Is celebrity more important than fighting racism?

Sometimes pop culture just breaks your heart.

I like to believe that I’m not an old fogey who spends all his time on the porch bitching about kids today. I’m also not an art snob who rants about the dirty influence of commerce. I get it. It’s hard to sell books and anything that gives you a leg up in today’s market should be used. But still, this deal announcement on Publishers Marketplace just made me ache.

Here is the full text of the announcement:

NYT bestselling author of I DISSENT Debbie Levy and Jo Ann Allen Boyce (grandmother of Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce)’s DOWN THE HILL: ONE GIRL’S STORY OF WALKING INTO HISTORY, a nonfiction-in-verse book about Boyce’s experiences as one of the Clinton 12, high school students who in the fall of 1956 broke the color barrier in public schools in the South by integrating Tennessee’s Clinton High School?a year before the integration of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Susan Dobinick at Bloomsbury Children’s, for publication in Winter 2019, by Caryn Wiseman at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (world).

Look at the order of this thing:

1) The co-author’s name. Okay.
2) Then comes the book’s subject name, Jo Ann Allen Boyce.
3) Then, immediately after her name is the explanation that she is the grandmother of a Disney star.
4) Then we learn about Boyce’s story about integrating a Tennessee high school.

I know I’m nitpicking here, but a woman faces violence, institutional racism, and God-only-knows what else and that’s not enough? Tensions were high enough in the town that a bomb was detonated two years after integration. And yet, Boyce’s own story and identity don’t stand on there own? She’s gotta be the grandmother of a Disney star as well? That’s what you’re choosing to give prominent placement to in the news releases?

Note that I don’t believe Publishers Marketplace writes these postings. There is a submission form where agents, authors, editors, or publicists can upload these announcements. So I’m not criticizing PM here, but rather the industry as a whole.

The deal is for a kids book, so the family connection probably opens up certain marketing channels and publicity. But still, it just seems like this posting reinforces all the negative stereotypes about publishing and pop culture in that celebrity and “platform” is the most important thing.

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