105 Ways to Give a Book

Poetry Friday: “I, Too”

How great that Young Adult Literature is being featured on Boing Boing. What a shame that it’s for Bloomsbury whitewashing the cover of Liar.

LiarIn Liar, the main character is black with short, “nappy” hair. The cover shows a white girl with long brown hair. It’s striking, but wrong. Though other options were presented, Bloomsbury prefers to use photos on their book — but apparently not of an African American. Author Justine Larbalestier wrote an amazingly honest and brave post about the cover, saying that she argued for a different representation but ultimately had no say in the decision. She’s heartbroken that the reader’s interpretation of the book is being affected, as Micah is a compulsive liar, and the cover is making it seem like even her self-identity is in question. The publishers gladly embraced that notion in Publishers Weekly. The problem with that interpretation is that it makes the book almost unreadable if we can’t hold onto anything as truth in the story. I know about the unreliable narrator concept, but the idea that every aspect of the book is subject to question is taking the idea too far. And wasn’t at all what the author intended.

I’ve read the book. The first time, I’ll admit that I didn’t think about the cover at all, and I enjoyed the story immensely. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking book that challenges the reader to interpret reality. I talked about the book with someone who wondered if the cover represented the character lying about her appearance — meaning that everything in the book could be a lie. So I read it again with that in mind and could barely get through it trying to find some solid ground to believe in.

My point here is that they messed with the wrong book, because the whitewashed cover is changing the interpretation of the story, and that’s a problem. It looks like they’ve also messed with the wrong author, give her strength. And one can hope that they’ve messed with the wrong community of authors, bloggers, librarians, and readers who can argue for racial equality on our book covers.

With today being Poetry Friday, let me share a very appropriate poem by Langston Hughes:
I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
‘Eat in the kitchen,’
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed —

I, too, am America.
A Year of Reading is hosting Poetry Friday. Chasing Ray is collecting blog posts about Liar.

10 comments:

zettaelliott said...

you chose the perfect poem...just sad it was written so long ago and yet still applies to the US today...

Michelle said...

I've been reading here and there about this and I commend the author for standing up to her publisher. I imagine that wasn't an easy decision to make. It's truly a shame that writers don't have the opportunity to have more influence over the cover to a book they've labored ten times as long over in comparison to the marketing department. I get the need to sell the book....but to do so in a way that directly influences the actual story seems beyond wrong.

Laughing Stars said...

The publisher's decision about this book cover is disturbing on several levels. :-(

Color Online said...

MR,

I was too angry and worn out to write a PF post today.

We need to do more than call Bloomsbury on the carpet. Bloggers have influence. All the outraged bloggers need to follow up by promoting and supporting POC writers and POC covers on their blogs. Publishers need to see we read and want POC characters in our reading options. Otherwise, we've simply engaged in an exhaustive tongue wagging exercise.

When the rage is over, I will still be black and still hunting for books that celebrate all children and wanting to share those books with all children.

Thank you.

Kelly Fineman said...

Love that poem. Absolutely hate what Bloomsbury has done. It's bad enough that they chose that cover, but defending it the way they did in PW is unconscionable.

Melissa said...

I'm disappointed in Bloomsbury -- I have the book sitting on my shelf, and never would have guessed it was about an African American girl. Hooray for authors who voice their views, and fingers crossed for publishers who can learn.

That was a perfect poem, MR.

jone said...

Don't you just love Langston Hughes? A great idea to blend books with poetrty.

Doret said...

I am hoping all this outrage leads to change. That these last few days will be remembered. That bloggers will spend more time reviewing books featuring people of color. That readers will pick up that book featuring a character of color they keep on putting off. Next time is now. Read for change. Prove Bloomsbury wrong.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

So glad you posted about this MR! I am encouraged to see the outrage continuing and I am looking forward to reading all posts linked at Chasing Ray. I haven't figured out what else I can add to the discussion other than that. Love Cummings, as always.

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you for the poem; I have a lump in my throat and needed that poem after spending time today putting together my post on covers at www.rascofromrif.org which I have given to Chasing Ray as well. All very emotional and sad....but has certainly spurred me to action, not just sadness.