Nearly 30 years old, HarperCollins's Amistad Press is the oldest imprint devoted to titles for the African-American market at any major New York publishing house. It's been a bit more than a year since Dawn Davis, previously an editor at Vintage, was named editorial director of Amistad and an executive editor at HarperCollins. She's spent the time putting together a new Amistad staff and a new list due to arrive in stores this fall.
Started by Charles Harris in the 1970s at Random House as a quarterly paperback anthology of black writing, Amistad went through a number of collaborative publishing ventures with large publishers before Harris launched it as an independent small press in the early 1990s. The imprint and its backlist were acquired by HC in 1999 and Davis was named editorial director in October 2001.
"We're still the mothership of African-American publishing," said Davis. Harris, who holds the title of founding editor, works with a select group of authors but is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of Amistad.
Davis acquires literary fiction for the imprint, and she has added editor Kelli Martin, formerly with Morrow, to the staff to acquire commercial fiction. Davis has also reached out to the HC staff—specifically marketing director Rockelle Henderson and assistant director of publicity Tara Brown—to work with the Amistad list in addition to their other Harper duties.
Davis notes that she and Martin acquire titles for the general Harper list and other editors at Harper publish through Amistad. "Amistad's authors aren't all black," said Davis. "Some want to reach black readers, so we publish them here. Some black authors want to be on the general list."
Amistad will publish 18 books this year, and HC, Davis emphasized, has given the imprint the autonomy to acquire a wide range of titles and the marketing support to get the attention of readers. "We've spent a year working on books we inherited. We've got a new list with literary and commercial fiction and a lot more," said Davis. "We're going to be very aggressive in marketing and promoting. These books are aimed at black readers, but the titles will appeal to a broad audience."
Big books coming in the fall include The Blues, a history of the musical form and a tie-in with the PBS documentary to be produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
Fall fiction will include A Love Noire by Erica Simone Turnipseed, commercial fiction from a first-time author that looks at love among the black elite, and The Known World, a new literary work from author Edward P. Jones, set in antebellum Virginia. It's Jones's first book since his short story collection Lost in the City was nominated for an NBA in 1992. The new titles will join a list that includes such steady sellers as It's All Good Hair by Michele N-K Collison (in its sixth printing) and Honoring Sergeant Carter: Redeeming a Black World War II Hero's Legacy.
"The African-American market is open to more than just sister-girl fiction," said Davis. "Amistad doesn't do just one thing. We publish something for everyone."