“If they don’t welcome you to the table, you build your own,” said Ashton Brooks, founder and editor-in-chief of Chaos+Comrades, and a current student in the NYU SPS MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program. When he decided to found his company, Brooks says he wasn’t feeling represented in his workplace at PBS. He knew he had to create a place that fostered an inclusive environment and uplifted marginalized voices in the media industry.
March 26, 2021
Inclusive Communities Matter
Ashton Brooks, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Chaos+Comrades, and NYU SPS MS in Publishing student
Recognizing and celebrating underrepresented members of a community matters most, before profits and deadlines: a viewpoint articulated at a special panel discussion titled “Community Matters,” recently co-hosted by the NYU SPS Center for Publishing and its Publishing Student Association.
MJ Franklin, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, guided this important conversation about organizations that help build diversity and inclusion in publishing, and how students and all those watching could get involved.
MJ Franklin, Editor at The New York Times Book Review and panel moderator
Franklin introduced the conversation by asking the panelists what diversity in publishing looked like to them. Jalissa Corrie, marketing and publicity manager at Lee & Low Books, and planning committee member for People of Color in Publishing, said diversity means that “everyone’s voice is equally heard and valued.” Nancy Mercado, associate publisher and editorial director of Dial Books, who represented LatinX in Publishing on the panel, said institutional diversity meant acknowledging problems and applying thoughtfulness to the way companies conduct business and create their workplace culture. In 2012, Mercado helped to establish the Children’s Book Council Diversity Initiative.
Jalissa Corrie, Marketing and Publicity Manager at Lee & Low Books, and planning committee member for People of Color in Publishing (photo credit: Andrea Kwamya)
Franklin remarked that “we’ve been frustrated but also exhilarated when having these conversations.” The frustration, he explained, stemmed from the fact that changes aren’t happening quickly enough. Chelsea Villareal, brand marketing manager at Penguin Young Readers and program manager at We Need Diverse Books, supported Franklin’s statement by analyzing the 2019 database survey from Lee & Low Books, acknowledging that not much has changed since the 2015 survey. “The work coming out is brilliant, but the needle is moving slowly,” said Villareal.
Chelsea Villareal, Brand Marketing Manager at Penguin Young Readers and Program Manager at We Need Diverse Books
Another issue discussed was the possibility of burnout when building a new structure or trying to reinvigorate the culture at an existing publishing house. Corrie remarked that the second Lee & Low survey shows that 49% of interns in book publishing identify as BIPOC. The survey predicts that group will burn out or leave publishing before workplace cultures can be changed. Most companies are hoping that as diversity increases in publishing companies, there will be more diverse voices represented in books. Mercado added, “There needs to be an internal reckoning in talking to white people about the culture we are creating.”
Nancy Mercado, Associate Publisher and Editorial Director of Dial Books and Event Planner for LatinX in Publishing
Mercado reminded us that it’s easier to build an inclusive culture in an organization when it is founded on the inherent mission of inclusivity, such as at We Need Diverse Books. Brooks agreed that since Chaos+Comrades started that way, it’s easier to shift things, but other companies have to start over essentially. That takes time, resources, and effort from all employees. Corrie advocated the importance of forming committees such as those represented on the panel, and then going to allies to continue the conversation at different levels. Villareal added that the most important function of allies is listening and “constantly absorbing, learning, and paying attention.”
With the topic of diversity and inclusion in publishing and media, there was much to discuss and learn when listening to the experiences of those who are helping pave the way. Overall in the industry, making truthful steps forward to create more inclusive work environments is key for all of us.
By AnnRea Fowler, NYU SPS MS in Publishing ‘22
AnnRea is a NYU SPS MS in Publishing student and a 2018 Summer Publishing Institute graduate. AnnRea graduated from Virginia Tech in 2019 with a degree in English. As an elementary school teacher, she has been inspired to work in children’s book publishing.
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