Education and Skills

15 young, black female authors who are changing publishing

51st NAACP Image Awards - Arrivals - Pasadena, California, U.S., February 22, 2020 - Elaine Welteroth. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok - HP1EG2N04AYGH

3 in 4 people working for the publishing industry identify as white. Image: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok - HP1EG2N04AYGH

Zoë Ettinger
Distribution Fellow, Insider
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Education, Gender and Work

  • According to a 2019 study, 3 in 4 of people working for the publishing industry identify as white.
  • And only 7% of children's books in 2017 were written by black, Latinx, and Native American authors combined.
  • Here are 15 black, female authors looking to change the publishing industry.

Though strides have been made in the world of publishing, writers of color are yet to be fully appreciated by the literary community at large.

According to a 2019 study, 76% of people working in publishing identify as white. While the number of diverse books being published is increasing, only 7% of children's books in 2017 were written by black, Latinx, and Native American authors combined.

Jo Chiaramonte, who works for the social storytelling platform, Wattpad, helped Insider select young, black writers for a list of authors who are changing the industry. "Each of these authors are working to increase diversity and representation in literature, casting characters that young, black readers can identify with and developing page-turning plotlines," she said.

Take a look at 15 authors changing publishing today.

Have you read?

Helen Oyeyemi wrote "The Icarus Girl" and "What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours."

Oyeyemi wrote her debut novel, "The Icarus Girl," when she was just a teenager. It was nominated for the Otherwise Award, and her recent novel, "What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours," was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fiction.

Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi Image: British Council

Now 35, Oyeyemi told the Guardian, "I don't think age should be a thing, especially with writing, of all things. When my first book came out, there were a few snippy reviews saying that this author should "live a bit more"… I haven't felt any pressure."

Elaine Welteroth is the author of "More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)."

Elaine Welteroth.
Elaine Welteroth. Image: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Also a journalist, Welteroth became editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue in 2016, becoming the second African American in Condé Nast's 107-year history to hold such a title. She left the company in 2018.

Her book, "More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)" is an autobiographical work that was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Biography / Auto-biography and became a New York Times Bestseller.

Nandi Taylor wrote the novel "Given."

Nandi Taylor.
Nandi Taylor. Image: Wattpad

"Given" is a fantastical romance steeped in Caribbean and West-African traditions. It follows the story of Yenni, a princess who must save her ailing father and comes across a dragon-shifter named Weysh who claims she's his "Given," or destined mate.

Taylor is a sci-fi and fantasy writer. Her work champions African representation in speculative settings, rarely seen in fantasy novels.

Taylor spoke to Insider about the importance of representation in publishing, saying, "Diversity of representation in literature is vital because art imitates life and vice versa. Words can literally shape the world around us, and I think it's imperative as writers that we use our words to create a world that is inclusive."

Daven McQueen wrote "The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones," which is out this year.

Daven McQueen
Daven McQueen Image: Sched - WattCon 2018

Set in 1955, "The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones" follows a black teenager named Ethan Harper who meets Juniper Jones, and the two embark on a quest for an unforgettable summer together. The novel comes to bookshelves on May 5.

"The first time I ever saw a black character in a book – at least, that I remember – was in Jacqueline Woodson's book 'After Tupac and D Foster,'" McQueen told Insider. "I think I didn't even realize that representation was something that had been missing from what I was reading, because I was so surprised to see characters in a book that looked like me."

Yaa Gyasi wrote the award-winning novel, "Homegoing."

Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi Image: Penguin Random House

Gyasi is a recipient of the National Book Foundation's 2016 "5 Under 35" Award. Her novel "Homecoming" tells the story of a family split between Africa and America, and the legacy of slavery through generations.

In an interview with the Guardian, Gyasi spoke on black suffering. "Suffering changes and stays the same," she said. "In America, the worst was never over, just made new. That was something I was trying to trace in the novel – the trail of trauma reinvented."

Tomi Adeyemi wrote the fantasy novel "Children of Blood and Bone."

Tomi Adeyemi
Tomi Adeyemi Image:

Adeyemi's novel, "Children of Blood and Bone," was a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. It is a West-African inspired fantasy story, which delves into a magical world of danger and mystery. Critics lauded it for its examination of oppression, racism, and slavery.

Adeyemi spoke to NPR about black oppression and representation of black characters in sci-fi novels: "Fantasy and sci-fi, they are all stories of oppression, but largely erase the people in our contemporary society that are actively being oppressed. So I'm going to do what fantasy and sci-fi has always done. But this time I'm going to do it from a very personal place."

Zinzi Clemmons wrote "What We Lose" based on her own experience of losing a parent.

Zinzi Clemmons
Zinzi Clemmons Image: Moad

"What We Lose" tells the story of a woman caring for her dying mother, and is loosely based on Clemmons' own life experience caring for her mother when she had cancer.

She told the Guardian, "It's a difficult thing writing about your family – I probably would have held back … and I think that's why I'm proud of it, because I didn't hold anything back."

Akilah Hughes wrote "Obviously: Stories from My Timeline."

Akilah Hughes
Akilah Hughes Image:

Akilah Hughes' memoir, "Obviously: Stories from My Timeline," is about her experience growing up in Kentucky, becoming a spelling bee champ, graduating high school at 15, and making her way to New York to pursue her dreams, which she did by Greyhound bus.

She also co-hosts the podcast What A Day, where she adds her funny, informed tone to news sharing.

Glory Edim is the author of "Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves."

Glory Edim
Glory Edim Image: Shondaland

Edim is the founder of Well-Read Black Girl, a Brooklyn-based book club, which inspired the book, "Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves," a collection of essays by black women. It was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

Edim told Vanity Fair about her friendship and experience working with other black women: "What I love about the friendship I have with black women is that we can keep it real. That we can say the things that we need to say to each other with love, and that you should expect and respect that, because it's how you grow."

Angie Thomas is the author of the critically acclaimed "The Hate U Give."

Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas Image: The Oprah Magazine

"The Hate U Give" was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and was also made into a movie starring Amandla Stenberg and Regina Hall. It follows the story of a high school student who witnesses a police shooting, and was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Thomas said in an interview with The Cut: "I was afraid to send the book out to literary agents. If you said the words "black lives matter" to 30 people, you'd get 30 different reactions. I knew there were calls for diversity in children's lit, but you always wonder as a person of color, how diverse is too diverse? I knew that I made this book as unapologetically black as possible, so I was afraid to query it."

Angel Hilson wrote "Electric Impulse."

Angel Hilson
Angel Hilson Image: Wattpad

"Electric Impulse" follows the story of Aria Davenport who, after a traumatic breakup with her college sweetheart, meets an older, more sexually experienced businessman who promises to change her life forever.

"When I was reading in elementary school, I'd see black characters, but they were always painted the same as everyone else," Hilson told Insider. "It wasn't until I read, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou that I actually saw the depth that a black character could have. This depth and authenticity is the reason that representation in literature is critical."

Kiley Reid is the author of "Such a Fun Age."

Kiley Reid
Kiley Reid Image: The Guardian

"Such a Fun Age" tells the story of a young black woman who is wrongly accused of kidnapping while babysitting a white child, and the events that follow.

Reid told the Guardian about creating black characters in fiction: "A lot of Americans will often freeze over these topics and say: 'Well we're all human, we all have the same experience,' when we don't. I wanted to create characters who were dying to help, but kind of going through mental gymnastics to ignore the broken systems that put people where they are to begin with."

Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race."

Reni Eddo-Lodge
Reni Eddo-Lodge Image: You Must Create

"Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race" won multiple awards, including the British Book Awards Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year in 2018. The book started as a blog post in 2014, in which Eddo-Lodge explained her weariness with speaking to oblivious white people about race.

Eddo-Lodge wrote in The Guardian, "At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of color are 'different' in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin color can and should be universal. I just can't engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do."

Nafissa Thompson-Spires wrote "Heads of the Colored People: Stories."

Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Nafissa Thompson-Spires Image: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

In "Heads of the Colored People: Stories," Thompson-Spires examines black identity in the "post-racial" era through a series of darkly funny stories. It's another multi-award-winning book and received the Hurston/Wright Award for Fiction.

In The Guardian, Thompson-Spires wrote, "I'd grown up feeling like I was the only black person like myself, though of course that wasn't the case. I wanted to see more stories about awkward, nerdy black people, and black people who were the only ones in a particular space, and what it meant to navigate the many different kinds of identity construct. You write what you want to read. You're reshaping an ongoing conversation."

Phoebe Robinson is the author of "You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain."

Phoebe Robinson
Phoebe Robinson Image: Elle

"You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain" is a collection of essays about race, gender, and pop culture. Robinson is a stand-up comedian, and her darkly funny stories help shine a light on the struggles faced by black woman in America.

In the book, she writes, "Black hair seems to raise a lot of nonblack people's blood pressure. I've seen the gamut of emotion on people's faces — awe, confusion, stress, anger, joy, amazement, suspicion, envy, attraction, you name it — because we, and I'm using the royal we, as in society, have never figured out how to have a healthy, functional relationship with black hair."

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