Author wins fight over “whitewashed” book cover.
Laura Woodhouse // 12 August 2009
A bit of good news for once! Australian author Justine Larbalestier was appalled when advance copies of her children’s book about a short-haired black girl, Liar, featured a long-haired white girl on the cover. But following an internet campaign, and pressure from Larbalestier and her agent, the publishers, Bloomsbury, have now changed the cover, and the book will be published in hardback in October with a black girl on the front.
Larbalestier says this is not an isolated incident:
[she] believes the issues of “whitewashing” of covers, ghettoising of books by people of colour, and low expectations for these books are industry-wide. In 2004, Ursula Le Guin asked why “even when [my characters] aren’t white in the text, they are white on the cover … I have fought many cover departments on this issue, and mostly lost. But please consider that ‘what sells’ or ‘doesn’t sell’ can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If black kids, Hispanics, Indians both Eastern and Western, don’t buy fantasy – which they mostly don’t – could it be because they never see themselves on the cover?”
Publishers argue that “black books don’t sell”, but Larbalestier views this as defeatist:
“I don’t think anyone can know until books with black faces on them get a big marketing push. You can’t tell anything if such books get very little promotion,” she said. “I think the belief that white people won’t buy books about black people is a widely held one, but I do think the furore over the cover of Liar is causing people to rethink that. And to ask themselves ‘if it is true, what can we do to change it?'”. She urged readers to start buying books by “people of colour”, recommending Coe Booth’s Kendra and M Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow.