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Indy bookstore sees 900% increase in Black authors in 5 years

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Derrick Slack self-published his latest children’s book, “Orange.”

He has now sold over 200,000 copies of his book, making him one of the many authors of color to see success as the need for Black authors surges in Indianapolis.

“I’ve been turned away in many aspects of my life that I felt was due to the color of my skin. I’ve never let it stop me,” said Slack, an author of nine books.

Slack credited technology to opening doors for Black authors.

“Back in the ’90s, early 2000s, print-on-demand was still a labor intensive thing, and it would take weeks, but with the technology today, books can be printed, you know, overnight.” 

Christie House, owner of Books on Sale, agrees the ability for an author to self-publish and market their own books has been a gamechanger for getting more diversity in her bookstore. She says, in 2017, the store had hardly any books written by Black authors. Now, she says they have several sections.

“I don’t know if it’s because we were in the pandemic or what, it just exploded,” House said. Customers “were wanting the African American books. They were wanting diversity books, anything and everything to do with anyone.”

She says her store has seen a 900% increase in books by Black authors in the last five years.

“Every time I see that we’re getting low, I try to get more, even if it becomes harder to find. I’ll keep searching for it.”

Lasana Kazembe, a published Black author and an assistant professor at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, says the increased need for books by the Black community has come out of the Black Lives Matter movement. But, for this trend to stick around, Blacks need to be in more positions of power, he says.

“The problem with us trying to get access and trying to get seen is a perennial problem. … It has to do with power. It has to do with ownership and control,” Kazembe said.

Kazembe says he is not convinced the trend is here to stay for the long run.

“I gave it six months. That’s the hockey season,” he said. “It’s cyclical. It rises and falls with these rhythms and patterns of white supremacy and racism in this country. So, I’m glad that, like, people are getting contracts and stuff like that. But again, at the end of the day, is it really progress?”

According to a study done by Cooperative Children’s Book Center based in Wisconsin, in all of 2016 just 92 Black authors who wrote children’s books were published in the United States. In 2021, there were 304.

“We have to remember that Black people are only 12% of the population, so that, not a market control. So, you have to think about, what you mentioned, titles like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ and stuff like that. That is for mainstream white consumption,” Kazembe said.

Still, Slack hopes other authors of color take advantage of the self-publishing option to get their work seen.

“I applaud the companies for stepping up because it has given opportunities to a marginalized group that have been kept out of the conversation.”