Race as an issue in New York publishing
by Kelvin Smith
In A Meeting in the Ladies’ Room by Anita Doreen Diggs, Jackie Blue works for Welburn Books, and isn’t it fun!
Down Editors’ Row I marched, passing the open doors of my brethren who were already caught up in the ceaseless mini-dramas that were part and parcel of American book publishing.
“…she wants a six figure advance for that piece of crap…”
“…you promised me a first look at his next work…”
“…it’s a Black book. I’ll have to run it by Jacqueline Blue before I can give you an answer…”
“…I figured out who the killer was in the first chapter…”
“…Oprah doesn’t pick funny books. It needs a dysfunctional family in it, for chrissakes…”
“…the book is in production now – you can’t change the ending…”
“…Governor Cuomo will sue our asses off if we print this…”
Central to the plot is the fact that Jackie Blue, like the author, is African-American.
We called ourselves the Black Pack because the eight of us were the only African-American professionals working in the rarefied world of Manhattan book publishing. We had nothing in common except a shared cultural heritage and a need to vent about the frustration, alienation, and invalidation that we experienced from some members of the Dominant Culture. At the end of each dangerously soul-sapping, energy-draining week, it was nice to take off our Corporate Negro masks and relax.
Jackie is (wrongly) accused of murdering her boss, Annabelle Welburn Murray. She has been passed over for promotion, and so, apparently, becomes the ideal suspect. Certainly she didn’t think much of her rival “Astrid Norstromm, the pasty-faced, stringy-haired white woman who was due to get the job I wanted”. According to Jackie, she frequently “stumbled and stammered her way through book ideas about Black life that were so ridiculously off the mark that they would be laughable if it didn’t happen so often“.
Jackie is portrayed as a born publisher. Even in extremis she discusses “the memoir that would keep Mama financially safe if I went to prison. The book would easily be worth half a million dollars”.
That’s all right then.
Anita Doreen Diggs, A Meeting in the Ladies Room, 2004