Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

On February 3, American bookstore Barnes & Noble announced that it was teaming up with Penguin Random House to launch a series of classic books with “culturally diverse” covers. The 12 classic novels selected—including Treasure Island, Romeo and Juliet, and Moby Dick—were to feature people of color on their covers. The books were meant to go on sale by February 5 and remain on display throughout the month of February. The project was known as “Diverse Editions” and was done partly to mark Black History Month.

The news, reported by Publisher’s Weekly, was met with widespread criticism on social media, with many people expressing their disappointment at the initiative and insisting that there were better ways to promote the works of people of color—ways like actually publishing people of color. Among writers who weighed in on the controversy was Nnedi Okorafor. She regarded the project as “disgusting” and “insincere” and proffered that the solution to the lack of diversity was to publish new stories by “people of color about people of color” rather than replacing white characters with people of color.

Nigerian writer and Caine Prize 2017 finalist Chikodili Emelumadu retweeted the news with a gif showing three white women with black-painted faces.

Barnes & Noble has since announced that it was cancelling the project. In a statement shared on Twitter, they revealed that the covers had not been intended to serve as a substitute for black voices but was rather created in part to raise awareness and discussions during Black History Month.

The Barnes & Noble controversy is yet another instance of the diversity problem in publishing. A few days ago, we published a piece by the Kenyan writer Mukoma wa Ngugi addressing the question of writing outside the scope of one’s experience. We recommend that the people at Barnes and Noble take note of the suggestions provided by Mukoma, as well as check out our list of The Top 15 Debut Books of 2019, The Notable African Books of 2019 and The Most Anticipated Books of 2020. Or Penguin can just give publishing deals to the many, many writers of color submitting manuscripts to them.

Tags: , , , ,

Chukwuebuka Ibeh is a Staff Writer at Brittle Paper. An alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop, his work has been published in McSweeneys, Clarion Review, Charles River Journal and elsewhere. He was longlisted for the Awele Creative Trust Award in 2017 and was a finalist for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award. In 2019, he was named by Electric Literature as 'One of the Most Promising New Voices of Nigerian Fiction' in a feature introduced by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He is a regular contributor with the New England Review of Books and lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."


Black: The Literary Salon | Cassava Republic’s New Event Series to Celebrate Black Writing | 27 February

Black Literary Salon

Cassava Republic Press, in partnership with A + F Creative, will be launching a series of events to celebrate black […]

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Hosted Lupita Nyong’o in Lagos: How It Happened + Photos & Video

Chimamanda hosts Lupita - photo by CNA Team (8)

Photos credited to CNA’s Team. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hosted Lupita Nyong’o in a private dinner in Lagos, attended by notable […]

Ukamaka Olisakwe’s Forthcoming Novel, Ogadinma, Is a Feminist Story Set in ’80s Nigeria

ukamaka olisakwe - ogadinma - graph

The Nigerian writer Ukamaka Olisakwe is set to release a new novel. Titled Ogadinma, or Everything Will Be All Right, […]

Resoketswe Manenzhe Wins 2020 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award for Her Novel, Scatterlings

Resoketswe - Scatterlings @avatar_reso 2

The 2020 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award has been awarded to the South African writer Resoketswe Manenzhe for her novel Scatterlings. […]

Down River Road, a New Print & Online Magazine Exploring the Alternative in Literature, Music, & Visual Art, Calls for Submissions to Second Issue

down river road journal

A new Nairobi-based print and online magazine, down river road, is exploring the margins, the shifting centers, and the new […]

Dr Stella Nyanzi Wins Appeal at Ugandan Court, Regains Freedom, But Is Possibly Re-arrested

stella nyanzi - graph - kampala dispatch

Dr Stella Nyanzi is free. The academic, feminist and queer rights advocate has been in prison for criticising Uganda’s long-serving […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.