Chris Jackson And The Book Industry's Attempts To Diversify Chris Jackson is revitalizing One World, a division of Random House known for publishing black authors. To celebrate, it's releasing Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, We Were Eight Years in Power.
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Chris Jackson And The Book Industry's Attempts To Diversify

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Chris Jackson And The Book Industry's Attempts To Diversify

Chris Jackson And The Book Industry's Attempts To Diversify

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're now going to introduce you to a man shaking up the world of publishing. His name is Chris Jackson, and he's had a busy couple of weeks. He just published Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, and he launched a new publishing venture that he hopes is going to reshape the entire publishing industry. Here's NPR's Lynn Neary.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Most people outside the world of publishing would not recognize the name Chris Jackson, but they might recognize some of the writers he has edited, from celebrity rapper Jay-Z to literary fiction star Edwidge Danticat. One of his writers who seems to be everywhere recently needs little introduction, a point Jackson made when the two appeared together on stage at The New School in New York.

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CHRIS JACKSON: This is Ta-Nehisi Coates. He's a writer.

(LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: He's written a few books.

NEARY: Jackson published Coates' first book, and more recently, "Between The World And Me," which won the National Book Award and became a best-seller.

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TA-NEHISI COATES: He is directly responsible for any sort of success that I've had. Unquestionably, I couldn't have done it without him.

NEARY: Ta-Nehisi Coates is following Jackson to One World, a publishing imprint at Penguin Random House which Jackson hopes to infuse with new life. One World, says Jackson, is part of a cautionary tale about the publishing industry's attempts to diversify. It started in the early '90s, when a number of large houses set up separate publishing departments for books by and for people of color.

JACKSON: One of the things it did it was sort of let the rest of the company off the hook from publishing those books and thinking about those books and thinking about those audiences. And it made those things disposable, so that if it wasn't working, you just - the imprint's gone and with it goes every black writer you might have on your list.

NEARY: One World was first established when multiculturalism was a popular idea. Now that word seems dated. But Jackson says publishing for a multicultural world is more relevant than ever.

JACKSON: What people call multicultural, which is to say voices that come from all over our culture - across race and national background and language and across the gender spectrum, across the sexual spectrum - is what mainstream American culture is. It's the dominant force, I think, and the most relevant and influential force in American culture.

NEARY: And in this era of Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, Jackson says the depth and detail that can only be found in books is more important than ever. Coates points out that artists, writers and producers in other media look to books for ideas.

COATES: It's the font of, you know, sort of ongoing - our intellectual discourse. And so having a place for black writers and writers of color in general, you know, women writers and trans writers and LGBTQ, you know, writers to shape their world as they see it, with all its humanity, beauty and ugliness and all of that sort of good stuff. You know, I think of it as an act of resistance.

NEARY: Jackson is having little trouble attracting writers to his new publishing venture, and many of them turned out for the launch party. Joe Tone's new book "Bones" was released in August, the first to be published by One World. Tone says Jackson is a challenging editor.

JOE TONE: He didn't just tell me how much he loved this story. He wanted to know how I would tell it and what I wanted the book to stand for. And it made me really uncomfortable. And I thought that discomfort would probably be a good driving force as I reported the book and try to write the book.

NEARY: Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes is writing a memoir. She sought out Jackson for her editor.

QUIARA ALEGRIA HUDES: You know, the books that he's put in the world are incredible. And the thing I love about them is how incredibly sharp and critical they are of our world and how deeply warm and empathetic they are.

NEARY: Jackson's vision for the future of One World includes not only his writers but also his readers. Some, he says, will be hungry for books that tell their story, but he also hopes to reach readers who might not entirely agree with his worldview.

JACKSON: And I think that's the thing that I would love for all of these books to do is to tell the stories, tell them true, not budge an inch on the truth that's important to the writer but keep a door open so that anyone else can walk through and immerse themselves in that experience with a transformative effect.

NEARY: Looking ahead, Jackson says, he's excited about finding new writers and new voices who share his vision of literature infused with the experience of many cultures. Lynn Neary, NPR News.

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