Paul Coates, publisher of independent African American publisher Black Classic Press and a former National Book Foundation board member, is marking the 35th anniversary of the press with a series of events that will kick off June 11 with a signing by novelist Walter Mosley at the Enoch Pratt Central Library in Baltimore. A Black Classic Press author as well as a longtime supporter of independent black publishing, Mosley has published three books with BCP over the years.
In a phone interview with Coates, he cited the support of such publishing professionals as Jan Nathan and the Publishers Marketing Association, now the IBPA, as well as the late Glenn Thompson of Writers and Readers Press and “my fellow black publishers, Wade Hudson of Just Us Books, Haki Madhubuti of Third World Press, Tony Rose of Amber Books and my good friend Kassahun Checole of Africa World Press” for 35 years in the publishing business.
Founded in 1978 by Coates, Black Classic Press specializes in republishing obscure or out of print classic works of African-American literature, history and scholarship and bringing them back in to print. But since 1995 the company has also offered print on demand and short-run printing via its BCP Digital Printing unit, which publishes a variety of book and educational material for publishers like Pearson Education or businesses like Constellation Energy.
“We've been book printers since1995 when we acquired our first digital printing equipment,” Coates said, “this was before Lightning Source and the hundreds of other on-demand printers.” While BCP Digital Publishing is growing and profitable, he admitted that the business took a while to stabilize. “It took six years to turn a profit, but over the long haul that decision proved to the right one,” he said.
Coates said the printing side of the business continues to grow and BCP has 120 active titles with distribution through PGW and variety of African American indie book distributors. In addition to providing printing services, Coates said BCP titles—particularly in African American studies programs—are used on more than 100 different campuses around the country. “We have great rapport with the African American studies community,” he said.
And despite a failed agreement to take over about 80 titles from the now defunct Howard University Press in 2011—after announcing the deal Howard withdrew from the agreement without explanation—Coates said a number of HU authors have licensed their books to BCP, among them How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Women in Africa and the African Diaspora edited by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn and Andrea Benton Rushing and coming this fall, the press will release a new book by previous HU Press author, Clint C. Wilson II, titled Whiter the Black Press? And Coates said other titles are forthcoming.
Walter Mosley will be signing his new novel Little Green (Doubleday) as well as marking the anniversary of BCP. A longtime supporter of the black independent publishing community, Mosley has published three books with BCP over the years, beginning in 1996 when he went to BCP to publish one of his Easy Rawlin’s novels, Gone Fishin’ and sold more than 96,000 copies.
Coates will introduce Mosley at the Pratt Library in Baltimore on June 11 to kick of a series of events marking BCP’s 35th anniversary that will take place through the end of the year. “Publishing Walter's Gone Fishin' in 1996 not only made him an author of Black Classic Press, it also made him a friend for life,” Coates told PW. “ I love that guy big time and cherish his wisdom and foresight and the privilege of getting to read almost all of the draft writing of my favorite author long before they are published. I even get to tell him what works for me and what doesn't. Now, for me, that's really living on the high side.”