The efforts of the book publishing industry to acknowledge and embrace the complexity of American society, and to publish high-quality, diverse lists of fiction and nonfiction reflecting that complexity, continue to grow. Publishers seek to live up to their commitments to produce exceptional titles on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, in addition to a rich sampling of fiction that can provide windows onto the lives and histories of a wide variety of communities. The industry also seeks to broaden its range, acquiring a growing number of titles on such topics as neurodiversity, religious difference, ableism and disability rights, and mental health.

This survey of adult, children’s, and young adult publishing is an effort to make the standards and range of these books known and easily available to booksellers, librarians, and readers. The programs featured here have expressed a commitment to providing thoughtful views on a wide variety of communities and disciplines, all through superior writing and the presentations of distinctive points of view that have always formed the basis for great works of fiction and nonfiction.

The following publishers responded to our queries: Michelle Addo, senior communications manager, diverse, inclusive, and issue-driven titles, at Kensington; Andy Cummings, executive v-p, editor-in-chief of Lerner; Emi Ikkanda, executive editor of Tiny Reparations; Kendra Levin, editorial director of S&S Books for Young Readers; Arthur A. Levine, president and founder of Levine Querido; Marcela Maxfield, senior editor, law and sociology, at Stanford University Press; Rotem Moscovich, editorial director, picture books, at Knopf Books for Young Readers; Melanie Romero, editor at Lil’ Libros; Deb Seager, v-p, director of publicity at Grove Atlantic; Andrea Tompa, executive editor of Candlewick; Krishan Trotman, publisher of Legacy Lit; Phoebe Yeh, v-p, copublisher of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Check out our listing of new and forthcoming titles.

What topics does your program look for when acquiring titles that examine diverse communities or illuminate social complexity, and do you have titles directly related to the impact of the pandemic?

Tompa: We’re always looking for strong projects from historically underrepresented voices, especially those offering fresh perspectives and kid-friendly concepts. Upcoming picture books—like the bilingual title My Dog Just Speaks Spanish by Andrea Cáceres; Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens, illus. by Monica Mikai, by the Grammy winner and MacArthur fellow; Tacko Fall: To New Heights by Tacko Fall and Justin Haynes, illus. by Reggie Brown, a bio of the Senegalese basketball player; and How Do You Spell Unfair? by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Frank Morrison, the powerful story of 14-year-old Black student MacNolia Cox at the segregated 1936 National Spelling Bee—speak to the breadth of our publishing program, from sweet and funny to powerful and moving.

The upcoming picture book One Sweet Song by Jyoti Rajan Gopal, illus. by Sonia Sanchez, was inspired by the balcony singing that took place in the early days of the pandemic, and one of the short stories in the forthcoming anthology Ab(solutely) Normal: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes is about a teenager whose OCD is exacerbated by the pandemic. Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickstick recounts the story of his recovery from the coronavirus.

Yeh: At Crown Books for Young Readers, for our picture books we are most drawn to topical stories that depict the range of human experience, and that emphasis is exemplified in The Little Book of Joy by his holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, illus. by Rafael Lopez, and Standing in the Need of Prayer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Frank Morrison. In our novels, we look for what children’s author Kelly J. Baptist refers to as “the story behind the story.” It might be slice of life, coming-of-age, about identity, intersectionality, or topical: gentrification, institutional racism, or the pandemic. Poet, educator, and executive director of the Bowery Poetry Club Mahogany L. Browne’s next novel A Bird in the Air Means We Can Breathe is about the effect of the pandemic on teens in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Seager: Grove Atlantic has a rich history of publishing writers from around the world and from across the country, across all backgrounds and genres—a history that continues today. We are ever aware that readerships are diverse and constantly changing, which welcomes new ideas and possibilities. We look for well-written books, exciting voices, and powerful storytellers—narratives that expand our perspectives, challenge us, and teach us something new about the world.

Addo: We’re looking for topics across the board. Kensington has long had diversity at the core of its publishing program. We’re not interested in telling authors what to write, but rather letting them express their passions and the stories they want to share with the wider world. Of course, we all have wish lists. I’d love to see more projects that focus on different religious experiences, within the multicultural American experience, in the full spectrum of fiction categories.

Moscovich: We look for stories that are imbued with the cultural background and perspectives of the main characters and creators, so that the book isn’t centering an implied reader from outside the culture. We want anyone to be able to open to the first page and be immersed in the story, engaging with both text and art, and to find an emotional resonance there—whether it comes from a recognition of their own culture or to a shared humanity. During the early days of the pandemic in 2020, Share Your Rainbow:18 Artists Draw Their Hope for the Future was a collaboration with creators of different backgrounds responding to the rainbows kids were putting up in their windows to remind us of all of better days to come. This book reflects the many things to look forward to—from the simple joys of playing with friends to the reassurance of a hug. Random House Children’s Books donates the net proceeds from every sale of this book to World Central Kitchen, which is doing important work in feeding families amid crises.

Trotman: Legacy Lit seeks books that will elevate and celebrate narratives and experiences from underrepresented groups. Each book that we publish has a mission or is purpose driven toward creating social impact. Our authors and team are passionate about social justice, which leads to unexpected crossovers within our list and connections among our authors. One great book coming this fall is No Justice, No Peace by photographer Devin Allen. It is a powerful photo-essay book that features Devin’s photos, with contributions from Gordon Parks’s archives and poems and essays from prominent activists and thinkers on protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. I love this book because it celebrates intergenerational Black activism.

Cummings: Diversity has been a focus at Lerner since we started publishing children’s books in 1959. We look for a range of topics spanning fiction and nonfiction for young readers in grades K–12, with a focus on fresh perspectives and stories that aren’t yet well known. For years, we have been striving to increase the diversity of our author and artist pool and publishing titles that cover important topics for kids, including 1950s racial segregation in Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Ramsey, illus. by Floyd Cooper, and Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. by R. Gregory Christie, the story of 19th-century Black U.S. marshal Bass Reeves—both are bestsellers and published over a decade ago. We also sponsor the Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Scholarship, a grant for writers of color attending Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. And Lerner hosts open calls for submission on our blog for debut authors and creators of color and we continue to expand the diversity of writers and artists across all our imprints.

Lerner is based in Minneapolis, and our experiences following George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed made us acutely aware of the need to continue publishing an even greater range of diverse voices and approach new topics. The picture book Today Is Different by Doua Moua, illus. by Kim Holt—the story of two young girls, one Hmong and one Black, protesting police brutality—is directly connected to those protests. We also have forthcoming titles related to policing and mental health in our young adult nonfiction imprints, Zest and TFCB. Additionally, we have an upcoming picture book and YA nonfiction title about Dr. Katalin Karikó, a woman and biochemist who was critical in the development of mRNA vaccines.

Levine: Diversity as it’s being discussed here is a baseline assumption for all our books. For our team at Levine Querido, publishing authors from underrepresented backgrounds has nothing to do with checking a diversity box and everything to do with ensuring that the writing we publish reflects the world in all its vast multiplicity—and that we are doing the work to connect with authors and artists with amazing stories to tell and art to create. As we continue to move forward in the time of Covid-19, more and more artists are being compelled to address the pandemic in their work, in ways small and large, whether it’s in a character’s backstory or the premise of the plot.

Romero: We don’t have set guidelines as to the topics our publishing program looks for when acquiring titles. However, we do want to celebrate the duality of the American Latino experience through picture board books and now hardcovers. We’re in search of titles that represent underserved and misrepresented communities, and bring voices to authors in those spaces. We haven’t published titles directly related to the impact of the pandemic, but there is always room through our submissions to consider these narratives.

Levin: Our books range from not acknowledging the pandemic at all to speaking very directly about it, and everything in between. The book we’ve published recently that has most directly addressed the pandemic’s impact is Kelly Yang’s middle grade novel New from Here, which was a New York Times and indie bestseller. It takes place early in 2020, before the coronavirus had yet arrived on U.S. shores, and is about a boy whose family moves from Hong Kong to California to get away from the virus. The book thoughtfully addresses the anti-Asian racism that has been a part of the pandemic in the U.S. since its earliest days, and Kelly does a remarkable job of tackling this and other complex topics through the eyes of a child. Her next novel with us is Finally Seen, the story of a young Chinese girl who travels to the U.S. to reunite with her parents and sister, and it’s one I know many kids will feel seen by, just as the title suggests.

Maxfield: I am interested in books that expand our understandings of, interrogate, or expose systems of oppression—which frequently act in opposition to diversity and equity. Quincy Thomas Stewart’s Race in the Machine, for example, explores the meanings and manifestations of racial inequality, offering new understandings of a big, challenging topic. Stanford University Press also looks for books that allow voices frequently unheard in mainstream media to speak for themselves about their experiences, as with Rebecca Galemba’s Laboring for Justice: The Fight Against Wage Theft in an American City, a study of day laborers, and Melanie Heath’s Forbidden Intimacies, a study of families, justice, and the practice of polygamy in the U.S., Canada, and France. Historically informed works on the law and the courts, like Daniel Kiel’s The Transition or Joan W. Howarth’s Shaping the Bar, show how historical analyses can enrich contemporary discussions of diversity. Beyond my acquisition areas of sociology and law, SUP has many books that do this kind of work, such as Matthew Rubery’s Reading Block: A History of Reading Differences, a book on neurodivergence and reading.

Ikkanda: I love that Tiny Reparations is a mission-driven publisher dedicated to publishing fiction and nonfiction that highlight and amplify unique and diverse voices. And since Phoebe Robinson launched the imprint last year, the books we’ve acquired already share a distinct style. In fiction and nonfiction, these books are voice-driven, bold, and sharp; across categories, they are always aiming to push the conversation forward. Robinson was inspired by Toni Morrison’s impact as an editor at Random House and brings a strong vision to her imprint here. Our list celebrates writers of color and underrepresented voices, and my work here, as throughout my time in the industry, has been to expand what’s possible for a diverse book. I love when my authors have shown, again and again, with award attention and bestselling status, that conventional wisdom about what works has been too limited for too long.

Name two or three of your most popular titles released over the past year.

Tompa: We were thrilled to publish Kekla Magoon’s nonfiction masterpiece, Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People in 2021, and it’s been wonderful to see its warm reception. We’ve also been delighted with the response to The Heartbreak Bakery, a joyful queer YA romance by A.R. Capetta. Fans of Meg Medina’s Merci Suárez series have warmly embraced the third book featuring Merci and her Cuban American family, which just launched.

Yeh: Readers have enjoyed Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich—four girls from three families all living together in a Harlem brownstone with a menagerie of pets; Fast Pitch by Nic Stone—an all-Black girls’ softball team is trying for the championship while uncovering Negro Baseball League family history; and Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe—Black joy romance set in Memphis where the boy is chasing the girl.

Seager: We had several books in the last year that have been very successful, from Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo’s memoir Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, which traces the author’s life and career as she rebelled against the mainstream to fight to bring her creative work into the world. David Wright Faladé’s wonderful debut, Black Cloud Rising, is a historical novel that takes us back to an extraordinary moment when enslaved men and women were shedding their bonds, fighting their former owners, and crossing the threshold to freedom, with the narrative focusing on an army sergeant who grapples with his identity as the son of a slave and her master. Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo—a follow-up to his Booker Prize–winning novel Shuggie Bain—vividly portrays working-class life and the dangerous first love of two young men. Francisco Goldman’s Monkey Boy, a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize, tells of Francisco Goldberg, a middle-aged writer who grapples with the challenges of family and love, legacies of violence and war, and growing up Guatemalan and Jewish in America.

Addo: Over the past year, among our most popular titles have been The Perfect Ruin by Shanora Williams—African American domestic suspense; The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes—Latinx historical mystery; and In the Event of Love by Courtney Kae—LGBTQ+ romantic comedy. I believe the success of these titles is due to the compelling storytelling of our authors, who are members of the communities they’re writing about; relatable characters; and immersive settings supported by extensive research on locations, time periods, and cultural norms within the era.

Moscovich: My books at Knopf have just started to come out this past spring, including The Blur by Minh Lê and Dan Santat. We’ve collaborated on many books together, each featuring an Asian American family in stories that make kids wonder, laugh, and cry. This one’s no different, featuring a child with superherolike abilities. As an imprint, we’ve also published Blue by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and Daniel Minter, which explores the history of the color and all its ramifications, and brought the perennial The Name Jar back, the story of a new kid in class worried about reaction to her Korean name, into hardcover. We had an array of novels by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ creators, ranging in genre from contemporary to fantasy.

Ikkanda: Tiny Reparations has several highlights already in its founding year, including Grace D. Li’s bestselling novel, Portrait of a Thief, honored as a Center for Fiction Award finalist, and it’s getting adapted into a Netflix TV series. Inspired by true events, the book follows five Chinese Americans on a series of art heists to return looted Chinese works back to China. It also dives deeper into what it means to be part of a diaspora, the legacy of colonialism, and shifting one’s understanding of belonging. Two other debut works this year received rave reviews: Kai Harris’s What the Fireflies Knew, an ode to Black girlhood and adolescence, and another Center for Fiction Award finalist, and LaToya Watkins’s novel, Perish, a multigenerational saga centered around a Black Texan family. We have exciting nonfiction coming up, including writer, filmmaker, and transgender activist Tourmaline’s biography of Stonewall activist Marsha P. Johnson, and The Body Liberation Project, strength coach and wellness advocate Chrissy King’s blend of memoir, inspiration, and social justice messages.

Trotman: In the past year, Legacy Lit has published Grief Is Love by Marisa Renee Lee, which humanizes grief in Black communities. The Other by Daniela Pierre-Bravo addresses how women of color can own their power at work; I’ve personally grown since working on Daniela’s book and strongly recommend this to BIPOC women in corporate America. This fall, we’re publishing Ride or Die by sociologist and journalist Shanita Hubbard, who is helping Black women step out of the mode that keeps us overextended, overspent, and underappreciated. In early 2023, we have Wealth Warrior by Linda Garcia, a Latina financial expert whose mission is to give people of color and children of immigrants the knowledge to build wealth in the U.S. stock market.

Cummings: Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Floyd Cooper, was a strong seller for Lerner even before receiving a Caldecott Honor, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and a Sibert Honor this past January—and continues to sell well. Other top sellers are the picture books A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson, illus. by Nina Crews, and A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illus. by Seo Kim. Where I Belong by Marcia Argueta Mickelson received a Pura Belpré Honor and has been quite popular. In it, an immigrant teen finds herself in a unique and challenging situation and fights for her family, her future, and the place she calls home.

Levine: Looking at Levine Querido bestsellers and award winners like Donna Barba Higuera’s The Last Cuentista or Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth or Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue, we’ve seen time and again that creators from marginalized backgrounds can and do succeed when given the tools and opportunities to do so. These three writers have created unique, heart-filled books that infuse their particular culture into such genres from science fiction and fantasy to memoir.

Romero: Three of our most popular titles presenting Latinx communities over the past year have been Cocinando on Cook Street: A collection of mi familia’s recipes by Marcela Valladolid, a children’s cookbook inspired by her own Mexican ancestry and culture. The picture book Sana, sana, colita de rana by Citlali Reyes is inspired by the classic rhyming song that many American Latino children grow up with, and Luna oscura by Heidi Moreno, another picture book, follows a black cat ostracized by the other cats in her community due to superstitious beliefs.

Levin: A few successful titles from 2022 include Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jason Griffin—a mash-up of art and text that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right now. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, an action-packed middle grade contemporary fantasy that follows a young boy as he travels across China to seal the underworld shut and save the mortal realm, is by Xiran Jay Zhao, author of the bestselling Iron Widow series. Foul Lady Fortune, the first book in a captivating new duology, follows an ill-matched pair of spies posing as a married couple to investigate a series of brutal murders in 1930s Shanghai, by Chloe Gong, author of the bestselling novels These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends.

Maxfield: Stanford University Press titles that have gotten great attention and pushed the conversation forward in important ways include Victoria Reyes’s Academic Outsider, an essayistic examination of inequality in the academy. Shelley Lee’s Koreatown traces how an ethnic neighborhood comes to signify a shared Korean American identity. Christopher Loperena’s The Ends of Paradise narrates the experiences of the Garifuna of Honduras. Shailaja Paik provides a pioneering work in Dalit studies with her book The Vulgarity of Caste.

If you publish books for children, in the past year what topics have you focused on when acquiring titles?

Moscovich: Knopf Books for Young Readers aims to publish a wide variety of diverse titles—books that tackle tough topics, as well as ones that show BIPOC characters having fun and living their best lives. They include books reflecting the Gullah Geechee experience, an intimate moment as a mother applies henna to her daughter’s hands, a Ghanaian child
creating a kente for his baby brother, and books highlighting the Cuban American experience of leaving home.

Cummings: Within fiction, we’re looking for a mix of serious and humorous stories. While trauma-focused stories often get attention, we also want to highlight joy and characters from diverse backgrounds going about their daily lives, as well as stories that readers will find empowering.

Yeh: Books we’ve acquired recently will reflect new voices we haven’t heard from: My Father, the Panda Killer by Jamie Jo Hoang, about how PTSD affects a Vietnamese American family a generation after the fall of Saigon. Also, inclusive diversity, including speculative fiction about diverse characters by diverse authors, and history from underrepresented voices.

Tompa: We have several strong titles coming out this fall, including Aya de León’s Undercover Latina, an upper middle grade novel about a Latina teen spy who has to pass as white to investigate a white supremacist threat; Frederick Joseph and Porsche Joseph’s Better than We Found It: Conversations to Help Save the World, a powerful call to action about some of the most pressing issues of our day; and Chaz Hayden’s debut YA novel, The First Thing About You, starring a character with spinal muscular atrophy as he starts a new school and tries to get potential friends to look beyond his wheelchair.

Levine: We don’t want to limit our vision for producing good books that our readers will fall in love with. Our books range in topic from middle grade ghost stories to queer YA historical fantasy to picture book folktales in translation, among many others.

Romero: In the past year we’ve focused on acquiring titles on emotional awareness, cultural appreciation, nostalgia, and scientific curiosity. Obviously, these are general interpretations of themes throughout our 2022 publishing roster, but all books have standalone topics that exemplify the significance of what their text and illustrations hope to accomplish.

Levin: S&S Books for Young Readers is the flagship children’s imprint of Simon & Schuster and our largest trade imprint, and as such, a real generalist imprint—part of our mandate is to offer something for every child. So, we’re always in pursuit of creating a list that showcases the widest possible variety of genres, voices, and topics. There’s no limit when it comes to the topics our authors explore, and that’s the way we always want the list to be.

It’s hugely important to me that no author on our list gets pigeonholed or feels limited to only writing about a certain subject, and more so with authors who have been marginalized in this society. I don’t want any author on our list to feel they are being asked to write for the white gaze or to focus on certain aspects of their lived experiences or their identity. I want BFYR to be a forum for authors of many backgrounds to share the stories that they feel called to tell, that compel and excite them, and I think you can see this invitation reflected in our list.

What are you hearing from agents, retailers, and distributors about demand for titles that address the wide range of tastes and needs in the current reading market?

Addo: Across all sales channels—indies, mass merchandisers, retail, libraries—accounts are looking for publishers to provide product that more accurately reflects the world we live in. This includes a broader representation of the people in their communities.

Maxfield: We’re seeing evidence of a wider appetite for work on these issues with scholarly underpinnings. I think the level of public discourse on diversity, equity, inclusion, etc., has become really sophisticated, probably because these values are being widely attacked or, conversely, used as pawns for personal agendas. Because of that, I’m definitely noticing an uptick in nonfiction books represented by agents that speak to these themes. People want to understand the mechanisms at play in the world around them, the histories that led us here, and the ways people are being affected by it all.

Levine: Paying too much attention to trends can be problematic because of the inevitable gap between when a book is signed and when it is released, and because it favors commonly held assumptions and unconscious biases about what kind of a book can succeed. What we are hearing is that readers who have been too long overlooked—like members of the queer community, for instance—are hungry for books that reflect the world they live in.

Romero: We’re always hearing back from agents, retailers, and distributors about the current market and demand for books on diverse topics. To us, this feedback is hopeful because it means we continue to grow our business by offering these stories to the communities we know best. The market is always in search of books on cultural appreciation and, even most specifically, holiday significance and mental health and emotional awareness. We are thrilled to be at the forefront of these themes while also encouraging children to dream in two languages.

Cummings: Agents are seeking and signing greater numbers of authors and illustrators who are BIPOC or from other historically marginalized groups, which is important and helpful. We especially enjoy working with debut creators as we can provide personalized attention to developing their stories and their craft. Retailers and distributors are also supporting books by these creators across the board; several outlets emphasize this. Even with the resurgence of book challenges and bannings, we are committed to publishing the work of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ voices. We know the importance of finding and publishing a broad array of voices for children. And the books find an eager audience.

Seager: From booksellers, media, and consumers, there’s a real hunger for diverse literature that speaks to real-life experiences; offerings and acquisitions have gotten both more plentiful and more competitive as these voices call for our attention. We have high hopes for the innovative and rich projects coming our way.

Yeh: Our submissions reflect the appreciation that there is an ongoing need and interest in authentically told stories. Diverse books are represented in all genres: fantasy, realistic, romance, nonfiction. They’re great reads. And they are selling!

Tompa: We’ve been delighted to see passionate demand in the marketplace for titles from a wide range of voices, and we’ve been receiving more and more high-quality submissions from agents that reflect that demand.

Trotman: First and foremost, we need more diversity-related titles! Readers of color and of diverse experiences deserve books that run the gamut, from fun, voicey self-help books and emotional memoirs to researched books on the state of their communities. We deserve to see ourselves as thought leaders in finance, hard-hitting journalists, and changemakers in entertainment. It’s also important that our definition of diverse remains expansive. As readers, we know when a book is about us but not for us, and authors are more dedicated than ever to writing the book that is most needed in the world and that they are best equipped to write. They are aware of the value of their stories and just as energized as we are about getting it into the world. As publishers, it’s our job to hold the door open.

Moscovich: There’s a need and a hunger for these books! We are seeing success with intergenerational titles, school settings, seasonal titles that include more than the oft-published holidays, as well as books positioned for Pride. Industrywide, there’s also an understanding of how book bannings, and even the threat of them, can affect book purchasing, especially for schools and libraries. We can’t back down from these challenges to the freedom to read.

Ikkanda: Writers of color, LGBTQIA+ writers, disabled writers, and other underrepresented voices have historically been given narrow lanes for the kinds of books they can publish. Rather than following market trends, we at Tiny Reparations are looking to expand all the categories. Oftentimes, my authors are writing books that they wish they had years ago, books that could open doors for what they saw as possible. Rather than concern themselves with emulating what seems popular in the market, they are often thinking about all the kinds of books that are still missing. Those are the books I’m most excited to publish—I love the feeling of discovery, of feeling that I’ve found another contribution that will expand and shift the landscape.