Tone Deaf “Diverse” Covers on Classic Novels Latest Public Misstep by Publishing Industry

February 6, 2020

 

2020 is already off to a hard start for the mainstream publishing industry with the fall from grace of the #RWAshitshow, followed by the fallout from the publishing of American Dirt and now the surprise Black History Month re-publication of a dozen “classic” novels with new covers featuring, not one but five, different “diverse” interpretations.

 

This roll-out of Diverseeditions.com was the brainchild of Barnes & Nobles and Random House who were planning on hosting a panel discussion at the flagship B & N store on Fifth Avenue in New York on February 6th, but the backlash from this tone deaf recover of very white classics by just throwing images of POC on the covers was so intense, that the event was cancelled.

 

This statement was released by B&N yesterday “We acknowledge the voices who have expressed concerns about the Diverse Editions project at our Fifth Avenue store and have decided to suspend the initiative. Diverse Editions presented new covers of classic books through a series of limited-edition jackets, designed by artists hailing from different ethnicities and backgrounds. The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work and voices deserve to be heard. The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles. It was a project inspired by our work with schools and was created in part to raise awareness and discussion during Black History month, in which Barnes &Nobles stores nationally will continue to highlight a wide selection of  books to celebrate Black History Month and great literature form writers of color.”

 

Barnes & Nobles also tried to explain the choice of the books on an AI algorithm stating on Twitter they had analyzed text from 100 classics, "searching the text to see if it omitted ethnicity of primary characters” and had chosen the 12 books below:

 

Alice in Wonderland

Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Emma

Frankenstein

Moby Dick

Peter Pan

Romeo and Juliet

Treasure Island

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Secret Garden

The Three Musketeers

The Wizard of Oz

 

Alice has blond hair and blue eyes, so does the main character of The Secret Garden.  Captain Ahab is a racist to the nonwhite men on his ship. If only someone had actually read these books instead of running them through a computer program looking for the words “white” and “Caucasian,” right?

 

But let’s be real.  The intent of this promotion was to sell old books with a new spin under the banner of “diversity.” Books in public domain that are read in schools and library systems were chosen because no one would have to pay royalties and the new “diversity” could be sold to every library in the country. This was not a celebration of diversity and representation, but pure and simple tone-deaf marketing that failed.  Let’s hope the industry has learned from this very public mistake.

 

 

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