With book bans and legislative efforts seeking to limit what can be taught in schools surging across the nation, the publishing world is watching with growing concern. And in the wake of Florida’s headline-grabbing efforts to reshape the content of the College Board’s A.P. African American Studies course, executives at award-winning progressive publisher The New Press are pushing back.
“As a leading publisher of progressive education books, our response to Ron DeSantis and the College Board will be to bring attention to this chilling, racist, and cynical moment,” New Press publisher Ellen Adler told PW. “Removing books from libraries and curricula will not stop kids from wanting to know the truth. Our job as publishers is to be sure we promote and protect the work of our authors.”
Indeed, as a leading publisher of progressive ideas, a number of prominent New Press authors are being directly impacted: in the wake of Florida’s actions, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Kimberlé Crenshaw's Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement were expunged from the College Board’s revised A.P. African American Studies course materials list, as well as works by influential authors Alice Walker and the late bell hooks.
Adler told PW that New Press will not be intimidated. In response to recent events, the publisher recently scrapped its catalog just before it was set to go the printer, replacing the cover with new art calling out the banning of New Press books, and the back cover with text calling attention to events in Florida and the surge in censorship efforts.
The back cover text on the catalog reads: "The New Press condemns the outrageous efforts by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to ban books in schools and the College Board’s decision to cave to right wing pressure and revise their AP African American Studies curriculum. The decision by the College Board takes aim at entire schools of thought—critical race studies, criminal justice reform, intersectionality, and structural racism—that are at the core of our publishing list and central to our mission as a not-for-profit, public interest publisher. We stand by our authors and by authors and publishers and students across the country."
New Press employees are also reaching out to booksellers, Adler says, “who have always supported our work and our authors,” conversations she says will feature prominently in Seattle at the ABA’s Winter Institute.
Adler was named PW's Publishing Person of the Year in 2021, recognizing her efforts guiding the nonprofit press, which was founded by Andre Schiffrin in 1992 to publish in areas that the large houses were mostly ignoring, including works by underrepresented authors.
In addition, the publisher is also reaching out to offer free books to teachers—including a recent partnership with the Zinn Education Project that will offer free New Press books to teachers in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. A post on the Zinn Education Project web page says the books are being offered “in solidarity with teachers who insist on their students’ right to study history and contemporary issues.”
Perhaps most importantly, however, Adler told PW the New Press will “double down on publishing books that represent the full range of U.S. history," including "and especially" Black history and Black studies.
“We want to be sure that people are aware just how outrageous these changes to the curriculum, threats to academic freedom, and censorship of African American history are,” Adler says, “and that we will always support our authors, and their readers, including students and educators.”
Adler says The New Press is proud to be publishing Charisma’s Turn the first original graphic novel by Monique Couvson, the award-winning author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. The book, illustrated by Amanda Jones and with a foreword by poet, artist, and arts educator Susan Arauz Barnes, follows a Black high school student who is grappling with mounting pressures from home and school.
“Charisma’s Turn exemplifies how Black girls can be truly empowered to reach their full potential when they have supportive educators and community members in their corner,” Adler says. “It couldn’t come at a more necessary time.”
In a New York Times article last week, New Press author Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of a number of scholars whose work has been targeted by conservatives, articulated why the College Board's actions in response to DeSantis are causing alarm. “People need to pay very close attention to this story—not just Black studies educators and K-12 teachers, but everyone who worries that the slide to authoritarianism is real. This is how it happens,” Crenshaw told reporters. "If a billion-dollar organization like the College Board will not stand up against the censorship of those who don’t toe their line, they signal that the values central to our multiracial democracy are soft and negotiable.”