Barnes & Noble announced that it is canceling a new initiative to release a series of classic novels featuring people of color as major characters for Black History Month.
The bookselling giant said in a statement Wednesday that it was canceling the “Diverse Editions" project, which was set to be released at its flagship New York store. The retailer acknowledged "voices who have expressed concerns" about the project in announcing the change.
The project would have released limited edition covers for a dozen classic novels featuring people of color in the cover art, including Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” and others.
The text of the classics would have remained the same, but the cover artwork would have been changed to include a range of diverse figures for Black History Month.
For example, Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” would appear as an African American girl with red sneakers in some editions, CNN reported. Juliet Capulet from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” would have appeared wearing a head scarf on one of the newly designed covers, and Frankenstein’s monster would have appeared as an African American man in others.
The “Diverse Editions” initiative sparked immediate backlash online, with some saying that the retailer should have simply promoted books written by black authors instead of promoting past publications with new covers.
"What?!? No! Is it really this hard? People sat down & had meetings & put a lot of energy & money into creating covers f/black people on books w/ the same old stories INSTEAD of promoting books written by black authors & featuring black characters?WTF?!" author Tracey Livesay tweeted.
What?!? No! Is it really this hard? People sat down & had meetings & put a lot of energy & money into creating covers f/black people on books w/ the same old stories INSTEAD of promoting books written by black authors & featuring black characters?WTF?! https://t.co/sgGGglaiNu— Tracey Livesay (@tlivesay) February 5, 2020
Author Karen Strong tweeted, "Can you imagine a young Black girl seeing a cover with someone who looks like her but then finds nothing that reflects her in the pages? No Black girls at all? Y'all that is more than a bait and switch. That's harmful."
Can you imagine a young Black girl seeing a cover with someone who looks like her but then finds nothing that reflects her in the pages? No Black girls at all? Y'all that is more than a bait and switch. That's harmful.— Karen Strong (@KarenMusings) February 5, 2020
Barnes & Noble said in its statement Wednesday that the art was created by “artists hailing from different ethnicities and backgrounds.”
“The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, 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. 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 color," the bookseller said.
The other books included in the project were “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” “Treasure Island,” “Moby-Dick,” “Emma,” "Peter Pan," “The Secret Garden,” “The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Three Musketeers."
The organizers of “Diverse Editions” said they used artificial intelligence technology to review more than 100 books to determine whether the race of a character is specifically stated, The Associated Press reported.