BookExpo and BookCon organizers are calling diversity not just a matter of fairness, but also of necessity. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Diversity, politics likely topics at publishing convention

  • May. 29, 2018 8:28 a.m.

NEW YORK — This week’s BookExpo and BookCon will be a showcase for diversity and for combinations and alliances new and old.

Convention organizers have committed themselves to a guest list representative of the country overall, especially compared with the publishing industry. In 2014, Tavis Smiley was the only non-white among 16 scheduled breakfast and author tea speakers, and few non-whites were included for panel discussions and other events. This week, speakers range from Trevor Noah and Viola Davis to Jacqueline Woodson and Yuyi Morales.

Show organizers are calling diversity not just a matter of fairness, but also of necessity. One educational session is titled “Now go run and Trump that: Black America’s Guide to Thriving and Surviving in President Trump’s America.” Another is called “Opportunity Cost: Why Diversity is Financially Critical for the Book Industry” and warns that “The publishing industry is white, straight, and physically able and the vast majority of books published are intended for these audiences.”

“It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that diversity is front and centre,” BookExpo/BookCon event director Brien McDonald told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.

BookExpo runs Wednesday-Friday at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, immediately followed by the fan-based BookCon, which ends Sunday.

Dohnielle Clayton, an author and COO of the grassroots #weneeddiversebooks, will appear on two panels this week, including one hosted by her organization. She said there has been progress in the industry, but cited a recent study by the Co-operative Children’s Book Center School of Education, based in the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showing that children’s stories remain predominantly by and about whites.

“Like everything else about the publishing industry, it just feels like a slog,” she said. “We just inch forward. And we are inching forward. But it definitely is a slow process.”

Other panels will focus on immigration, gender and sexuality. Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, the son of Vietnamese refugees, and the acclaimed Iranian-American author Porochista Khakpour are among the scheduled speakers for “Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.” Kayti Burt will moderate “LGBTQ+ Authors on Gender and Identity in Science Fiction and Fantasy.” The panel “Power Moves” includes Victoria Aveyard, Kendare Blake, Tahereh Mafi and Melissa de la Cruz talking about the “fierce heroines” of their popular fiction.

Politicians will be present at the Javits Center, although not all for political reasons. Bill Clinton and James Patterson, a former president and an ever-present novelist, will speak about the thriller they worked on together, “The President Is Missing.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, often mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate, will be promoting his upcoming book, “Where We Go from Here.” Rep. John Lewis of Georgia continues his prize-winning career as an author for young people as he promotes “Run: Book One,” the first of a planned trilogy about his activism following the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.

BookExpo will also mark the return of a convention tradition — the CEO roundtable, with John Sargent of Macmillan, Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster and Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House expected to “reflect on industry trends, market highlights, and the power and responsibilities of publishers as global, corporate citizens.” CEO gatherings had been rare in the years following the government’s 2010 lawsuit against Apple and five major publishers for allegedly conspiring to raise e-book prices. All the publishers, including Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, have settled out of court.

Another notable joint appearance will be for an address by Barnes & Noble Chairman Len Riggio, who will be introduced by Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. The superstore and the independents’ trade group once were rivals on the ground, and in court, but now share a competitor in, among other causes.

“Even in the periods of tension between us we worked together on First Amendment issues,” Teicher says. “And in recent years we’ve had (the) opportunity to co-operate on the sales tax fight (pressing Amazon to collect sales taxes). We now have more in common.”

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