RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Dana Canedy has spent her career working with the written word.
DANA CANEDY: My son called me word nerd because I'm obsessed with words and books. And I've been writing since I was 12 years old. And my mother asked me in high school, if you don't become a writer, what's your plan B? And I said, there is no plan B.
MARTIN: Plan A worked. Canedy spent 20 years as a reporter and an editor and was responsible for diversity and inclusion in The New York Times' newsroom. She's the author of a memoir about her late partner who died fighting in Iraq. And for the last few years, she has been the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. Now she will become senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster - one of the largest publishers in the country. And she does so at a time when the publishing world, like so many industries in this country, is reckoning with its own deficiencies with diversity. Canedy happens to be a Black woman, and I asked her what she sees as significant about her hiring in this particular moment. She told me this isn't the same kind of moment for her.
CANEDY: When I say that I've lived with this a long time, remember that it was, I think, 2001 that I, along with my colleagues, won a Pulitzer Prize for a series literally entitled "How Race Is Lived In America."
CANEDY: And we're revisiting this again, so it's an issue that's sort of hard to get at. We have - it's two steps forward, one step back. But I think as it relates to book publishing, we have an opportunity to bring about meaningful understanding and change in the country with the voices we highlight, be they well-known authors or emerging voices. And I will be paying a lot of attention to that.
MARTIN: There's an immediacy in journalism to address issues as they're happening, and it's a different pace with books and long form. What can you do with books in this particular social movement? What can the pace of books and long form do that journalism can't?
CANEDY: Well, some of the best journalism actually is long form and takes a while. If you think about the best investigative reporting, much of it is cumulative and then is repackaged as books later. So there is an immediacy to journalism for sure. But some of the most impactful journalism has taken months or even years to put together, you know, and to publish. If you think about the #MeToo movement, there had to be a lot of gathering of string before that story came to the fore.
In this case, I think it was actually to the advantage of authors and book publishing to take a step back, breathe, really not be reactionary but take time to be thoughtful and to dig deep with sources. Race is one of the hardest things to cover, for example, and it takes a while to get people to warm up and to trust you. But even as it relates to politics, taking race out of it for a second, cultivating sources, you know, pulling threads together to notice the themes that are emerging, those things are not immediate. And I think the reason books exist alongside journalism is that readers want thoughtful narratives that take a while to pull together in an authoritative way, and that's where books have an advantage.
MARTIN: There is a debate right now about who gets to tell what story, and this was really launched into the mainstream conversation with a book called "American Dirt." It was released not by Simon & Schuster but by another publisher, Flatiron Books, at the beginning of this year. The author, Jeanine Cummins, has identified as white and wrote a fictional book about Mexican immigrants. And there was this huge backlash because of what some described as the inauthenticity of the story and the language she used. Is that something you are thinking about as you take on this new job? Who gets to tell what story?
CANEDY: Generally speaking, I would say my view on that is that everybody has a voice, and you have to speak your truth. And so I would not be opposed at all to someone, you know, white writing about issues that have to do with Hispanics or someone - I mean, Black reporters and authors have been writing about subjects that don't have anything to do with race that have to do, you know, with white people forever. And so I think the job of an editor is to make sure that when you do a book like that - or in the case of a journalism story - that the voice is authentic. It's not necessarily a failing of the author so much as it is a collective failing of the editor and author to not know when something isn't authentic.
If there is an authenticity to a story, readers will know it. And if there isn't, they will. And that doesn't just have to do with race - that has to do with anything. You know, my book, "A Journal For Jordan," a memoir, had a lot to do with the military. And I, you know, wasn't an expert on the military. I had to quickly become one, and so I had to be authentic in that book about the military. And so this is where, you know, journalists have an opportunity because we are used to very quickly becoming experts in subject matters that we are not. And so I think that's required more than anything.
MARTIN: We're almost in a kind of renaissance when it comes to art in particular, especially storytelling in film and television. Do you think publishing has been slow in understanding the necessity of elevating non-white voices?
CANEDY: Absolutely not. In fact, if you go to culture.org and look at the cultures that won this year in books, you will see that that certainly is not the case. Many, many of the books speak to just what you're describing. I just think that there can always be more. And to your point earlier, we are at a particular moment where there's a focus rightly so on this issue, and there's more to say because we have a lot more work to do. But I do think, you know, in recent years in particular, there has been a lot more diversity of voice in publishing, a lot more to do though. No question about it.
MARTIN: Did the stack of books on your nightstand just get a lot larger with this new job?
CANEDY: (Laughter) Yes. Yes.
CANEDY: Yes. And I'm glad about that.
MARTIN: Dana Canedy. She is the new publisher of Simon & Schuster of the imprint by the same name. Thank you so much for your time. And congratulations again. We hope to talk to you soon.
CANEDY: Thank you.
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