The Pandemic Product that Could Help Promote your Publication by Lisa Braxton

The COVID-19 pandemic has largely forced authors to put tradition aside when it comes to promoting their books, and find creative and innovative ways to get the attention of readers. Bookstore customers sitting on folding chairs, clutching cups of punch while the author speaks a few feet away has become a rarity, if it happens at all these days. Writers are autographing books in the relative safety of their homes and shipping them to fans who’ve pre-paid the costs through an app. Book parties, author panels, and readings are held on Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms.

As the virus persists in playing a significant role in our lives, it’s become clear that at least one safety product won’t be shelved anytime soon. And that product—a face mask—can be a vehicle for promoting a book. We wear the face mask everywhere: to the supermarket, the library, the shopping mall, restaurants. Their pervasiveness makes them miniature billboards for the wearer to express themselves, whether to make a fashion statement, share a beloved piece of artwork, or showcase the cover of a book.

Businesses are employing the strategy. They are investing in customized face masks to influence people to make a purchase, sign up for the newsletter, or take other potentially beneficial actions. Much like a book cover, a company logo is the main tool that introduces potential customers to the product. It can make a lasting impression and stimulate a customer’s curiosity.

Choose a reputable manufacturer of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the production of your face masks to ensure the highest quality of materials are used. Ideally, the masks should be comfortable, soft, stretchable, breathable, and washable. Stretchable ear loops and elastic at the top and bottom provide greater flexibility.

For my face masks, I used a high resolution bookstagram image I had a designer create not long after my book, The Talking Drum, was published and sent it to a customized mask production company. I’ve contacted my book champions—friends and family who’ve been my volunteer book promotion squad—and sent them the customized masks. I anticipate them wearing them whenever they leave the house, potentially increasing my customer base.

Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and was a finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University, and her B.A. in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area. The Talking Drum is her debut novel.

Tom Brady isn’t the only GOAT in town!

A few weeks ago, I was quickly skimming social media and saw that my sister had posted something on Facebook. I saw the words: “yoga” and “goat.” 

My first thought was that my sister had somehow done yoga with The GOAT, Tom Brady, who some call (especially if you are a New England Patriots fan) The Greatest of All Time. 

I knew that he and his wife Gisele had published a cookbook, but were they also giving yoga classes? In Maryland where my sister lives? Upon closer inspection of the post, I realized that my sister and my niece had signed up for goat yoga, something I’d never heard of. Mother and daughter were smiling brightly in the selfies they took with the goats. I didn’t understand why. 

It sounded kind of ridiculous to me and unsanitary. I asked Sylvia, “Don’t the goats poop on you?” she said that they don’t, but she did see one goat pee on a participant’s yoga mat and the instructor quickly wiped it down. After suppressing my sometimes critical and know-it-all nature, I decided I’d try it for myself. I signed up at Red Horse Farm in Hanson, MA, about 30 minutes from my home. 

Red Horse Farm is a private 10-stall equestrian facility dedicated to thoroughbred aftercare and retirement. Every so often they host goat yoga. A certified yoga instructor led about 12 of us in “caprine vinyasa” or goat yoga, a relaxed form of yoga, consisting of various poses primarily at the beginner level. As I worked on my child’s pose and downward facing dog, I reached out to pet the lovely goats who roamed around us and nibbled on the goat kibbles the farm owner strategically placed on each of our yoga mats. 

What is the purpose of goat yoga? From what I read, goat yoga incorporates animal therapy and yoga meditation. It is a novel way of fusing the healing benefits of yoga and goat therapy.  

All I know is by the end of it I was very happy and relaxed, and smiling brightly too. 

Having my celebrity moment and raising money for a good cause

Dear Authors, 

We are so excited that our Dinner with an Author Gala is just one week away, and even more excited that you’ll be there with us! The event is officially at capacity with 250 guests, and your gracious participation along with 26 other amazing authors is what will make it unique and so special.

Excitement was building for me as I read this email update on the Raising a Reader MA gala. I would be rubbing elbows with other authors, some with a major publishing house, others whose novels had been made into major motion pictures, Like Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice. When I arrived at the swank Newbury Hotel the following week, I was whisked to a reception area for cocktails and mingling. Photographers snapped our pictures and wait staff served us beverages of our choice along with creatively arranged hors d’oeuvres.

TV personality Liz Brunner and I had a lovely conversation about our local television news careers and her podcast. Jennifer De Leon and I agreed to strike a pose for the camera, her with her novel, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From and me with The Talking Drum.

At the appointed time all of us authors took a group photo in front of the “step and repeat” like they do at the Oscars. While the photographer was setting up the shot, I reminded Lisa Genova that we had met years earlier when I was the president of the Women’s National Book Association Boston Chapter and she gave a reading at one of our events from Still Alice. She must have been in negotiations with Hollywood at the time because she mentioned that there was some “buzz” about her book but she wasn’t at liberty to get more specific.

By evening’s end, we had succeeded in helping to close the literacy opportunity gap among young children and their families in under-resourced communities across Massachusetts. More than $358,000 was raised!

The House That Inspired the House in My Novel

When I was beginning to write The Talking Drum, I knew that I wanted the fictional bookstore, where much of the action takes place, to be located in a Victorian home. I love Victorian houses—Italianate and Queen Anne—their tall windows and wraparound porches, pitched rooves, the detailed ornamentation, multiple floors, the ones that are boldly painted with contrasting trim and the more subdued.

I didn’t have to look far to find my architectural model. I thought back on the home I lived in the year I came to Boston in 2003. It was a grand Victorian in the Dorchester section of the city. It was a 5-bedroom house with high ceilings and sweeping staircases. The master bedroom had a sitting room. The backyard was well manicured and landscaped with seasonal flowers and plants.

When my character, Sydney, runs her hand up the bannister of her new home, it is the bannister at the house in Dorchester that inspires me. When bookstore customers gather in the backyard to hear The Fierce Warriors perform, I am using the backyard of my former home. When Sydney sequesters herself in the master bedroom upstairs after a falling out with her husband, Malachi, it is the bedroom that I rented in that home that informs the look of the fictional room.

One of my fantasies it to own a Victorian house. It probably will never happen, but I can at least enjoy ownership of a Victorian and all of the architectural elements that I love vicariously through my characters Sydney and Malachi.

Introducing Professor, Editor, Author Liz Atwood!

It is my pleasure to introduce Liz Atwood, a “triple threat” in the world of words. Liz and I have been friends for years, actually decades. We first met when we were newspaper reporters in our 20s for the Richmond News Leader in Richmond, Virginia. She first told me about her book project a few years ago and I’m delighted to announce that The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison: America’s First Female Foreign Intelligence Agent will be available from Naval Institute Press September 15th and is available for pre-order now.

Liz Atwood

Here’s more about Liz:

Liz Atwood is a former reporter and editor at the Baltimore Sun, where she first learned about Marguerite Harrison, the Baltimore socialite and Sun reporter who worked as a double agent in the 1920s.

A few years ago, Liz decided to find out all she could about this fascinating woman. She read her military files at the National Archives in College Park and traveled to Moscow, Russia, to see Harrison’s prison records at the archives of the Federal Security Bureau. She pored over Harrison’s writings and interviewed one of her granddaughters who had vivid recollections of the woman she called “Granny.”

The result is the first published biography of Harrison’s life. Although other authors had written articles and chapters about Harrison that relied heavily on her memoirs, Atwood discovered that Harrison was not always truthful in reporting the extent and nature of her work for the U.S. Military Intelligence Division and the State Department. Harrison’s story is one that is more complicated and more important than she previously revealed.

Atwood grew up in Luray, Virginia, and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. She earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Virginia and a PhD in public communications from the University of Maryland.

She is an associate professor of journalism at Hood College in Frederick, Md., where her research focuses on how journalists contribute to political and social change.

She lives in Catonsville, Maryland.

More information about Liz can be found on her website.


What was your writing process like? Did you have any rituals or favorite workspaces?

I had a fairly short time to write this book. I was on sabbatical for one semester in the spring of 2018. I also had heard that another author was working on a biography of Harrison and I really wanted to be first. As a former journalist, I’m used to writing on deadline, so I set myself a goal of writing a 30-page chapter every week. I usually started around 9 in the morning and wrote until afternoon. I wrote most of the book at a desk in my bedroom, although I proofread pages wherever I happened to be—on the patio, at my father’s house and at the beach. I don’t have any particular rituals, except forcing myself to sit down and write, even if what I put down is not very good. I like to get my ideas on paper and then go back and rearrange and refine.

Did you always want to be a writer? If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Yes. I’ve been writing stories since I was in second grade and this passion was behind my decision to study journalism and work as a newspaper reporter. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be teacher. I’m lucky that now I can be both.

What motivated you to write this book?

When I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical at my college, I decided I wanted to use that time to write the best story I knew that had never been written. That was the story of Marguerite Harrison. I had heard about her when I was reporter and editor at the Baltimore Sun and saw her photograph outside a conference room door. When I started to look at what had been written about her, I found book chapters and articles and an unpublished doctoral dissertation, but no published biography. In addition, previous authors had relied heavily on Harrison’s memoirs, and I discovered she was not always truthful, or at least not forthcoming.

How did you first learn about Marguerite Harrison?

I probably first heard about her in conversations with other reporters and editors at the Sun, but as I noted above, I really became aware of her name and what she had done when I saw her photograph and a brief description of her work outside a conference room door at the newspaper office.

Did you learn anything about Marguerite Harrison that surprised you?

The most surprising thing for me was how important she was as a trailblazer in the foreign intelligence service. Women have always been spies, even in this country, but our government was reluctant to send women overseas for fear they would fall in love with their targets or not give accurate information on military matters. Harrison was a talented linguist who knew Europe well. She persuaded the Army’s Military Intelligence Division to hire her at the end of World War I.

She later described herself as a newspaper reporter who dabbled in espionage. Her accounts make her seem almost foolish. But she was actually quite shrewd and sophisticated. The top men in Military Intelligence trusted her with some of the nation’s most sensitive missions and she spied for our government for several years beyond what she admitted to in her books.

Did you learn anything about the world of espionage that surprised you?

I had no idea how complicated it is. While I was researching this book, I also read John le Carré  spy novels for insights. The intelligence services operate on a need-to-know basis. Harrison’s files are filled with letters from government officials wondering if she can be trusted or if she was a Communist spy. So while she was working for one office in the Army or State Department, those in other offices didn’t necessarily know about it.

What was your research process like?

I started reading her extensive files at the National Archives that describe her mission and reports on her two imprisonments in Russia. I then went to Moscow, Russia, to review her prison files. At the same time, I was scrutinizing her memoirs and newspaper articles. When I started to compare her accounts with the official records, I realized she often did not reveal the complete picture of her work. For example, she wrote that she had no idea that traveling to Russia in 1920 would be risky. That’s absurd. There were at least a half dozen Americans held in Russian prisons at the time and the Bolsheviks had broken up at least two American spy rings. It was a risky mission and she and her commanders knew it.

Why do you think Harrison had never been the subject of a published book-length biography?

I think many authors were fooled by the superficial story line: spoiled and headstrong Baltimore socialite, bored and grieving after her husband dies, decides to become a newspaper reporter and then a spy. She comes off as a woman who flits from one thing to the next. But she actually was rather ruthless and calculating. She knew how to be what she called “charming” and she played her seeming naiveté to her advantage.

Describe your path to getting a publisher, difficult, easy, something in between?

I first tried to find an agent. I wanted to sell the book to a trade publication rather than an academic press because I thought the story had popular appeal. Also, the academic publishers tend to price their books very high and that discourages sales. I tried for almost a year to find an agent, but without luck. Then I started to look at the academic presses. Johns Hopkins University declined the book, but an editor there suggested Naval Institute Press, which published Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October.  The editors at Naval Institute Press were enthusiastic about this project from the start and I was very glad they agreed to work with me.

What do you want people to think about as they’re reading or after they’ve read the book?

I want readers to appreciate that Marguerite Harrison played an important role in the creation of our intelligence services. Most women spies had previously relied on exchanging sex for secrets. Most famous, of course, was German spy Mata Hari. Harrison used her brains, not her body to gather information. She was not always nice and she was a terrible mother. But she set an important precedent. By the time of World War II, thousands of American women were working for the foreign intelligence service and of course today a woman is in charge of the CIA.

What’s next for you, another book project?

Yes, I’m working on a book about journalists who have died in America as a result of their work. I was moved to do this after the Annapolis Capital Gazette shooting in 2018. I knew one of the victims. This is going to be my love letter to journalism. Not all of the victims are heroes, but America should know that despite our guarantees of freedom of the press, nearly 70 journalists have been killed in this country because of their work.

What’s the Story…on Angie Chatman?

I had the pleasure of meeting Angie Chatman in Taos, New Mexico, the summer of 2018 when we were both fellows of the Kimbilio Fellowship program for fiction writers of the African Diaspora. Fellows come from all over the country and some from outside of the U.S. Angie and I discovered that we both lived in the Boston area and have kept in touch ever since.  Angie is frequent contributor to Business Insider, and her articles, essays, and short fiction have been anthologized in prominent print and online journals. She is also an extraordinary storyteller and has performed stories for The MOTH, StoryColliderMassMouthTell-All Boston, and the television series Stories from the Stage (WGBH). I’ve watched her tell stories and have been riveted. 

Angie Chatman

LB: Have you always wanted to be a storyteller? When did this interest begin?

AC: No, I didn’t plan on telling stories on stage in front of an audience. That’s scary, nerve wracking and embarrassing.  I’m a writer; I tell stories on paper. However, my friend, Robin, saw an advertisement to learn how to tell and pitch stories. I was beginning my career as a freelance writer and I knew I could use some additional training on pitching. We went to the class. Robin and I both pitched and were asked to tell for the Holiday episode of WGBH’s Stories from the Stage. The energy in the room was palpable and such a rush. I can see why actors, comedians, and performers love being on stage.  

LB: How has the fever pitch of the Black Lives Matter movement this year affected avenues for you to do storytelling?

AC: Because of BLM, storytelling outlets want to get with the program and ride the publicity wave. Having been in the news business you understand how that works. So instead of having one or two people of color on the stage, there are now shows where all of the tellers identify as black. 

LB: How has BLM movement this year opened up additional opportunities for you to tell stories about race, injustice, and other socially relevant topics.

AC: In addition to being able to be on the program, nearly all of the themes are centered on social injustice towards black and brown folks. Storytelling is an industry albeit a small one; the producers are responding to market pressure. I’m hoping that this will change this industry in some way. Previously, it had been my experience that producers – who are typically white – shied away from these topics. I don’t really blame them, most of the audiences are white and white people thought racism was over once we elected a black President.

LB: What is your favorite story to tell and why?

AC: That’s like asking what’s my favorite book. I love all my stories – and all my books. After all, my stories are about my experiences. Even the painful ones are useful to revisit now and then to remind myself of lessons learned.

LB: Do storytelling and your writing complement each other? If so, how so?

AC: Oh heck yeah. Telling and writing are two sides of the story coin. Both have magical powers, which engage the imagination of an audience. Both set a scene, develop characters, introduce an inciting incident, and land the ending. The only difference is a storyteller shows what happens by using vocal tone and modulation, body movement and gestures. All a writer has are marks on paper. 

LB: Why is storytelling important?

AC: At their core stories are about love, heartache, growing up, risk, and failure, everything and anything about the human experience. Every story connects us because stories, especially the good ones, remind us of our shared humanity. That is why storytelling is so important and is a timeless artform.

LB: For someone who wants to become a storyteller, where do they begin?

AC: Since I got into storytelling after taking a class, I’m biased. That’s what I recommend. However, there are story slams all over Boston, the greater New England area, and around the country where you throw your name in a hat and hope you get picked. You can start there as well.

Angie Chatman is a writer, editor, and storyteller. She lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with her husband, children, and rescue dog, Lizzie. Angie earned her MFA in creative writing from Queens University in Charlotte and an MBA from MIT. She teaches at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. Follow her on twitter and find out more about her on her website.

The Diversity Gap in Publishing

I am new to the publishing world, my debut novel, The Talking Drum  was published at the end of May, and I didn’t have a sense of the publishing landscape in terms of the value placed on works by black versus non-black authors. That is, until the arrival of the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe. The hashtag was created by the fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney to highlight the disparities.

I now know that black authors have been having these conversations for quite some time. The conversations picked up speed and drew more attention from the public in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests throughout the United States and other parts of the world regarding police brutality and racial injustice in general.

As an author who is African American, the threads of conversation under the hashtag drew my interest. I followed the tweets closely. Black and non-black authors disclosed the amounts paid for their book advances. The disparities were stunning.

I researched further and came across the Lee & Low Books Diversity Baseline Survey. Lee & Low is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States. Their 2019 survey—an update and expansion from the 2015 survey—captured information from a large segment of the publishing landscape with all Big 5 publishers participating, all major review journals, and academic presses and literary agencies.

The survey found that overall, the publishing industry is 76% white, 5% black, 6% Latinx, and 7% Asian. Editorial staffs are 85% white, 1% black, 2% Latinx, and 5% Asian. Marketing and publicity departments are 74% white, 4% black, 5% Latinx, and 8% Asian.

I was particularly interested in the findings about book reviewers, being a book reviewer myself and having had my book reviewed by upwards of 40 reviewers during my book launch. I know the impact reviews can have on book sales and publicity. The survey found that among book reviewers 80% are white, 4% black, 3% Latinx, and 4% Asian.

Needless to say, the people behind the books serve as gatekeepers, who can make a huge difference in determining which stories are amplified and which are shut out. If the people who work in publishing are not a diverse group, how can diverse voices truly be represented in its books? The survey found that 71 % of African American fiction is sold by indie and self-published authors. Sales figures show that these books are selling, there is a market for them, but the Big 5 publishers—Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan—largely ignore them.

It took me 10 years to get my novel published. I have no idea if biases or prejudice had anything to do with the length of my journey. Along the way I got great feedback from literary agents and editors who helped me make the novel better. When I finally got a contract, it was from a small press in Toronto, a women’s press that has the mission of publishing women of all backgrounds.

I wonder if I’ll face similar challenges with my second novel. If I acquire a literary agent, will the agent be unable to sell my book to a major publisher? Will I be shut out because of race?

In this era in which reading lists are popping up on the internet urging the public to read black authors, buy black books, and support black-owned and operated bookstores, there also needs to be an outcry over the lack of diversity in the publishing world and the pay disparities between black authors and white authors and between black authors and other authors of color. Unless the publishing industry is held accountable, improvements will not be made.

“Late” Is A Relative Term

Television news is a young person’s game.

I first heard that assertion from my broadcast journalism professors and class advisors, and then later from workshop presenters at national industry conferences. The statement was an undercurrent that gradually grew into a drumbeat for us who toiled as young reporters at stations in small town America. We were encouraged by our colleagues and mentors to keep our resumes and news clips up to date in anticipation of moving every year or so to an incrementally larger and better paying news market. The goal was to reach our “destination station” with its requisite prestige, prime time newscast slot, and comfortable salary as quickly as possible, especially if we were women.

The cautionary tales were all around us. When I was hired by my first station in Champaign, Illinois, there were murmurs around the newsroom that the female anchor of our evening newscast was involved in tense negotiations with management over her contract. For years she’d had her multiyear contract renewed without a problem, I was told. This time around management wanted to give her only a one-year extension. In the TV news business, it’s common knowledge that a one-year contract extension is a station’s way of hurrying you out the door so that you can be replaced with someone younger and/or cheaper. The news anchor was in her mid-30s at the time. Many of us in the newsroom had no doubt that in the eyes of management she had aged out, this in spite of the fact that her male counterpart on the anchor desk was at least 15 years her senior and continued to be offered multiyear contracts.

At another station, the female morning news anchor, in her late 40s to early 50s could not convince management to move her to the evening newscast, the more coveted time slot. She started looking elsewhere. We knew this because calls came into the newsroom from other station managers wanting to check her references. She was eventually let go during a station reorganization.

At my last station, before I decided to quit television journalism to pursue work at a nonprofit, tense moments ensued when the evening anchor returned from maternity leave to resume her duties that had been handled during her absence by a much younger female. For weeks following the more senior woman’s return, she would ignore her co-worker’s overtures for conversation and exchanges of pleasantries. I saw this episode as an illustration of the fears women in broadcasting feel of easily being replaced. Years later, in an unrelated development, several of the on-air women sued the station for age discrimination.

During my 10 years in television I came to know that the TV newsroom was a pressure cooker for a multitude of reasons, and for women, age is one of the biggest. It’s like a ticking clock that begins to resemble a time bomb as the years pass.

Now with that chapter of my life behind me but always near my consciousness, I can’t help but contrast that experience with my entering the world of publishing as an author. I have seen the attention the literary world gives to young authors, the lists of contests, grants, and awards highlighting and touting the accomplishments of writers in the early years of their adult life. I’ve skimmed the headlines—Buzzfeed’s “20 under 40 Debut Writers You Need to be Reading,” Bustle’s “25 Books Written by Women under 25,” Goodreads’ “Authors Under 30,” and Poets & Writers’ “30 Below” contest and many others.

A 2010 survey conducted by fantasy novelist Jim C. Hines in which he found that the average age for novelists to make their publishing debuts was 36 to 37 is often sited when aspiring authors are looking for a benchmark.

But to my relief, I have not seen signs of favoritism of youth and ageism in the literary world when it comes to aspiring authors of a mature age—over the age of 40—pursuing book publication.

The list of well-known women whose first books were published when they were over 40 is lengthy. Annie Proulx, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Isak Dinesen, Elizabeth Strout, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Maya Angelou are in that group. And this year the literary world welcomed a number of mature debut female authors to its ranks who I’ve had the pleasure of either meeting through our literary endeavors or becoming acquainted with through corresponding with them as a fellow debut author of a mature age.

Vivian Gibson: The memoir by the 70-year-old author, The Last Children of Mill Creek, ranked number 4 on Publisher’s Weekly’s Bestseller’s list for the week of May 16, 2020. Gibson began writing short stories about her childhood memories of Mill Creek, an African American neighborhood in Saint Louis that was destroyed in 1959 to build a highway, after retiring at age 66.

Dr. Bettye Kearse: A retired pediatrics specialist in her late 70s is the author of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family. Kearse traced her family’s history from the antebellum South to present-day California and Boston and investigates long-standing claims that she and her relatives are descended from U.S. President James Madison.

Dr. Rita Woods: The physician and medical director who always felt a pull toward writing is the author of Remembrance, a complex novel about loss and survival told across 200 years by four women, united by the color of their skin and the supernatural powers they command. 

In a recent interview Ruth Greenstein, publisher at independent Turtle Point Press, described discovering and working with younger writers who are gifted as “an unparalleled thrill” and a “kind of honeymoon.” But she added that when the work of an author is exceptional, age is not an important factor. “What counts is passion, energy, originality. I find that older writers tend to have more to say—more wisdom that’s worth hearing and remembering,” she added.

Greenstein’s interview was published on Bloom, a literary site devoted to highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. The fact that this website exists is an indication of the literary world’s embrace of the mature writer. Bloom is also a community of artists and readers who believe that “late” is a relative term. I couldn’t agree more.

Reading Suggestions During this Turbulent Time

In light of where we are in the country right now, days after the George Floyd murder and the brutal attacks and killings of other innocent African American by the police and others, I’ve compiled a reading list for those who have been asking the question, “What can I do to help? What can I do to be part of the solution to resolving hatred and racial bias?”

One thing people can do is develop a better understanding of the Black Experience by reading about it.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement 

During his 28-year career, Matthew Horace rose through the ranks from a police officer working the beat to a federal agent working criminal cases in some of the toughest communities in America to a highly decorated federal law enforcement executive managing high-profile investigations nationwide. Yet it was not until seven years into his service- when Horace found himself face down on the ground with a gun pointed at his head by a white fellow officer-that he fully understood the racism seething within America’s police departments.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

Invisible People: Stories of Lives at the Margins

Every human being has an epic story. The late Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Alex Tizon told the epic stories of marginalized people—from lonely immigrants struggling to forge a new American identity to a high school custodian who penned a New Yorker short story. Edited by Tizon’s friend and former colleague Sam Howe Verhovek, Invisible People collects the best of Tizon’s rich, empathetic accounts—including “My Family’s Slave,” the Atlantic magazine cover story about the woman who raised him and his siblings under conditions that amounted to indentured servitude.

Make Change

Activist and journalist Shaun King reflects on the events that made him one of the most prominent social justice leaders in the world and lays out a clear action plan for you to join the fight.
As a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, Shaun King has become one of the most recognizable and powerful voices on the front lines of civil rights in our time. His commitment to reforming the justice system and making America a more equitable place has brought challenges and triumphs, soaring victories and crushing defeats. Throughout his wide-ranging activism, King’s commentary remains rooted in both exhaustive research and abundant passion.

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America

When Darnell Moore was fourteen, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they thought he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn’t the last time he would face death.

Three decades later, Moore is an award-winning writer, a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In No Ashes in the Fire, he shares the journey taken by that scared, bullied teenager who not only survived, but found his calling. 

Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism

For the reader who wants to learn more about black feminism, Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks is considered one of the most important and comprehensive works on how sexism and misogyny specifically affects women of color. 

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! I’m a literary debutante!

Printing Press

@TheDebutanteBall @ InannaPub #diversebooks #diverselit I am thrilled to report that I have been chosen for The Debutante Ball, a group blog for authors making their debut in the literary world. The blog is in its 12th season and celebrates 5 up-and-coming authors. Debutante Ball LogoFormer Debs include bestsellers in the genres of women’s fiction, mystery, literary fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and more. I’ll be blogging every week during the 2019-2020 season on a variety of literary topics, interviewing authors and hosting book giveaways as well as sharing exciting details about my big “dance” toward the publication of my novel, The Talking Drum, which is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in May 2020. The Debutante Ball was established in 2007. Check us out here.

Find your favorite read while in the back seat of an Uber


Many of us who love to read and love to write have bemoaned the loss of brick and mortar bookstores over the past several years—the chain stores as well as the independents. We’ve wondered if our society will lose interest in reading and if the online booksellers are speeding up the demise of bookstores. We writers have wondered if we’ll have a decent-sized audience who will read our work. My fears were calmed recently while I was on a business trip. To get to my destination, I had to connect at Philadelphia International Airport. Killing time between flights I happened upon what is called the Philadelphia Book Exchange, a welcoming little cove with benches and chairs and a slot for dropping off books for others to read and selecting books that you’d like to read. It’s located at Terminal A-East. The airport also has a virtual library, which lets visitors access the Free Library of Philadelphia’s electronic collection of e-books. It’s located in the D/E Connector.


And also during my trip I was delighted to see that my Uber driver had placed some delightful readings in the seat pocket behind the driver’s seat. It’s encouraging to see new avenues for inspiring reading.If you’ve seen libraries, bookstores, or book exchanges pop up in unusual or untraditional places, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.