First published by Brooklyn’s Independence Press in 1956, Like One of the Family by Alice Childress comprises fictional conversations between Mildred, a black woman who works as a domestic for white employers, and her friend Marge. Beacon Press published a new edition in 1986, with an introduction by literary and cultural critic Trudier Harris, and 30 years later the press is returning the book to print this January, with a foreword by Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist).
Louis Roe, assistant designer at Beacon, says that as soon as he received the assignment to design a new cover, he borrowed a copy of the 1986 edition (below). “I even kept a tab open with the original 1956 cover,” he says. “The editor, Rachael Marks, was up front about her hopes for another illustrated design.”
Around the same time, Roe read a quote from another designer about the potential pitfalls of depicting the protagonist’s face on a cover. “Before the reader’s opened the book, you’ve already inserted your own interpretation of the character into a very personal relationship between the reader and the character,” he recalls. “I don’t think this rule needs to apply 100% of the time, but Mildred is such a vibrant character that I wanted to make sure she’d have every opportunity to represent herself without much interference from me.”
To that end, Roe explored depictions of “facelessness,” as in the silhouette above. But that image leaves out a central element of the text. “While Mildred shares many anecdotes that take place outside of work,” he says, “and much of her identity lives outside her employment, the visualization of work alongside the title calls more attention to the nuanced employer-employee relationship.” The comp below is one example.
Early on, Roe hit upon the idea of showing Mildred at the ironing board. “It’s an immediately recognizable household chore,” he says, “with some underlying notion of ‘straightening out’ or ‘setting the record straight’—at least, that’s how I’ve come to think of it."
While Roe was dissatisfied with the above draft—“the colors were too muted, the layout didn’t leave much room for text, and it just didn’t do much to reflect the spirit of the book”—it gave him an idea of how he wanted the image to evolve into its final form, and what he wanted to represent.
“Ultimately,” he says, “the whole book is all about what’s going on in this one domestic worker’s head: her attitude, frustration, compassion, and joy.” The finished cover is below.
Roe did the final illustration very quickly, with the idea that the line gestures and color palette would convey Mildred’s “boldness of spirit.”
“Yes, it’s about race and domestic work,” he says of the book. “It’s also about a woman with a colorful personality as she stands up for herself in the face of daily exhausting conflicts, and finds joy in small, interpersonal victories.”