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White-Washing the Cover

One controversy regarding cover art well covered in the blogosphere is the case of “white-washing” covers. This tem was new to us until our intrepid reviewer of short fiction—a man of the world, aware of the currents that blow there—tutored us on this bit of nastiness. The term refers to the custom followed by some publishers to show white people on the cover of books the characters of which are of another race.

Last summer, Australian author Justine Larbalestier wrote in her blog (here) about her disappointment with a cover; it was for a new young adult (YA) book she had written published by Bloomsbury. The book, Liar, is about a young black woman; the cover art for the U.S. edition depicted the face of a young white woman.

According to the author:

Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all.

The good news here is that Justine’s publisher “got the message,” as it were, and changed the cover of Liar so that content finally matches the outer image. Better late than never.

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2 Responses

  1. Better buy it, I say! This is an amazing post! Not surprising really. Brings to mind a book I read by a British author some years back called “White Teeth.” The author is of mixed origin and she writes about Indians, blacks, métisses and whites in London. What have we all got in common? White teeth!

  2. And rather a good book it was–a genuinely human book.

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