Cofounded in 1998 by bestselling novelist Walter Mosley and founding director David Unger, the Publishing Certificate Program at the City College of New York is designed to take advantage of the school’s diverse student body to recruit and train a new generation of publishing professionals. The program offers students courses in the editorial process, book marketing and advertising, and design for print and digital publishing, all taught by working book professionals. To graduate, students must complete an internship at a publishing house or book-related business, a key element in the program that can also be a challenge for some minority students if the internships don’t offer a salary. The program has graduated hundreds since its launch, sending many of them on to industry jobs.
Over the years, Unger has often lamented inconsistent support from the book industry. But he says there’s been a change related to the need for diversity in the wake of the protests following the killing of George Floyd back in May and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m feeling better about the industry right now,” Unger says, pointing to recent high-profile appointments of women of color to head publishing programs at Pantheon and S&S, as well as a renewed level of industry support for the PCP program and its students. “Black Lives Matter is a real wake-up call to the publishing industry. I think we’ll see more progress on diversity in our industry.”
Retha Powers agrees. A longtime editor at the Quality Paperback Club at Book-of-the-Month Club and now an acquiring editor-at-large at Henry Holt, she joined PCP as an instructor before becoming assistant director in 2007. “I was inspired by the students—by their passion for books—and I wanted to share my knowledge about how to navigate the industry,” she recalls. “I know what it’s like to be the only Black person in the room, and I felt a commitment to the mission of the PCP.”
A big achievement this year, Unger and Powers say, is offers of paid internships, as well as mentoring programs, organized in collaboration with Penguin Books president and publisher Brian Tart. The mentoring programs bring PCP students together with PRH editors, designers, and publicists via Zoom. Over the course of six months, the mentors answer questions and offer suggestions to PCP grads searching for jobs. And, Unger says, there are more partnerships under discussion with Bloomsbury, Macmillan, and other houses. “We feel things are moving in the right director,” he notes.
Unger and Powers both point to recent announcements by some publishers to raise entry-level salaries as another important step in expanding diversity efforts. “Our student population is diverse in every way, including economically,” Powers explains. “Our students are often self-supporting, and the jobs on their résumés are often not publishing jobs. When they can get a publishing internship on their résumé it changes everything. It’s a huge stepping stone, and our students need it. There are no more excuses. We know what we need to do to change this industry and make it more diverse.”