This year marks the 20th anniversary of Brooklyn-based Serendipity Literary Agency, one of the largest Black-owned literary agencies in the country. Serendipity president and founder Regina Brooks has remained committed to making the publishing industry more diverse while building a roster of authors and illustrators who have won numerous awards, including the Caldecott Honor, Newbery Honor, and Printz Honor.
Brooks, a 2015 PW Star Watch finalist, has worked to pave the way to visibility and success for authors of color and to recruit publishing professionals of color. She takes pride in training people from inside and outside the industry to become agents, and she also mentors young readers and writers through the YB Literary Foundation, a classroom-based literacy project, which she founded in 2004.
“I’m working hard to bring more diversity into the business,” Brooks explains. “I’m big on grooming people from the ground up. And that’s both on the client side and on the staffing side.”
Brooks’s visibility in professional associations has been key in that regard. She is on the boards of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and is a member of the National Book Foundation’s Book Council.
Serendipity represents authors and illustrators in the adult fiction, adult nonfiction, children’s, and YA categories. The current Serendipity team includes agents Gina Damasco and Nadeen Gayle, who are former attorneys, and Charles Kim, a former associate publisher of MoMA’s publishing program. Ameerah Holliday and Kelly Thomas are junior agents.
There’s plenty of awards buzz surrounding Serendipity’s clients. Author-illustrator team Derrick Barnes and Gordon James’s picture book I Am Every Good Thing will be published in September by Nancy Paulsen Books at Penguin; Barnes and James’s 2017 book, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, won a Newbery Honor, a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and many others. And Barnes’s 2019 picture book, The King of Kindergarten (illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton), was a bestseller and was one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month” for July.
Illustrator April Harrison, another Serendipity client, followed up What Is Given from the Heart, which was written by Patricia C. McKissack and won the 2019 John Steptoe Award for New Talent, with Nana Akua Goes to School, written by Tricia Elam Walker.
Barnes, James, and Harrison all contributed to the recently published The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, an anthology that explores questions of racism, identity, and acceptance.
Other Serendipity clients focused on social justice issues include journalist Ed Gordon, whose Conversations in Black: On Power, Politics, and Leadership was published in January by Hachette; Marcus Anthony Hunter, chair of UCLA’s African American Studies department and author of the forthcoming Radical Reparations (Amistad); and award-winning illustrator Charly Palmer, who created the cover for the July 6 “America Must Change” issue of TIME.
Forthcoming books from the agency’s authors include titles from the estate of comedian and activist Dick Gregory; a memoir by record executive Drew Dixon, whose story of being raped by her boss in 1995 is featured in the current HBO Max documentary On the Record; and a memoir by former NASCAR driver Bill Lester, about the challenges he faced as one of the first African Americans to participate in the sport.
Brooks, who has a degree in aerospace engineering from Ohio State University and studied theater, dance, and voice at SVA in Rochester, N.Y., attended the now-defunct Howard University Publishing Institute before working as an editor at John Wiley & Sons and McGraw-Hill. She founded Serendipity in 2000 as its only agent, building her agency, as she explained, “one author, one book at a time.”
“After I saw the dearth in the number of people of color in the business, I made a commitment to try to bring more people into the business and train them,” Brooks said. “I look for people with passion, subject matter expertise in a specific genre, and the personality to focus on author care. I try to always have a balanced portfolio of agents who will have one core category that they can own within the agency.”
Brooks said she’s also doing more business with Hollywood, working with such Black producers as Ericka Alexander. “With Hollywood wanting more content from people of color and people who have the correct sensibility around the content, I think it’s a very fertile time to stick my toe in,” she explained.
Brooks’s next project with YB Literary Foundation involves partnering with New York City and Chicago public schools. “We’re going to select books for them to read, then have conversations between the students about what humanity means to them.”—Diane Patrick