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The politics of Black book publishing

There are thousands of books published every year in the U.S. No, most of them don’t even get a sniff at


Practical Politics

By David L. Horne, Ph.D. | OpEd contributor

There are thousands of books published every year in the U.S. No, most of them don’t even get a sniff at the New York Times Best Sellers’ List, but just being published can be its own reward (although fame and fortune aren’t bad, either).

You could, for example, be featured at a local or national Book Publishers’ Market, like the Leimert Park Book Fair held every year in Los Angeles, or the Black Writers On Tour Book Fair organized every year in L.A. by Dr. Rosie Milligan.

The five major book publishers in the U.S. are the same as they have been for the last 25 years or more, although one came by merger of two already big publishing houses— Random House and Penguin. The big five now are Penguin/Random House; Hachette Book Group; Harper Collins; Simon and Schuster; and Macmillan. None of the big five is a Black-owned or run firm.

But, of course there are successful Black publishing houses still doing well in the field. The seven major ones currently are:

Amber Books: Based in Phoenix, Arizona, this is currently the largest African-American  publisher in the U.S., particularly focused on self-help books and music biographies. The founder/CEO is Tony Rose, an NAACP Image Award Winner.  Mr. Rose has been feted at the Los Angeles Leimert Park Book Fair mentioned above, and he has been named the African American Book Publisher of the Year.

Black Classic Press: Founded in 1978, Black Classic Press is devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent. They specialize in republishing works that are out of print and quite often out of memory.

Urban Ebooks: Launched in 2016, this publishing company publishes educational and empowering e-books for African-American and other minority readers. All of their books are $3 or less and can be quickly and efficiently downloaded to computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Third World Press: Third World Press (TWP), chartered in 1967-68 by poet Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti) and authors Carolyn Rodgers and Johari Amini, is known as the largest independent publisher of Black authors in the U.S. Its books provide literature that mainly focuses on issues, themes, and critiques related to an African-American public.

The TWP mission is to make this level of literature accessible to as many individuals as possible, especially including its targeted market primarily of African-American readers.

Though TWP became known as the prime publisher of much of the radical Black literature of the 1960s-1990s (it has published work by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as the much-celebrated authors Sonia Sanchez; Sterling Plumpp; Pearl Cleage; Amiri Baraka; Margaret Walker; Sam Greenlee; Naomi Long Madgett; Keorapetse Kgositsile (the South African writer); Mari Evans; Kalamu ya Salaam; Gloria Naylor; Gil Scott-Heron; Chancellor Williams; and George E. Kent among many others.

The list includes the 2006 manuscript, “The Covenant With Black America,” with an introduction by Tavis Smiley (which reached Number One on the New York Times Best Sellers List). TWP has so far not published any of the more recent Black street literature.

Triple Crown Publications: This company is one of the first major publishers of urban fiction (street lit) books. Its founder and CEO, Vickie Stringer, made her mark in the industry with her best-selling novel, “Let That Be The Reason.” She was a survivor of hard street life and saw book publishing as a valid way out. Her company has been a friend to that new, emerging industry of street lit writers.

Smiley Books: Founded by media pioneer Tavis Smiley in 2004 as a co-publishing venture with Hay House Inc., Smiley Books is a general trade book publisher that specializes in what they consider to be quality nonfiction.

Life Changing Books: Established in 2003, this publishing company offers a variety of African-American literature including contemporary fiction, women's fiction, urban/ street literature, and more. Tressa Azarel Smallwood, the founder/CEO and former public school teacher, launched the company with her own self-published book,  “A Life to Remember,” and now publishes some of the street lit works. She also runs the African American Literature Book Club website to help authors develop more contacts. Currently, the site lists over 5,800 new and well-known authors.

If writing is your game, there are some very good outlets still available for you to test the waters.

Remember, learning to read and write used to be two of the strongest motivations forward for Black folk. Looking at today’s world, it still is news.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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