The Children’s Book Council Diversity Committee presented its inaugural CBC Diversity Achievement Awards last night to seven book industry professionals at a ceremony held at The Center in New York City.
In his opening remarks at the awards ceremony, CBC and Every Child a Reader executive director Carl Lennertz said the newly launched awards will be presented annually to organizations and individuals in children’s publishing “who make an impact on the publishing and marketing of diverse books, diversity in hiring and mentoring, and create greater awareness about the importance of diversity.”
This year’s winners are Tor publicist Saraciea J. Fennell, for her work organizing the Bronx Book Festival and the Bronx Is Reading literacy program; Penguin Books for Young Readers president and publisher Jennifer Loja (who was unable to attend the event), for her support of diversity at PYR imprints; Lee & Low Books publisher Jason Low, for his leadership in publishing multicultural books and sponsoring the groundbreaking Diversity Baseline Study.
Winners also included literary agent at Gallt & Zacker Literary Beth Phelan, for her work reaching out to diverse authors and launching #DVPit, a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and books with minority characters; Crown Books for Young Readers v-p and co-publisher Phoebe Yeh, for her pioneering work publishing minority authors; and We Need Diverse Books founder and author Ellen Oh and WNDB COO and author Dhonielle Clayton, for their work launching and institutionalizing the We Need Diverse Books movement.
The ceremony also included a lively panel discussion among the award winners on the issues surrounding diversity in publishing, which was moderated by Alvina Ling, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Asked what was the biggest surprise or challenge they all faced, Clayton said, “the hate mail, death threats, and rape threats we got for advocating for diversity.” Indeed, Fennell added that she was surprised that “pitching diversity is a challenge,” and Low, echoing her, said that “it’s hard to believe, but a lot of people don’t care about diverse books.”
But the award winners were also cautiously optimistic about the impact of their collective effort to encourage diversity in book publishing. Low said the industry was “better in some ways and not better in others. But there is great energy around diverse books today.” And looking back over more than 20 years in book publishing, Yeh was emphatic: “I’m the dinosaur up here, but yes, it’s better, just look at the New York Times bestseller list, it’s night and day from 20 years ago. There’s a ray of hope; there are companies that reflect diversity.”
Correction: Saraciea J. Fennell is the founder of the Bronx Book Festival. The Bronx Book Fair was founded in 2013 and is sponsored by the Poets Network & Exchange.