Celebrating Amistad's 30th Anniversary With a Look at Their Pinnacle Works
This year marks the third decade Amistad, a HarperCollins imprint, has been in existence as an imprint focused on Black voices. When I spoke with editorial director Tracy Sherrod last year, she mentioned her love of books and her love of Blackness and how important it is for those to intersect. Amistad doesn't publish only commercial or literary, nor does it focus solely on adults or children. The range is what's aided its existence and proliferation as an imprint that never pigeonholes the audience it reaches and represents. This year we can expect the latest from Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn , as well as a new book from Steve Harvey. Amistad's backlist includes bestsellers and award winners, it's also an imprint that's established new Black literary talent as well as remained a home for established writers and celebrities.
The range of books Amistad has published reflect #BlackGirlMagic like Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters; Black girl protagonists like One Crazy Summer; books with guys perspective on dating like Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man; and stories with a literary gaze on the the larger world like God Loves Haiti. Here's a list of other titles that have proven successful and key in establishing Amistad as a respected imprint in the industry.
1. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Of the several Pulitzer Prizes that HarperCollins titles have been awarded in the past 30 years only one of them was for fiction — and that book was from Amistad. The Known World touches on an aspect of slavery not often delved into in books: Blacks owning Blacks.
2. Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk
About one hundred years after Ota Benga died, Pamela Newkirk's book details the truth of his life in captivity as an exoticized attraction. The New York Times Sunday Book Review noted this was a “gripping and painstaking narrative that breaks new ground.”
3. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Perkins-Valdez’s debut with Amistad went on to become a NYT bestseller, as did her follow up novel Balm. Like The Known World, Wench zooms in on an aspect of a pre-Civil War U.S. where Tawawa House served as a retreat for a master to take his mistress away and treat her as a true mate. In this case the mistresses were also their slaves.
4. Not Guilty edited by Jabari Asim
If The New Jim Crow is required reading so is Asim’s edited volume Not Guilty where 12 men recount their own feelings in terms of injustice towards Black men and stories they tell their sons. This collection was prompted after the acquittal of the NYC officers involved in the shooting of Amadou Diallo.
5. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers was the first winner of the Printz award in 2000. Written as a screenplay rather than straight text, Monster opens with the startling description of how the young narrator begins to see himself because of how others see him as he awaits verdict.
6. Hattie McDaniel by Jill Watts
Hattie McDaniel is an icon in Hollywood for being the first Black woman to win an Oscar. You’d think the flood gates would’ve opened for her after that but, as Watts documents, McDaniel became a polarizing figure in Hollywood for wanting more. At a time when the fight for Civil Rights was on the horizon and Jim Crow was a reality, an Oscar still couldn’t change the political climate.
7. In the Spirit: The Inspirational Writings of Susan L. Taylor by Susan L. Taylor
Former editor-in-chief of Essence Susan L. Taylor wrote a popular column called “In the Spirit," which could be considered The Secret of the 20th century. It included testimonials from a woman who seems more like your sister than your elder. In the Spirit was a popular title mixing Black pride, personal stories, and Taylor’s own spiritual journey.
8. The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner with Quincy Troupe
Gardner’s memoir was adapted as a film starring Will Smith. Happyness tells Gardner’s struggles from being part of homeless society to becoming a major player in the financial district all the while never losing sight of the importance of being present as a father to his young son.
9. We Troubled the Waters by Ntozake Shange and Rod Brown
The author of for colored girls wrote of the Black/White divide from Jim Crow to Rosa Parks giving credit to activists well known and unrecognized in the fight for equality. We Troubled the Waters illustrates the pride and courage of those whose stories and names should be remembered.