While much of the country awaits a Harriet Tubman makeover for the $20 bill, publishers are stepping up with revamped reissues of works by major women authors. Here’s a selection.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hugo and Nebula Award–winning The Left Hand of Darkness turned 50 in March, an occasion her publisher marked with an anniversary edition released that month. It features a new foreword by David Mitchell, a new afterword by Charlie Jane Anders, and an updated cover by Jim Tierney that Berkley art/design director Adam Auerbach says speaks directly to its themes. The new design “illustrates the balance of light and shadow, so important to the religions we’re introduced to” in the book, he says. “Light and dark can be seen as two parts of a whole, or as clashing opposites.”
The publisher recently completed its repackaging of Kathy Acker’s catalogue, finishing off in March with 1982’s Great Expectations. The books sport matching pop art–inspired jackets and new introductions by contemporary authors who champion her importance, including Alexandra Kleeman, Chris Kraus, and Eileen Miles.
Grove Atlantic also has a single backlist title by Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad, a 2005 novella that was part of a myth-based series copublished with Canongate. In order to bring the novella’s look more in line with Atwood’s current work, such as The Testaments, the forthcoming sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, a refreshed jacket will debut in August.
Judy Hottensen, associate publisher of Grove Atlantic, got the unexpected opportunity to show the new cover to Atwood in person, thanks to a chance encounter in an elevator at Winter Institute. Fortunately, Hottensen says, “She liked it.”
The Street by Ann Petry, initially published in 1946, is widely acknowledged to be the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies. HMH had planned to release a 75th-anniversary edition in 2021, says senior v-p and publisher Bruce Nichols, but then, in November 2018, An American Marriage author Tayari Jones wrote about The Street in the New York Times.
“We made six translation sales just based on that piece,” Nichols says. “We decided to move up the new edition.” That update will release in January 2020, with a new cover and an introduction from Jones.
The publisher is also giving a fresh, cohesive look to its Virginia Woolf catalogue, riffing on the original cover art by Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell. HMH’s covers hadn’t been changed since the movie tie-in edition of The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s Woolf-inspired novel, released in 2002. So far Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, and Orlando have new covers, with The Waves, Three Guineas, Between the Acts, and Moments of Being planned for 2020.
“The copyright is coming up and we want to give the whole line a new look before it expires,” Nichols says. “We want these [editions] to be the ones people think of first.”
HMH is also starting an audio arm in the fall and looking at backlist titles with audio rights that are available or that can be reverted. An early pick is Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, which is also getting a cover refresh and an introduction by Lauren Groff for a new edition due out in September.
Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia, an influential work on adolescent girls, has a 25th-anniversary edition coming out in June. Pipher and Sara Gilliam, her daughter, have revised and expanded the book to reflect the impact of social media and new issues of isolation.
Jake Morrissey, editor at Riverhead, says just as the book showed the pitfalls faced by girls in the 1990s, this iteration will help many of those girls deal with the challenges they now face as mothers.
The fact that Butler’s rights are scattered across several publishers is largely due to challenging sales early in her career, says Merrilee Heifetz, senior agent at Writers House and Butler’s agent for the last 18 years of her life. Heifetz was named as literary executor in her will and works closely with Butler’s estate and the various rights holders to manage her brand.
Grand Central gave its paperback edition of 1993’s The Parable of the Sower a cover makeover in April; the sequel, 1998’s The Parable of the Talents, gets its turn in August. A new hardcover boxed set arrives from Seven Stories in October. Open Road holds most of Butler’s e-book rights.
“Her work is possibly even more relevant today,” says Beth de Guzman, v-p, digital and paperback publisher, at Grand Central. “A new generation of authors revere her.” Sower features a cover blurb from John Green, a foreword by N.K. Jemisin, and a line touting Butler as a MacArthur “genius.”
The Seven Stories boxed set, says Dan Simon, one of Butler’s editors, is aimed at existing fans looking for a keepsake or gift edition.
New projects proliferate: The graphic novel adaptation of 1979’s Kindred, by Damian Duffy and John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts, 2017), won an Eisner Award, and the same team returns for January 2020’s adaptation of The Parable of the Sower. Viola Davis is working with Amazon Studios on a series based on 1980’s Wild Seed, and Ava DuVernay is working on a TV adaptation of 1987’s Dawn. Heifetz said that rights to Kindred have also been sold and a TV production is in development.
Raising Butler’s profile in this way has been an effort years in the making by Heifetz and Butler’s estate. How does it feel to see her work get all this renewed attention?
“It’s bittersweet,” Heifetz says. “She wanted to be a bestseller, and when the Kindred graphic novel came out and hit #1 [on the New York Times hardcover graphic books list], that would have made her so happy. The fact that sales of her work continue to increase as more readers find her books would have pleased her enormously. I only wish she could be here to see it.”