The widespread protests that followed the police slaying of George Floyd famously sent sales of titles addressing racial injustice and related topics soaring. As readers continue to seek context for the present moment, publishers are finding in their backlist catalogs titles that show the deep roots of the current reckoning.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, when white residents, many deputized and armed by police, attacked residents of a prosperous Black neighborhood. Estimates range from dozens to hundreds killed, with 35 square blocks of the district destroyed. Related backlist reissues include Jewell Parker Rhodes’s 1997 historical novel centered on the massacre, Magic City, which Harper Perennial will release in May. The new cover replaces the original character-focused artwork with images of smoldering buildings; Rhodes reflects on the anniversary in a new afterword. The St. Martin’s Griffin reissue of 2001’s The Burning, a nonfiction title by Tim Madigan, also publishes in May and includes a new afterword by the author.
A year after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which followed the police beating of Rodney King and the involved officers’ subsequent acquittal, Zondervan published The Coming Race Wars? by William Pannell. The Black theologian’s assertion that issues of race needed to be taken seriously by white evangelicals was “dismissed as alarmist,” according to InterVarsity Press, which is reissuing the previously out-of-print book in June. A new introduction by Jemar Tisby, author of 2019’s The Color of Compromise and the recently released How to Fight Racism, should help the book reach younger readers, says Lori Neff, IVP’s marketing manager. There’s also a key difference in the title: the publisher dropped the question mark, Neff notes, because “it’s not tentative anymore.”
At New Press, 85% of 2020 sales were backlist, a fact that publisher Ellen Adler says wasn’t really a surprise. The press prioritizes its backlist, and topics that have dominated the news, including race and racial justice, “are consistently our lead categories.” Forthcoming reissues include 1998’s Remembering Slavery, edited by Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau, and Steven F. Miller; 2001’s Remembering Jim Crow, edited by William H. Chafe, Ramond Gavins, and Robert Korstad; and 2006’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For by Alice Walker, with a new foreword by her daughter, Rebecca Walker.
Coffee House Press’s May reissue of Echo Tree, a posthumous 2003 collection of Henry Dumas’s short fiction, had been in the works for years, says publicist Daley Farr. But Floyd’s killing was a catalyst to fast-track that project. Dumas, a civil rights activist and member of the Black Arts Movement, was shot and killed by a New York City Transit Authority police officer in 1968, at age 33. The 2021 edition will have a new introduction by 2018 MacArthur fellow John Keene as well as new cover art. “We wanted to celebrate the significance of the work and Dumas’s vision with something vibrant that would catch the eye of a casual bookstore browser,” Farr notes—“something that would look more like contemporary fiction and less like a textbook.”
Widespread discussions in 2020 of how diversity plays out in the workplace prompted Harvard Business Review to refresh 2003’s Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Struggle for Professional Identity by Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell (now Ella Bell Smith) and Stella M. Nkomo. The August release includes new suggestions for actions companies can take toward remedying racial inequality in the workplace. Marketing efforts, aimed at business and HR executives, will include original pieces by the authors posted on the publishers’ website and promoted via newsletters and social media.
Steerforth Press is reissuing 2008’s Hard Driving, Brian Donovan’s biography of Wendell Scott, a Black stock-car racer who in the 1950s broke NASCAR’s color barrier, in August. “Generally, booksellers and readers probably thought of this as a NASCAR book more than an American history book around social and racial justice,” says publisher Chip Fleischer. As part of the effort to highlight Scott’s broader significance, the book is being released under the publisher’s new Truth to Power imprint.