Black-owned book publishers were in their heyday in the 1960s and 70s to meet the demand of the voices of a revolution across the country. Though many have closed shop or have become imprints of larger organizations over time, a few have maintained their independence and several new faces of Black publishing have emerged to meet the challenges of a new African-American literary audience. From publishers of Pulitzer prize-winning authors and poet laureates to Lambda Award winners to a couple who found publishing through their own personal search for Black children’s books (spoiler…they wrote their own and found their calling!), these publishers are committed to telling the stories of the African diaspora one (or one million) book at a time.
Third World Press Foundation is the oldest independent publisher of Black literature in the United States. Founded in 1967 by Haki R. Madhubuti in a basement apartment on the south side of Chicago, Third World Press’s mission is to make quality Black literature focused on themes and issues related to the African diaspora in America, and, though they want their literature accessible to as many readers as possible, their main target market is African-American readers. They accomplish this by publishing a variety of genres including children’s and young adult, poetry, African-American studies, autobiography, and political science. Two well-known authors that have published with Third World Press are Pulitzer-Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks and renowned poet Sonia Sanchez. Third World Press accepts un-agented submissions during the month of July.
Black Classic Press was founded in 1978 with the goal of “publishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent.” They also republish out-of-print books that they feel are important in the shaping and understanding of the Black diaspora experience in meaningful ways. Books saved from the ethos include “The Moors in Spain” (1886) and “Introduction to African Civilizations” (1937). Black Classic Press accepts un-agented submissions for books used in college or university classrooms.
Just Us Books is an independently owned children’s book publisher founded in 1988 by spouses Wade and Cheryl Willis Hudson who were on a desperate search for children’s books that reflected the rich history of the Black culture in America. Their mission with Just Us Books is to “produce the kind of positive, vibrant, Black-interest books that they wanted for their own two children.” They started the company by self-publishing picture book “AFRO-BETSR” which taught the alphabet through Afrocentric themes. “AFRO-BETSR” sold 5000 copies in less than three months, which led them to start Just Us Books which has grown to include two imprints: Marimba Books, which caters to middle-grade readers (8-12 years old), and Sankofa Books that publishes out of print books for a new generation of readers. Right now, Just Us Books accepts un-agented submissions for its Marimba Books imprint only.
Amber Communications is the nation’s largest African-American owned publisher of self-help books and music biographies. It was founded by NAACP Image Award winner Tony Rose after his wife, Yvonne, self-published her book Is Modeling for You in 1997. Now, Amber Communications Group has grown to include several imprints including Amber Books Publishing, Colossus Books (musician and celebrity biographies), Amber\Wiley Books (self-help and finance), and Amber/Joyner (in collaboration with Tom Joyner).
RedBone Press was founded in 1997 by Lisa C. Moore to address the lack of literature for the Black lesbian community and grew to incorporate gay men in 2004. Their goal is to “publish works that celebrate and help promote understanding between the Black gay community and the Black mainstream audience.” Their first book, “Does Your Mama Know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories,” won two Lambda Literary Awards for Small Press and Lesbian Studies. They have gone on to receive several Lambda Awards through the years. RedBone Press accepts un-agented submissions.
Brown Girl Books was founded by ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray who, together, have more than 2 million books in print. Their company, Brown Girl Books won the 2016 AAMBC Literary Award for Indie Publisher of the Year and has 24 authors on their roster who publish adult and children’s books for an African-American audience. In fact, Jack and Jill of America publishes their book “The Super Chronicles” through Brown Girl Books publishing company. Brown Girl Books is not accepting submissions at this time.
Life Changing Books, known as LCB, was founded in 2003 by Tressa “Azarel” Smallwood. As seen in BlackLove.com’s list of Black indie authors crushing the publishing scene, Tressa started writing after getting word from her doctor that she needed to be on bed rest for six months. By the time she got off bed rest, she had a fully formed book that she self-published soon after, amassing $40k in its first two months. Realizing her opportunity, she decided not to go back to work as a teacher, and, instead, continued publishing books for herself and others through her company Life Changing Books. Today, LCB can boast topping the charts, having published Essence magazine best-selling titles: “Millionaire Mistress,” “Secrets of a Housewife,” “Bruised 2,” “The Dirty Divorce Secrets” and “Deep.”
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