Kandace Coston

Editor, Lee & Low Books

Coston graduated from Barnard College in 2012 with a degree in music and sought career advice from the alumni center. The recommendation was surprising: children’s book publishing. The office connected her with graduates in the field, and through contacts at We Need Diverse Books, Coston landed a marketing internship at Lee & Low in 2015.

She credits WNDB with helping her make the most of the internship; acting on her contacts’ suggestions, she booked 20-minute conversations with the editorial director, publisher, president, and CEO at Lee & Low, asking each of them “what they do, if they like what they do, their path to publishing,” she says. “I guess it made a good impression, because at the end of the internship, I was offered a full-time job as editorial assistant.”

Coston was promoted to editor in January. “It feels like there’s a support system built into the mission,” she says. “If I bring in a story about a Black pioneer in a lesser-known industry, I don’t have to explain why this is important and whom it’s going to speak to. We can start with the merits of the story, then make the project the best it can be.”

One story she’s looking forward to putting out into the world is Miles of Style: Eunice W. Johnson and the Ebony Fashion Fair by Lisa D. Brathwaite, illustrated by Lynn Gaines (Feb. 2024). “I think people recognize Ebony magazine but may not be familiar with Mrs. Johnson and her efforts in fundraising and shining a light on the beauty and excellence of the Black community.” Coston’s also looking forward to Wat Takes His Shot by Cheryl Kim, illustrated by Nat Iwata (June 2024), about Wataru Misaka, “the first nonwhite person to play for the NBA. Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Jackie Robinson’s a very popular subject, but Wataru Misaka is not; that was worth shedding light on.”

Denene Millner

V-p and publisher, Denene Millner Books

In 2018, journalist and author Millner was running her eponymous imprint at Agate Publishing’s Bolden Books when she wrote “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time,” a New York Times opinion piece “about how tired I was of not seeing enough books that speak to the everyday experiences of Black children.” That caught the attention of Simon & Schuster, which invited her to bring her imprint over; it launched in 2020.

S&S, Millner says, “understands my mission to create opportunities for folks who are standing outside the gate and don’t necessarily have anyone opening it to let them in.” For instance, “Brianna McCarthy was a fine artist I’d drooled over on Instagram. I DM’d her and asked, ‘Do you ever think about illustrating?’ And she said, ‘That’s my dream! But I never knew how to get into it.’ I hired her to illustrate If Dominican Were a Color [by Sili Recio], one of the first books that came out when I switched over to Simon & Schuster.” In McCarthy’s next book with Millner, When I See You by Brynne Barnes (May 2024), the artist uses Afrofuturistic imagery to depict an expectant mother imagining “the universe her baby is inhabiting before it enters the world.”

Other forthcoming titles include Not My Cat (Apr. 2024) by Stacey Patton, illustrated by Acamy Schleikorn, based on Patton’s experiences with a stray cat who’d visit her porch; and Willis Watson Is a Wannabe by Carmen Bogan, illustrated by Cheryl Thuesday (Feb. 2024), which considers the work of quotidian superheroes, like the doctor who cares for the main character’s beloved grandfather.

In Yaya and the Sea by Karen Good Marable, illustrated by Tonya Engel (Mar. 2024), Yaya travels with her mother and aunties from Harlem to Far Rockaway to celebrate the arrival of spring. “What Karen created is in line with the kinds of books I like on my list,” Millner says, “which speak to the everyday experiences of Black children and Black families.”

Sydnee Monday

Associate Editor, Kokila

Monday, whose family owns the Oklahoma Eagle newspaper, says she’s descended from “generations of people who love to write and tell stories.” With a film degree from Howard University but no film opportunities in Washington, D.C., she took an internship at NPR on the arts and books desk, which inspired her to “take a chance and put feelers out for an assistant job in publishing.” She landed an interview at Kokila with publisher Namrata Tripathi and Joanna Cárdenas, now executive editor. “I got motivated by the idea of a group of women of color making books by and for marginalized people.”

That was in 2018, when she was hired as editorial assistant to Tripathi in Kokila’s first year. “It was a great experience, learning about publishing under Namrata and helping get those initial books on our list published,” Monday says. She has high hopes for forthcoming books including Black Girl You Are Atlas by Renée Watson (Feb. 2024), illustrated by Ekua Holmes, “a poetry collection about all the things young girls and women go through. The artist is a Caldecott Honoree whose work has been shown in gallery spaces, so this book could also be a gateway to visiting museums and experiencing what fine art is.”

Monday’s acquisition Bless the Blood (Feb. 2024) is a YA poetry and essay collection by debut author Walela Nehanda, who recounts their experience as “a Black, queer, nonbinary cancer patient who faces medical racism after being diagnosed with leukemia in their early 20s,” Monday says. “Walela shows how unjust this system is through the eyes of a young person of converging identities. I’ve not seen anything like this on the market for this age range, and I’m hoping young people will connect with its honesty.”

Bria Ragin

Editor, Joy Revolution

Ragin got into the publishing industry because of her love of romance and a desire “to see more people who look like me in that space,” she says. She joined Joy Revolution, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, in 2021, and edits titles for Delacorte Press. “My focus as an editor is to give teens and young adults what I didn’t have when I was a teen. I still love all the books I grew up reading, but they didn’t reflect my experience as a Black teen girl.”

The December Joy Revolution release Caught Up in a Bad Fauxmance by debut novelist Elle Gonzalez Rose is a queer fake-dating rom-com; the author’s Top 10 Things I Hate About Prom follows in May. Ragin’s Delacorte list includes Bumps in the Night by romance author Amalie Howard (Feb. 2024). “I don’t often work on middle grade novels, but when Amalie said she wanted to do a middle grade story that focused on Trinidadian folklore, I didn’t want her to go anywhere else,” Ragin says. “I don’t see that many books that focus on Trinidadian lore, and I think we need to expose children to that.”

In January, Joy Revolution will publish the paperback of Howard’s Regency romance Queen Bee. “I’m a huge fan of Bridgerton,” Ragin says, “and Julia Quinn gave Amalie a nice shout-out. I’m passionate about making historical romance with people of color more prominent; seeing more Black and brown girls in ball gowns is my thing.”

At either imprint, Ragin is a strong champion for her authors. “I’m passionate about helping them in their careers and providing a safe space where they can explore their culture, language, whatever feels true to them and their experiences,” she says. “The hope is to bring greater attention to people whose voices were not often highlighted. There’s so much potential in these authors, and I want everybody to see what I see.”

Correction: an earlier version of this article misspelled Miles of Style author Lisa D. Brathwaite's name.

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