When author Tiya Miles was awarded the 2021 National Book Award for nonfiction for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family’s Keepsake, a moving work of social history inspired by a family heirloom, she thanked a number of people. One of them was her agent, Tanya McKinnon, whom she hailed as “a warrior for Black words.” McKinnon, Miles said during a moving and emotional acceptance speech, helped her “find the heart of this book.” (McKinnon just sold Miles’s newest book, Harriet’s Mirror, to Molly Turpin at Random House.)

Over the course of her more than 20 years as a literary agent, McKinnon, founder of McKinnon Literary, has fought the good fight for the books and words of a long list of talented Black authors much like Miles. She has built a stellar client roster of visionary, culturally sensitive Black academics, journalists, and public intellectuals, “who turn their minds to very American issues—racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, capitalism, inequality—in powerful ways,” she told PW last year.

“Because I see the African American experience as central to the American experience,” she said, “people of color who come to me don’t feel overly burdened with having to prove the worth of their ideas.” At the same time, she added, “white writers come to me feeling that I can help them think through the racial politics of something they’re working on. I am extraordinarily honest with them about ways in which their work could be made stronger.”

Whether she’s representing authors of serious nonfiction like Miles, literary novelists, or even graphic novel creators (another specialty of her agency), McKinnon has focused her career as an agent on helping “authors whose ideas and work I admired, and thought would change the world for the better, to find their place in trade publishing.”