The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, brought international attention to racism in all its forms and sparked a new wave of social justice movements. Nearly two years later, calls for diversity continue to echo across the publishing industry. Forthcoming books reflect religion and spirituality publishers’ intensified efforts to recruit and acquire books by BIPOC authors. While many houses PW spoke with acknowledged that work to make the industry more inclusive has just begun, religion publishers shared updates on their DEI programs while also highlighting titles that offer nonmajority, faith-based perspectives on society, scripture, personal and collective growth, and more.
WJK’s historic first
In February, the Presbyterian Publishing Corp. named Bridgett A. Green to the role of v-p of publishing and editorial director of its Westminster John Knox imprint. She is the first woman and the first African American in these positions at the press, which is currently seeking to hire additional staff from diverse backgrounds. When it comes to authors, Greens says, “we are participating in the work of amplifying voices and increasing the visibility of those whom our press and many others have traditionally overlooked due to race and ethnicity or perceived as ‘not connecting with’ or ‘being good fit for’ our audiences.”
She adds, “WJK’s anti-racism commitments go beyond a visual performance of author diversity to incorporating into our publishing program issues, academic disciplines, and life matters that are relevant to specific communities of color as well as society in general.”
WJK’s forthcoming frontlist titles include, What Kind of Christianity? A History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church by William Yoo (Aug.), which addresses the denomination’s role in racial injustice; Then They Came for Mine: Healing from the Trauma of Racial Violence by Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts (Sept.), which examines American institutions and systems that permit violence against Black and brown people and how to face it head-on; and Everyday Reparations: 50 Actionable Steps to Create Equity, Healing, and Justice by Robert Turner (Mar. 2023), which describes the impact that slavery, Jim Crow, and unjust financial and legal systems have had on Black Americans. Turner, a pastor based in Baltimore, Md., also lays out ways readers can start to “right the wrongs of the past,” such as supporting Black-owned businesses, according to the publisher.
“For WJK,” Green says, “our mission to be an anti-racist organization is not a flip response to the current zeitgeist for racial justice but is our path forward for acting and being into our third century of publishing.”
IVP’s industry impact
Unveiled in October 2020, IVP’s Every Voice Now initiative for developing, marketing, and selling books by authors of color and recruiting diverse professionals has generated numerous projects as well as book sales, says Helen Lee, director of product innovation at the press. “We have reached thousands of listeners through our EVN podcast, and anecdotally, we are hearing from authors of color and industry professionals from all backgrounds that the initiative is making a difference,” she adds.
Maila Kim, IVP’s marketing manager, says that the EVN podcast looks to authors of color “as the ones who can teach us about how the industry can continue to succeed.” She notes, “I love that the voices that were once marginalized are now centered as the leaders and the future of publishing.”
Among IVP’s upcoming titles is Learning Our Names: Asian American Christians on Identity, Relationships, and Vocation (Aug.), which collects stories by authors Sabrina S. Chan, Linson Daniel, E David de Leon, and La Thao that touch on race, culture, and faith. The book encourages readers to familiarize themselves with their own histories and “discover who we are and what God may have in store for us and our communities,” according to the publisher.
Pastor Claude R. Alexander Jr. in Charlotte, N.C., draws on what Jesus said he must do in the Gospels to argue for what modern Christians must do for a Godly life in Necessary Christianity (IVP, Aug.). And in The Last Black Evangelical (IVP, Mar. 2023), journalist Ed Gilbreath addresses resentment and polarization within the evangelical community, while emphasizing the need to come together and “see the world through a clearer and more realistic lens,” according to the publisher.
Chalice finds traction
By seeking voices from the margins and focusing on the intersection of faith and justice, Chalice Press is drawing more authors interested in social justice, inclusive community, and leadership development, says publisher Brad Lyons. Coming in January 2023, Rebels, Despots, and Saints: The Ancestors Who Free Us and the Ancestors We Need to Free features profiles of activists and spiritual leaders from the past. Author Sandhya Rani Jha, an anti-racism and anti-oppression trainer who founded the Oakland Peace Center, which works to create access and equity in the San Francisco Bay Area, says, “The book focuses on the power of our ancestors, most of whom were not celebrities of their time but may have contributed to collective change.”
Rebels, Despots, and Saints is written for Black and white readers, both of whom have “messy” ancestors, Jha says. “By facing those complexities and tapping into our ancestors’ gifts—and we all have ancestors with gifts to honor—we will find the strength to stay in the work of justice, long after we would otherwise have burned out.”
Books for a better future
Religion imprints within the Big Five houses, which follow the guidelines laid out by their parent organizations for diversifying author pools, are offering a number of books on creating a healed and just world. In August, HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s Nelson Books imprint will release South Carolina senator Tim Scott’s America, a Redemption Story: Choosing Hope, Creating Unity, which tells personal stories of poverty and injustice and shares Scott’s path to politics and his ideas for the future of the nation. Daniel Marrs, associate publisher for Nelson, says the book “reveals the extraordinary power of common kindness, decency, and hard work to create positive change.”
In June, HCCP’s Zondervan division will publish Life-Changing Cross-Cultural Friendships by Clarence Schuler, the president and CEO of Building Lasting Relationships, a nonprofit focused on building mutually beneficial connections. Schuler cowrote the book with longtime friend Gary Chapman, bestselling author of the Five Love Languages series, in an effort to show readers how “forging at least one deep friendship with someone from another race can transform the world,” according to the publisher.
WaterBrook, a Random House imprint, is publishing Color Courageous Discipleship: Follow Jesus, Dismantle Racism, and Build Beloved Community (Nov.) by Michelle T. Sanchez, who takes a Bible-based approach to addressing racial inequity. In January 2023, How to Human: Nine Ways to Share Life Beyond What Distracts, Divides, and Disconnects Us by Carlos Whittaker (WaterBrook) draws on love, joy, peace, and six other “fruit of the spirit” found in the Bible in order to show readers how to “live together as the best versions of ourselves,” according to the publisher.
“We see the need for thoughtful and incisive books—particularly by authors able to speak with grounded wisdom from a nonmajority perspective—continuing to grow, especially considering the instability that is beginning to characterize our time,” says Paul Pastor, editor at WaterBrook and Multnomah. “We are honored to be publishing voices that speak boldly and intelligently to this cultural moment.”
And lastly, coming from Simon & Schuster in January 2023, Dancing in Darkness by Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, features stories from Moss’s journey as a civil rights activist as well as his vision for the future of social justice and what he calls “spiritual resistance.” Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “A Knock at Midnight,” Moss writes, “Until dawn comes, we need more than the determination to fight for justice. We need love to keep us from getting lost in distraction, love to keep us from falling into despair, love to help us restore ourselves, get back into harmony with ourselves, so we can last through that dark night.”