When Rochester editor and author CaTyra Polland started the process of creating National Black Authors Day earlier this year, she viewed it as filling a gap.
“This is a way to uplift those Black authors, who are many of our greatest authors, who are ignored or undervalued. It’s a celebration of how we’ve been successful, despite the roadblocks put in our way,” Polland says.
She says Black authors have been challenged by years of internalized racism that viewed African-American culture and speech patterns as inferior.
In addition, the book industry has been extremely slow to root out that bias. A 2021 book from Columbia University press examining the history of fiction writing found that, even in 2018, the fiction world was dominated by white writers who accounted for 89 percent of all works by U.S. major publishing houses. Authors of color made up the remaining 11 percent.
Similarly, a 2019 survey by minority-owned publisher Lee & Low showed large gaps in the industry, particularly at the executive and editorial levels. In general, those surveyed in the publishing realm were white, straight, non-disabled, cis-gendered women.
Even so, Polland believes progress has been made in recent years with more books being authored by writers of color and more of them accessible to the public, especially with new social justice movements pushing issues of race and ethnicity to the forefront. In 2021, industry researchers the NPD Group, tracked a rise of 116 percent for unit sales of adult print books in the U.S. focused on diversity, discrimination, and civil rights, compared with 2019.
National Black Authors Day is intended to be a way to change the long-standing bias and create lasting bonds in the community. By reading books by Black writers, sharing a quote or giving a Black author a shoutout on social media, all ways to celebrate the day, not only will overall recognition rise, but also offer chances to network as well, she believes.
“Being an author, you can feel like you’re in a siloed occupation. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. We’re not alone in the struggles we do have,” Polland says. “I want to encourage Black authors to seek each other out and freely share their knowledge.”
She recalls the challenges of starting out in the literary world as an author and editor at her company, Love for Words. The editing boutique was able to hire an Black female intern recently and Polland felt she was able to pay her experience forward.
“I was able to give her the advice I didn’t have. It’s important for me to guide and mentor those who come after so this progress I made doesn’t die out with me. You reap what you sow, so no one is going to benefit if you’re greedy with what you do have,” she says.
There is also a diversity within the Black writing community that often is overlooked.
“Black authors write genres of all kinds. It’s not just ‘urban fiction.’ We are sci-fi writers, poets, and historians. We should celebrate them all,” says Polland.
Polland previously hosted the Writer’s Paradise event in 2018 and 2019, as a forum for current and aspiring authors to connect and learn from instructors and each other. She hopes to revamp the event in time for National Black Authors Day and focus on topics Black authors would find useful.
The day, May 4, is now registered with the National Day Archives—a venture of National Day Archives LLC in Lynchburg, Va.—and will be marked for the first time next year. Polland specifically chose a date outside of Black History month to reflect the reality of Black excellence.
“Black contributions are all throughout the year, not just 28 days in February,” she says.