Religion and spirituality publishers are increasing their efforts to sign BIPOC authors, and they’re aware that opening doors means opening their own minds to new—and sometimes rightfully angry—voices from outside their own life experiences. “The publishing industry is notoriously white, and Black authors have often had to compromise their vision—or cater their writing toward a white audience—to get published,” says Broadleaf acquisitions editor Lisa Kloskin. “It is important for Broadleaf to publish Black voices and other voices of color on their own terms.”
Amy Caldwell, associate editorial director for Beacon Press, a unit of the Unitarian Universalist Organization, says, “I’m always looking for strong, compelling books by writers who are deeply knowledgeable about their faith traditions and have something compelling to say to the current moment.” And the current moment, she notes, is one that has enraged people. “If you care about racial equality and social justice and gay rights and women’s rights and the environment, these last four years of President Trump have been enraging and terrifying and something people need to take to the streets about, and put on paper with an angry and vigorous pen.”
Among the new books coming from Beacon is Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith (July) by Obery M. Hendricks Jr., a religious scholar and elder in the American Methodist Episcopal Church, which the publisher calls “an urgent warning that right-wing evangelicals’ aspirations for Christian nationalist supremacy are a looming threat.”
Myisha Cherry is a Black author who addresses racism in The Case for Rage (Oxford Univ., Nov.), which presents a challenging philosophical text. “Publishers have discovered there is a market for books like mine,” she says. “They’ve loosened their grip on tone. They realize you have to give authors freedom.”
But editors are on a learning curve as they work with writers whose life experiences they haven’t shared. It takes a lot of talking—and listening, says Callie Garnett, the editor of Jill Louise Busby’s fiercely written first book, Unfollow Me (Bloomsbury, Sept.). “Part of Jill’s project was to examine the ways we categorize and flatten each other,” Garnett says. “She needed me to not do that. As a white editor, I had to work through my own communication issues and blind spots to fully wake up to her uniqueness.”
Busby, in turn, says, “Callie was the right editor for my book. I’m not interested in someone trying to get me right. I’m interested in them hearing me, not slotting me into a type. I would say to editors, ‘Don’t erase me.’ ” A former diversity and inclusion trainer, Busby lambastes such programs as feeble tokenism. She calls her book “a sharply personal and self-questioning critique of white fragility (and other words for racism), respectability politics (and other words for shame), and all the places where fear masquerades as progress.”
Miguel A. De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latinx studies at Iliff School of Theology and long a forceful voice for social justice, who has been featured in titles such as Burying White Privilege and Decolonizing Christianity, is the editor of Gonna Trouble the Water: Ecojustice, Water, and Environmental Racism (Pilgrim, out now). It’s a collection of essays from “non-Eurocentric” scholars that decries how water is “hoarded, stolen, exploited, poisoned, and weaponized.” De La Torre writes bluntly that “to deny water is to deny life.”
In two new books, Muslim authors confront Islam with calls for reform. Essayist Haroon Moghul’s Two Billion Caliphs: A Vision of a Muslim Future (Beacon, Jan. 2022) is “outrageous and audacious,” Caldwell says, “because he’s daring to prescribe how Islam can be brought forward to the modern world.” And Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance (St. Martin’s Essentials, out now) by Mustafa Akyol, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an opinion writer for the New York Times, argues that Islam should recover the universalism that once made it a great civilization.
Change is a steep climb
For people uncomfortable and uncertain about change, Black author Sheila M. Beckford teams with white writer E. Michelle Ledder to offer frank, pragmatic techniques for engagement in Anti-racism 4Reals: Real Talk with Real Strategies in Real Time for Real Change (Chalice, Oct.). And Black journalist and educator Dax-Devlon Ross has penned A Letter to My White Male Friends (St. Martin’s Essentials, June) to guide white allies on taking action against racism—now and “especially in the future, when race is no longer in the spotlight,” according to the publisher.
At Zondervan Reflective, the imprint that published Jemar Tisby’s 2019 hit debut The Color of Compromise, Ryan Pazdur, associate publisher and executive editor, says, “We’ve recognized the need to leverage our position as a publisher to highlight the voices of authors who have not always been well represented in Christian publishing, especially people of color.” Authors with upcoming titles from Reflective include Philadelphia pastor Eric Mason, whose Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel (out now) addresses “issues Blacks have with Western Christianity,” and Asian American Christian Collaborative vice president Michelle Ami Reyes, whose Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures (Apr.) spotlights how cultural accommodation is not a one-way street that only Black people drive on. Pazdur says that the book asks white readers, “Are you willing to obey Christ’s mandate for every Christian to accommodate those who are different—to adapt and transform ourselves to better love and serve those around us?”
Leaning on the Lord
Faith is a motivating force and a bulwark of support for many BIPOC authors. Chalice Press president and publisher Brad Lyons says the press partnered with the Forum for Theological Exploration, a national leadership incubator for young people of color, to find two debut authors. Chinese American pastor Tyler Sit’s Staying Awake: The Gospel for Changemakers (out now) gives social action guidance “centering on queer people of color.” And Black author Jennifer Bailey, founder of the Faith Matters Network, wrote To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope (Sept.), which calls for people wounded by society to “lean on the healers” in every community.
At Nelson Books, publisher Tim Paulson says, “We’ve absolutely seen an increase in proposals from diverse authors, as well as books discussing various aspects of diversity, social justice, and inclusion.” Two forthcoming books from Nelson are by celebrities, who share how Christian faith upheld them: singer Michelle Williams’s Checking In: How Getting Real About Depression Saved My Life—and Can Save Yours (May) and three-time Olympian Lolo Jones’s Over It: How to Face Life’s Hurdles with Grit, Hustle, and Grace (July).
Finding My Father: How the Gospel Heals the Pain of Fatherlessness (Good Book Co., Oct.) by Black minister, speaker, and spoken-word artist Blair Linne tells how the author found joy, care, wisdom, and security in God.
Stories of resilience
“We know that privilege and adversity are not doled out in equal measure to white people and people of color,” says Broadleaf’s Kloskin. “Given this inequity, coupled with the exacerbating effects of racial trauma, it is no surprise that many authors of color are writing about experiences of trauma and survival.” Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11 by Maha Hilal (Broadleaf, Aug.) recounts experiences of Muslim Americans living as part of a “suspect” community or surviving hate crimes.
Coming from Convergent in September is Redeeming Justice: From Defendant to Defender, My Fight for Equity on Both Sides of a Broken System by Jarrett Adams, which tells the author’s harrowing life story of his conviction for a crime he didn’t commit, his eventual exoneration, and his return to a courtroom decades later as a lawyer.
Mango Publishing’s Resilient Black Girl: 52 Weeks of Anti-racist Activities for Black Joy by M.J. Fievre (Sept.) features techniques geared toward helping readers build strength and resilience. And Marita Golden’s The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women (Oct.) addresses the harmful physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting archetype that calls for Black women to be the chief problem solvers and caretakers for others in their lives, says associate editor Yaddyra Peralta. These titles may be primarily for the BIPOC audience, but, she adds, they “should be of interest to white readers in the educational, medical, and mental health fields—in addition to those that minister to spiritual needs—in the efforts to make their work with communities more inclusive.”
Tyler Merritt, a onetime Christian musician turned pastor turned video producer, brings wit and insight into his cultural commentary and lessons on privilege and racism in I Take My Coffee Black: Reflections on Tupac, Musical Theater, and Being Black in America (Sept.), says editor Beth Adams at Worthy. And theologian Westina Matthews says she realized that “during this moment, with the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and the increased feelings of division in our country, Black women clergy in the Episcopal Church need to come together over shared concerns.” To address the issue, she edited This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church (Morehouse, July).
Eyes on politics and society
Adam Russell Taylor, who took over leadership of the progressive evangelical Christian movement and magazine Sojourners from founder Jim Wallis, has introduced new ideas for American democracy in A More Perfect Union (Broadleaf, Sept.), drawing on his background in the Black church as well as his civil rights and government experience. Brazos this month released Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Korean American pastor Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson, a pastor and a research fellow in African American heritage at Lincoln University. Also forthcoming from Brazos is My Journey to Understand How Race Broke My Family and the World—and How to Repair It All (Feb.) by Lisa Sharon Harper, a Christian speaker and the author of several books, in which, the publisher says, she details how “American ideas, customs, and laws robbed her ancestors—and the ancestors of so many—of their humanity.”
More of PW’s coverage of diversity and inclusion in religion publishing can be found online:
Agents of color discuss changes and challenges in Christian publishing
We talk with Myisha Cherry, author of The Case for Rage