Over the past few months there have been quite a lot of discussions both here and elsewhere about the way in which romances featuring black protagonists, written by black authors, tend to be placed in "AA romance" lines, and are often shelved in the "AA section" rather than the "romance" section. During those discussions mention has been made of non-black authors who've written romances featuring black characters, and whose romances didn't get treated in the same way as the romances written by black authors and featuring black protagonists. Although Millenia Black isn't a romance author, her experience highlighted the importance of the race of the author, not simply the race of the characters, in determining the ways in which a book will be marketed and shelved. In addition, once her publisher became aware that she was black, they expected her to write about black characters. As a result, Millenia Black (the pen name of Nadine Aldred) brought a lawsuit against Penguin (a pdf of the complaint she filed can be found here, via On Point). As summarised on one blog written by a "best-selling author [...] trapped in the shadows [...]. Me and every other author of color in the publishing industry":
In or about September of 2002, plaintiff Aldred self-published her first novel, entitled The Great Pretender, under the pen name Millenia Black. The work of fiction centers around the topic of marital infidelity, and contains an additional subtle component, in that all of its subject matter and characters are devoid of racial characteristics. [...] Aldred is not described by race anywhere in the self-published version of The Great Pretender and neither does her photograph appear. [...]Millenia Black then wrote a second novel:
In the latter half of December 2004, and as a direct result of the successful marketing of the self-published edition of The Great Pretender, Penguin became interested in Aldred’s current and future work. [...]
On information and belief, defendants’ employee and agent, Kara Cesare, who was assigned by Penguin to be Aldred’s editor, asked plaintiff’s agent, Sara Camilli, whether she had ever met Aldred in person and whether Aldred was black or white. Camilli responded that Aldred is black.
For its version of The Great Pretender, Penguin revised the original cover art by superimposing two non-white women over the image of the burning wedding bands. Penguin published and marketed The Great Pretender using the revised cover art.
Plaintiff objected to the use of false racial identifiers on the cover art of The Great Pretender, but Penguin published the work as such over Aldred’s objections.
The Great Betrayal focuses on marital infidelity and family secrets. As initially written by Aldred, The Great Betrayal’s characters are described as white.Today (link via Monica Jackson's blog) Millenia Black posted that she is "very pleased to share that the matter has now been resolved to my satisfaction through an agreement, the terms of which can never be discussed."
After reviewing the manuscript, Penguin demanded that Aldred re-write the characters so as to render them African American or race-neutral.
Thereafter, Penguin showed Aldred its intended cover art, which portrayed an unmade bed with the face of an African American woman and the back of an African American man superimposed above it.
On information and belief, Penguin intended to classify and style The Great Betrayal as African American fiction/literature, based solely on plaintiff’s race and without regard to the subject matter of the book.
That's the second time in recent months that Signet (a division of Penguin Group USA) has taken action to rectify an unethical situation. The other involved Cassie Edwards:
Romance writer Cassie Edwards and publisher Signet Books have decided to break up after allegations emerged in January that in she lifted passages in several of her books from other sources.And to celebrate the result of the Penguin's deliberations (I imagine it standing, as in the photo above, staring into the water while trying to decide what to do) here are two free online reads that are, at least in part, about justice.
"Signet has conducted an extensive review of all its Cassie Edwards novels and due to irreconcilable editorial differences, Ms. Edwards and Signet have mutually agreed to part ways," the publisher said in a statement Friday.
"Cassie Edwards novels will no longer be published with Signet Books. All rights to Ms. Edwards' previously published Signet books have reverted to the author." (Hillel Italie, via the Smart Bitches)
The first is A Darker Shade of Midnight, by Lynn Emery, a paranormal romantic suspense story set in Louisiana.
The second, much shorter story, Tea with a Stranger, is by Isolde Martyn and begins in Port Jackson, Australia, in 1796.
The photo of the pensive-looking penguin was taken by Jerzy Strzelecki, and I found it at Wikimedia Commons.