s CEO Peter Warwick wrote in a statement. “We don’t want to diminish or in any way minimize the racism that tragically persists against Asian-Americans.”

Scholastic said it wants to rekindle the conversation about including Love in the Library in its Rising Voices collection featuring works by authors and educators from Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.

This case is a bit different because the main edits seemed to be in an author’s note, rather than the story. It was the author’s choice to fight for her note to describe her reasoning for bringing the story into fruition. Some may argue the edits were minor, or the note was not needed. It all comes down to an author’s decision on whether they sign with a publisher to ensure the book they truly want on bookshelves.

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“They want to sell our suffering, smoothed down and made palatable to the white readers they prioritize. To assuage white guilt with stories that promise to make them better people, while never threatening them, not even with discomfort. They have no investment in our voices. Always, our voices are the first sacrifice at the altar of marketability.” – Maggie Tokuda-Hall on responding to Scholastic’s edits to her author’s note

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