There isn't a better way to start the holidays than to have our next guest!
So we've been trying to get this woman FOREVER! She's extremely busy, because she's out there grinding and editing diverse books! She's very well known in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks conversation, and has attended many events(See this year's ComicCon) to address diversity in books.
Tu Books, her project of love and dedication, is actually an imprint of Lee & Low, that focuses on all the genres of fiction we love(sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and historical fiction) that center on characters of color at the forefront.
We're so happy to finally host her on our blog, because she's one of the best editors that are also champions for diversity! If you don't know her, you'll know her now!
Introducing: Stacy Whitman!
Say hi to all the readers at Twinja Book Reviews Stacy! Can you tell us a little about yourself, who you work for and what you do there?
Hi, I’m Stacy Whitman, and I’m the founder and publisher of Tu Books which is an imprint of Lee & Low Books As the publisher of an imprint at a small press, I wear many hats. I’m the only editor on my imprint’s staff, so I choose which books get published, and work with the authors to polish their manuscripts before publication. I am the art director, working with freelance designers to create beautiful packaging for the books so people will be drawn to the amazing covers and want to read the books.
I coordinate all my other freelance staff—readers who give me opinions on slush and New Visions Award submissions, copyeditors and proofreaders who make sure we’ve caught all the typos, and designers. I also do quite a bit of work on marketing and publicity, coordinating with our marketing department to make sure that the books we publish get attention.
Tu Books is an imprint of Lee and Low books. Is there anything that Tu books specializes in vs books traditional promoted by Lee and Low?
Lee & Low now has six imprints, each of which focuses on a different audience or kind of story, but all of which showcase diversity. Tu Books publishes diverse fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction for middle graders and young adults, with the same vision as our parent company: to center the stories of people of color.
For most of the more than 20 years Lee & Low Books has published books for young readers, the main imprint has focused on picture books, nonfiction, and poetry for younger readers in the children’s book market. They have published a small handful of YA, but my imprint expands that vision, adding genre fiction, and works to publish fun, adventurous, diverse YA and MG books that are doorways to other times, places, and civilizations—with heroes and heroines that all readers can connect with.
I started Tu Books as a small press in 2009, and it was acquired by Lee & Low Books in 2010. We’ve been publishing award-winning books since 2011—most recently, DRIFT by M.K. Hutchins was a Junior Library Guild selection, and KILLER OF ENEMIES by Joseph Bruchac won the American Indian Youth Literature Award for young adult novel. You might have also seen Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS, which was published in 2012 and continues to be quite popular—it was just named to the Spirit of Texas Reading Program and was nominated for an Andre Norton award.
What has been your favorite book to edit with Tu Books?
That’s like asking if I have a favorite child! Every book has been an adventure—and all my authors are delightful to work with. But my most recent book that has been through the editorial process is INK AND ASHES by Valynne Maetani, who won our first New Visions Award contest with her YA suspense/mystery. I just finished the edit last night and am so excited to have the cover reveal coming up on Dec. 4th. It’s about a girl who finds out her deceased father (who passed 10 years ago) was a member of the yakuza. Her discovery of this information turns a stone that was probably better left unturned, and soon she’s being stalked and threatened—and the safety of her family and friends is on the line.
To give you a sneak peek, here’s the cover copy.
Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away when she was a little girl. But on the anniversary of his death, not long before her seventeenth birthday, she finds a mysterious letter from her deceased father, addressed to her stepfather. Claire never even knew that they had met.
Claire knows she should let it go, but she can’t shake the feeling that something’s been kept from her. In search of answers, Claire combs through anything that will give her information about her father . . . until she discovers he was a member of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.
So begins the race to outrun his legacy as the secrets of her father’s past threaten Claire’s friends and family, newfound love, and ultimately her life. Ink and Ashes, winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, is a heart-stopping debut mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.
I also have a new middle grade book by Uma Krishnaswami coming out in 2016, which I like to refer to as "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN for middle graders.” It’s set in a little-known community in 1940s California, a community of Punjabi Sikh men and their Mexican wives, and the mixed-race children resulting from those marriages. In the book, Maria Singh wants to play baseball, and runs into several obstacles to her goal, including that her father thinks she shouldn’t wear pants. Can she convince her parents that, just like the All-American Girls’ League, Maria should be able to play baseball?
And I’m also particularly excited that the sequel to Joseph Bruchac’s KILLER OF ENEMIES is coming in 2016: TRAIL OF THE DEAD.
Do you think the issue of diversity lies with the publishing industry or readership?
I think everyone has a part to play in encouraging greater diversity in books (and in all our media). Representation is so important across the board. This is why shows like Sleepy Hollow are so important—fun shows that aren’t just focused on the serious side, which I think we’ve often trained readers and viewers to expect of media that centers stories about people of color. Serious stories that deal honestly with our past, including slavery, Civil Rights, Japanese internment, treatment of Native Americans, and such—these serious stories are very important. But fun stories that center the experiences of people of color are also hugely important, and are the reason why I do what I do.
We’ve been doing a series of studies on the diversity gap across media. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that representation of people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBT people is abysmal not only in books but also in movies, TV, and on Broadway. But it’s pretty stark to see it laid out in infographic after infographic.
That’s the reason I started Tu Books: because I feel that everyone should do what they can, where they can. I, as an editor, have the power to seek out more diversity in the books I publish. Readers have the power to seek out more diversity in the books they read. Librarians, teachers, booksellers, marketing and sales staff—everyone in the publishing pipeline, from writer to reader, has a responsibility to do their part to encourage diverse representation, and to promote diverse books.
Since you've already seen, read and edited so many great books featuring diversity, is there any type of setting, or plot, or culture that you would anticipate seeing in a novel?
I’ve been seeking a good Asian steampunk for a while! I’d love to see something set in Victorian-era India, Southeast Asia, or Hong Kong, dealing with colonialism from the point of view of a colonized person, set in an amazing steampunk alternate world.
I haven’t had the opportunity yet to publish anything starring contemporary African Americans, though TANKBORN by Karen Sandler featured a main character of African descent in a futuristic dystopian world. So I hope that I’ll find something great—perhaps a contemporary mystery, or a
I’d also like something Afrofuturistic—what that might look like is wide open. And I’d love to see a Veronica Mars-esque Native American teen detective story (preferably by a Native American writer). I also haven’t seen many Pacific Islander cultures in submissions, particularly written by Pacific Islander authors.
Really, the possibilities are infinite. There’s so little representation out there in YA fantasy, science fiction, and mystery that anything well-written, that understands teen and middle grade audiences, that tells a great story and goes beyond Civil Rights or slavery would be fresh and interesting. It’s just the matter of finding the right stories that fit what we need. For writers interested in submitting, be sure to look at the kinds of stories we publish so, for example, you know we’re probably not interested in dystopia right now because we’ve already published several. Other than that, send it in and we’ll see!
Here are some great ways to connect with Stacy!
Happy Holidays everyone!