Twenty years after Beacon Press published Cornel West’s Race Matters (1993) and Restoring Hope (1997), the activist and public intellectual will be published once again by the 160 year-old press this fall with the first of a trio of new books, Black Prophetic Fire (Oct.), edited by and in dialogue with Christa Buschendorf. It will be followed by The Radical King (Jan. 2015), the tenth book in the King Legacy series, a partnership between Beacon and the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in fall 2016 by Justice Matters, the sequel to his New York Times bestselling Race Matters, only the third bestseller in Beacon’s history.
“First and foremost, we’re thrilled to have ‘Brother Corn’ back. How much we need his voice about race and justice in America. He’s the only one willing to speak truth,” says press director Helene Atwan. She is referring not just to the truth about high-profile killings like those of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride but also immigration and LGBT issues. Atwan places West in the tradition of Dr. King. “That’s really what [Black Prophetic Fire] teaches you,” she says, “how much of the fire is key to African-American history and American history.” She regards the book’s interview format as “a real gift” that makes West’s points more accessible to all readers, particularly to students.
In fact, West’s goal of restoring the fiery spirit to 19th and 20th century African-American leaders, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida Wells-Barnett, is what led to a separate volume on Dr. King, whose image, claims West, has been sanitized and “Santaclausified.” Working with Beacon executive editor Gayatri Patnaik, editor of the King Legacy series, West’s collection of Dr. King’s writings emphasizes just how revolutionary Dr. King was. He spoke out against the Vietnam War and fought against global imperialism.
For Patnaik, part of the appeal of West’s edition of Dr. King’s writings is that he presents the African-American leader in all his complexity. “What do we do to our icons?” asks Patnaik. “King says, ‘You’ve not known me.’” The goal of the series, and especially of West’s contribution to it, is to re-examine Dr. King in a fresh way so that people will in fact come to know who Dr. King was and why he continues to matter.
The third book that Beacon signed with West’s agent, Gloria Loomis, came out of Patnaik’s reading of West’s memoir, Brother West, and rereading of his first book with Beacon. “I thought we could really use a new Race Matters,” she says, adding that she wanted a book that would address whether we are any better off two decades later, or in a state of arrested development. The result is largely a work that centers on the importance of justice, not just race. Although the material is new, it has grown out of the many talks that West gives each year, upwards of 100. Like Black Prophetic Fire, she says that it will be fresh and accessible.
That Beacon has signed these books now fits with the message of its newly adopted logo and tag line, “Igniting Hearts & Minds.” As Atwan notes, “[West] has always been on fire with ideas and challenged us to share his passion for justice.”