Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ain't That A Shame: Author Speaks Out

"Ain't That A Shame" by Justine Larbalestier
From her blog: In the last few weeks as people have started reading the US ARC of Liar they have also started asking why there is such a mismatch between how Micah describes herself and the cover image. Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover.

Many people have been asking me how I feel about the US cover, why I allowed such a cover to appear on a book of mine, and why I haven’t been speaking out about it.

Here's the publisher's response:
Clearly, our striving for ambiguity with this cover, and for it to be interpreted as a ‘lie’ itself didn’t work for everyone. But again, if this jacket proves a catalyst for a bigger discussion about how the industry is dealing with its books on race, that’s a very large good to come of this current whirlwind.

What ambiguity? Is she serious? The biggest liar here is the publisher. They chose the cover to ensure white readers would pick it up and of course black readers already know not to expect black covers except on black urban or historical lit. I am appalled and insulted by Ceceka, the PR for Bloomsbury.

I didn't know the full story behind the cover till now. I'm glad the author has blogged about the issue. I have learned enough about her to know I need to now read her work. I hope you read and speak up, too.


Tere Kirkland said...

I hope everyone else reading Justine's blog is as infuriated as I am that the publishing industry obviously hasn't changed at all on this issue since "A Wizard of Earthsea" came out in 1969.

Sorry, everything else I try to write just sounds so full of vitriol, and I know this is the wrong place to spew it. Thanks for spreading the word.

Tere Kirkland said...

Sorry, 1968. So mad I didn't fact check before I posted.

Color Online said...

Thanks for commenting, TereLiz.

Check out author Lauren McLaughlin's response.

Color Online said...

And CORA girl, Tashi weighs in with this at Taste Life Twice

Amanda said...

I just heard about this issue today. I hope she's able to get some changes made now.

Color Online said...

See Colleen's response and call at
Chasing Ray, Liar, Liar.

Color Online said...

"Jacket Whys goes analytical: "With the discussion about Liar, I decided to do a very unscientific, informal roundup of who’s on the 2009 crop of book covers. I looked at about 775 children’s and YA book covers for books that have been released or will be released this year. 80% of them had people on them. A full 25% of all book covers had white girls pictured on them, and 10% had white boys. Only 2% of the titles I looked at had African American boys or girls pictured on the covers – a sad state of affairs. I can understand the outcry over the Liar cover."

Anonymous said...

I agree...

I too would like to see more truth in advertisement and using pictures and/or imagry that doesnt truthly represent whats in the package just aint right.

Ruth said...

Book covers are a problem generally. I'm convinced that those who design the covers and those who approve them don't actually READ the books!!
Maybe the answer is to be like Dindga McCannon (co-founder of black women's art collective "Where We At")who when she couldn't find a book for young black girls sat down and wrote her own- PEACHES by Dindga McCannon (1974)
These days Dindga is a textile artist - you can read about her at
and see her work at
and YES i am biased, I met her when she was in London and was bowled over by all that she had achieved in her life and her huge talent.

Color Online said...

This controversy has stirred quite a bit of print. Please check out the links.

Cover models should like the main character. For those of you who don't follow industry trends or YA literature, the white teen girl is the target audience. Therefore most covers have the pretty white girl.

The problem is complex. Major elements is who the industry targets, the racist notion that a black face on a cover won't sell to whites and that ugly pigeon-holing by the industry that all black cover is literature for blacks and the lit is either street/urban fiction or historical. You know, black folks don't hardly read of course.

Color Online said...

See CORA girls, Tashi's and MissAttitude's responses:

"The Lie Was The Cover" atyoung, black reader

"Why We Need White Readers To Pay Attention" atTaste of Life

Color Online said...

"...and I want to add that it's not like editors and marketing people are monsters. Pretty much every single person I've met in children's publishing is a great, smart, hardworking, passionate individual who wants to get books into readers' hands. I think this was just a bad decision symptomatic of a larger, mostly hidden problem that we need to talk about and it's good we are doing so."

When we stop defending the guilty?
My response:
I worked in publishing. While I'm willing to agree marketing people are not monsters can we hold people accountable before we rush in making excuses for a real problem and it is not hidden. Racism is insidious not hidden. Huge difference. Whether you are consciously racially bias or not does not minimize the affects of race in this industry or the country as a whole.

I'm disturbed that so many are already defending those who have the power and the choices.

I was raised to be prepared and willing to be held accountable for my actions. I will not let Bloomsbury and those involved in this bad decision off the hook before I have thoroughly and rightly criticize them for a serious and REAL problem.

Ana S. said...

There's also a great post about this at Ya Fabulous.

I want to read Justine Larbalestier, but I think I'll try to find the Australian editions of her books online.

Color Online said...


We will purchase the Aussie edition. Thanks for the link. I've been waiting to hear from YA readers.

Sandra said...

I don't read YA literature or have young people in my life so I've only heard about this through your post.
The main character is a visibly black girl and they put a white girl on the cover?! Even if that character were trying to pass in the story, lying about her race or something, I still would feel cheated as a buyer and a reader by the lie that cover tells. And I don't think it matters that I'm not a person of colour, it's just insulting to be misled like that.
You're right not to let Bloomsbury off the hook for this.