Barnes & Noble suspends reissues of classics with 'diverse' covers
'Diverse Editions' initiative met with widespread criticism
Barnes & Noble is withdrawing a planned line of famous literature reissued with multicultural cover images that has been met with widespread criticism on social media.
"We acknowledge the voices who have expressed concerns about the Diverse Editions project at our Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue store and have decided to suspend the initiative," Barnes & Noble announced in a statement Wednesday.
The author Adriana Herrera had called the books, scheduled to be launched this week, "the classics in blackface."
"Diverse Editions," a joint project between Barnes & Noble and Penguin Random House, featured 12 texts, including Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz.
The Diverse Editions event at our <a href="https://twitter.com/BNFifthAvenue?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BNFifthAvenue</a> location originally scheduled for this evening has been cancelled. Please see our statement: <a href="https://t.co/jGquff9MyM">pic.twitter.com/jGquff9MyM</a>—@BNBuzz
The text remains the same, but on the cover, major characters are depicted with dark-skinned illustrations by artists of "different ethnicities and backgrounds," according to Barnes & Noble.
"Diverse Editions" was announced at a time when the publishing industry is already facing scrutiny over the novel American Dirt and its depiction of Mexican life and culture.
"Absolute TONE-DEAF decision-making," Mexican-American writer David Bowles, a leading critic of American Dirt, tweeted about "Diverse Editions."
The decision also comes in February, which is Black History Month, an annual celebration of past and present achievement.
I repeat: <a href="https://twitter.com/penguinrandom?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@penguinrandom</a> & <a href="https://twitter.com/BNBuzz?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BNBuzz</a> developed a line of "classic novels with new covers promoting diversity" launching tomorrow at Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue. <br><br>PRH? B&N? <br><br>NO. This is NOT what we mean when we say <a href="https://twitter.com/diversebooks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@diversebooks</a> <br>& <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DignidadLiteraria?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DignidadLiteraria</a> <br><br>1/ <br> <a href="https://t.co/rw1zjCGWQ3">https://t.co/rw1zjCGWQ3</a>—@DavidOBowles
Ah. Ahahahahahahah. They used AI. THEY USED AI. THEY COULDN’T EVEN JUST READ THE DAMN BOOKS. I HATE EVERYTHING RN. <a href="https://t.co/FJEecy2L4L">pic.twitter.com/FJEecy2L4L</a>—@yesitshanna
To much disbelief online, the organizers of "Diverse Editions" had said they used artificial intelligence in reviewing more than 100 older books and determining whether the race or ethnicity of a character is specifically stated. Few would argue that Alice from Alice in Wonderland or the title characters of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are fitting for a tribute to black history.
"They could have Googled, chosen a dozen books by actual Black authors that are classics & sent those out with fresh covers & a big event," author MIkki Kendall tweeted.
"Add in bringing in contemporary Black authors to discuss these works & the whole thing is a win. They didn't do the easy or logical thing."
In its statement Wednesday, Barnes & Noble acknowledged that the new covers were "not a substitute for black voices or writers of colour, whose work and voices deserve to be heard.
"The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles," according to the bookstore chain.
"It was a project inspired by our work with schools and was created in part to raise awareness and discussion during Black History Month, in which Barnes & Noble stores nationally will continue to highlight a wide selection of books to celebrate black history and great literature from writers of colour."
Dear B&N & PRH: Fixed this for you. Here are some “Classics for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlackHistoryMonth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlackHistoryMonth</a>” (and Hey! New Classics too!) instead of "B&N's New Covers With Blackface". Sincerely, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheMexicanxInitiative?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheMexicanxInitiative</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DignidadLiteraria?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DignidadLiteraria</a> & common sense people everywhere. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DiverseClassics?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DiverseClassics</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DiverseEditions?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DiverseEditions</a> <a href="https://t.co/o9I7OE3sur">pic.twitter.com/o9I7OE3sur</a>—@JohnPicacio
Celebrate <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlackHistoryMonth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlackHistoryMonth</a> with unforgettable, engaging reads and more: <a href="https://t.co/ActHtNusnh">https://t.co/ActHtNusnh</a> <a href="https://t.co/oTcITBNM3p">pic.twitter.com/oTcITBNM3p</a>—@BNBuzz