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Presentation by Laura McGrath on “What 25,000 Book Deals Can Tell Us About Race”

On February 17th, 2022, we welcomed back Laura McGrath, currently an Assistant Professor at Temple University, and our former Associate Director, to talking to us about her latest work on her project “What 25,000 Book Deals Can Tell Us About Race.”

The international publishing conglomerates known as the Big Five have not been known historically for publishing and promoting the writing of people of color. As countless articles, essays, and twitter threads will tell you, mainstream publishing is deeply racist and very white. Yet, over the past two years, editors and executives have been surprised to find that “books about race” (to borrow an inelegant phrase from the New York Times) have topped the bestseller lists and flown off the shelves. In this talk, examine a corpus of 25,000 book deal announcements to consider the ways that race and ethnicity are represented by an industry whose controlling interests (and presumed customers) are predominantly white. Which stories, by which writers, make it through the bottleneck of acquisition— what traits do they share, what narratives do they promote, and what, by extension, are the “authorized” stories of race and racism in the United States? How do these books contribute to the discourse around race and ethnicity in the twenty-first century?