For the past 13 years, The Brown Bookshelf, a website launched in 2007 by children’s authors Varian Johnson and Paula Chase, has promoted Black authors and illustrators with such initiatives as 28 Days Later—through which, on each day in February, the site spotlights a different children’s or YA book creator, with a focus on books that otherwise might be overlooked. This summer, Brown Bookshelf launched the Generations Book Club, which twice a month (except in February) recommends four books by Black authors for readers of all ages. The recommendations include a picture book, middle grade and YA reads, plus a book for adults. A link to Brain Lair Bookstore is pumping up sales of these titles at that Black-owned indie in South Bend, Ind.
But this year Brown Bookshelf has been doing more than promoting Black authors and illustrators and their books: it is taking an activist role by, in Chase’s words, “explaining the systemic obstructions that prevent Blacks from moving to the forefront” in publishing.
On August 24, Brown Bookshelf issued a call to action, demanding that the publishing industry assess and then change practices that result in Black book creators being marginalized, and urging Black authors and illustrators to tag their agents and publishers with the hashtag #BrownBookshelfUnited, which Chase says resulted in more than 100,000 impressions within 24 hours.
Chase told PW at the time that the call for action was prompted by the KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives, a virtual rally that took place 10 days after George Floyd was killed and drew 14,000 live viewers. Brown Bookshelf provided a platform for the two-hour event that reassured Black children that they are valued while educating them on race and racism.
The rally, led by Kwame Alexander with Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds, featured short presentations by 25 children’s authors and illustrators as well as several key figures in children’s publishing. After reaching out to parents, librarians, and teachers for more than a decade, Chase explained, “we realized it was time to go directly to the publishers and those responsible for promoting, distributing, and selling books and ask them to do the work that will strip practices that have worked against Black creatives.”
Chase promises that in 2021 Brown Bookshelf will build upon its August 24 call to action, with projects planned in partnership with the Highlights Foundation and We Need Diverse Books.