HarperCollins Children’s Books has announced the debut of Heartdrum, an imprint devoted to publishing books by Native creators that introduce young Native protagonists and showcase the present and future of Indian Country. Scheduled to launch in winter 2021, the imprint is helmed by author Cynthia Leitich Smith, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, and Rosemary Brosnan, v-p and editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Smith and Brosnan’s professional relationship spans more than two decades, starting with the publication of the author’s debut title, 2000’s Jingle Dancer, a picture book illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, which Brosnan edited for the Morrow imprint. She was also the editor of Smith’s next two books, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002), and currently has additional titles under contract with Smith.
The idea for the new imprint grew out of Smith’s dismay at the children’s publishing industry’s meager representation of Native authors—and the limited scope of the titles that are published in that area. “The books themselves are not reflective of the diversity of Native people—not only the diversity among Nations but also the diversity of individuals in terms of their rural or urban lifestyle and so many other characteristics,” she observed. “It is so clear that we need more Native voices represented in every children’s book format, from picture books to middle-grade to books for teens.”
Smith voiced her frustrations in conversations with Ellen Oh, co-founder and CEO of We Need Diverse Books, who shared her concerns. The two brainstormed, Smith reported, about “ways to find and nurture new and upcoming authors of diverse backgrounds—and ways to support our communities in deeper ways. I teach a workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts to bring new authors from the point of promise to publication. That is such an important bridge—and one we need to give diverse authors access to.”
When Smith approached Brosnan with a proposal for the venture that would become Heartdrum, the author was not surprised by the editor’s enthusiastic response. “Knowing Rosemary for so many years, I know that she has been actively and thoughtfully advocating for and publishing in areas of diverse representation, including Native authors,” she noted. “Rosemary has been genuinely committed to driving that editorial wagon for a long time, with wisdom, savvy, and heart.”
Brosnan agreed that the focus and mission of Heartdrum are closely aligned with her publishing ethos. “Emphasizing diverse voices in children’s publishing was something I was committed to from the beginning, and it has sometimes been a bit of a lonely endeavor,” she said. “I am so happy that there is a growing emphasis on it, but there is still a long way to go. When Cynthia proposed starting a Native imprint, the idea appealed to me right away. She has such extensive knowledge and brings everything to this initiative that we need. I am honored to be working with her on it and we are all very excited to get this imprint off the ground.”
Getting Ready to Roll
The Heartdrum name and logo pay tribute to the connection between the drumbeat and the heartbeat it evokes of the Native community. The logo was created by artist Nasugraq Rainey Hopson, a member of the Iñupiaq Nation, who explained, “The Native American population is beautifully diverse, and I wanted to capture the elements that we had in common and that unite us all: our connection with nature and our path towards balance and unity.”
Heartdrum’s launch list underscores the imprint’s concentration on “intertribal voices and visions.” The roster features Ancestor Approved, an anthology of stories that take place at an intertribal powwow, edited by Smith; and The Sea in Winter, a novel by Christine Day, a member of the Upper Skagit Nation, whose debut novel, I Can Make This Promise, was edited by Brosnan and released in October. Subsequent releases will include novels by Brian Young (of the Navajo Nation) and a chapter book series by Dawn Quigley (of the Turtle Mountain Band Ojibwe Nation).
As part of the imprint’s mission, Heartdrum will make an annual donation to the We Need Diverse Books Native Fund, to be used for writing workshops. “We are excited to partner with Cynthia and HarperCollins to host a series of workshops designed to support and celebrate Native creatives,” Oh said, calling Heartdrum “a much-needed addition to children’s publishing.”
Heartdrum clearly shares We Need Diverse Books’ fundamental goal—to work to create a world where every child can see themselves in the pages of a book—and the timing of the imprint’s debut is opportune, Smith asserted. “Native kids have not historically seen themselves in children’s literature in a way that I am certain they will in the future, and I am very enthusiastic that Heartdrum will help that happen,” she said. “Now is the time for positive, heartening change in the form of resonant representation across all age markets and formats. We have life-affirming, page-turning stories to share.”