Books

Children's Book Editor Lays Out Powerful Case Against Milo Yiannopoulos' Book—And Publishing Industry's Whiteness

Would such a book be published by a more diverse industry?

Photo Credit: YouTube

When Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos' Simon & Schuster book deal was announced in December, it was likely done "quietly" around the holidays in the hopes that "no one would notice," FSG Books for Young Readers editorial director Joy Peskin writes in a February 6 article for Publishers Weekly. But blow up beyond industry news it did, when Yiannopoulos couldn't resist bragging about how he "spent half an hour trying to offend [S&S executives] with lewd jokes and opinions." He says he expected his antics to result in his being "escorted from the building" but crowed over the fact he was instead "offered... a wheelbarrow full of money."

Jokes intended to bait liberals to reaction are the troll's stock in trade, as Peskin concedes. But whether you're in on the joke or not, is it OK to offer a lucrative book deal for the pleasure of spreading hatred of others?

Peskin writes in PW that she "spent some time researching Milo and wondering, am I okay with this?" For her and for many others, including authors and others in the industry boycotting S&S or the Threshold Editions imprint over the deal, "The answer is no."

While Peskin admits she's somewhat removed from the question ("I’m from the children’s book world," she says, "and you may think this shouldn’t concern me. A children’s imprint isn’t going to sign Richard Spencer’s Alt-Right Bedtime Storybook—at least I hope not."), she calls for her colleagues "on the adult side" to "think long and hard" about legitimizing the "so-called alt-right and their so-called alternative facts":

"When a major publisher legitimizes old-fashioned hate and lies rebranded as alternative, our authors lose, our books lose, and our country loses."

Peskin lays out Yiannopoulos' acts of hate speech: racist comments about Leslie Jones ("Saturday Night Live," "Ghostbusters") that got him kicked off Twitter and involvement in Gamergate misogyny and rape threats against female game developers. She also mentions that the Breitbart editor's support of a climate of Trumpism is akin to "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater. The fire is otherness—that which is not white, Christian, and male; the crowded theater is America."

But the root of combating spreading intolerance starts with increasing the diversity within publishing, as Peskin points out:

"According to PW’s September 2016 publishing industry salary survey, our industry is 88% white. My guess is that the higher up you go on the management ladder, the whiter—and more male—things get. I wonder if Milo’s book would be published at all if the industry was predominantly run by women of color as opposed to white men. My guess is that it wouldn’t."

For the sake of readers (of any age) and the community, the question of "am I okay with this" should continue to be asked, relentlessly, in every editorial office in every medium.

Read the Publishers Weekly article in full here.

Jenny Pierson is AlterNet's assistant managing editor and assistant publisher.

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