In a perplexing development, African American independent publisher Black Classic Press is withdrawing from an agreement with Howard University to acquire 84 titles from the Howard University Press backlist, complaining that the university has inexplicably failed to communicate with BCP since announcing the deal back in May.
W. Paul Coates, publisher of Black Classic Press, a reprint house for classic works of African American literature as well as a print-on-demand digital vendor, told PW that he has had almost no communication with the university since the university announced the agreement. Indeed, the situation seems perplexing since Howard University not only issued a press release announcing the transfer of the titles but also held a reception for former HUP authors and Coates to mark the acquisition. Founded in 1972, Howard University Press has published a long list of distinguished academics, however the press has essentially been defunct for about the past five years. In the original press release Howard University provost James H. Wyche called the deal a “win-win proposition for Howard.”
However, Coates, who is also a former board member of the National Book Foundation, told PW that after nearly six months of attempting to carry out the agreement, the university has left him no choice but to cancel and withdraw from the deal. In a release announcing BCP’s withdrawal from the agreement, Coates said BCP, “initially accepted the proposed transfer based on the belief that it would provide cost-saving benefits to the university and that BCP would benefit from its association with the distinguished legacy of Howard University Press.”
Coates said that since the announcement of the agreement, “the university’s representatives have not provided the assistance or communication necessary to complete the transfer. Further, they have not signed or returned the agreement formalizing the transfer that their attorneys negotiated with BCP. Despite their attempts to finalize the agreement, BCP’s representatives have been frustrated by the university’s silence.”
Attempts by PW to contact Howard University provost James H. Wyche have not been successful. Coates told PW that, “All inquiries about Howard University Press and titles it previously published should be directed to Howard University.”
BCP was able to acquire the title How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney, Coates said, originally published by HUP in 1981. The title continues to be one of the press’ best known and best selling titles. It was part of the transfer deal but BCP was able to acquire the title from the Rodney estate, which had retrieved the rights before the closure of HUP. BCP’s new edition of the book will be published this month.
Coates said that the during negotiations for the HUP titles, he had emphasized to university officials, “that a successful integration of Howard University Press into Black Classic Press depended on responsive communication and cooperation. In absence of either, it is best to make known to all interested parties that Black Classic Press is not a partner with Howard University in any agreement to acquire Howard University Press.”