HarperCollins’ Ecco and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney Create a Publishing Diversity Fellowship

In News by Porter Anderson

Led by author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Ecco Books sets up a five-year program with the Columbia Publishing Course, drawing on six of the United States’ Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

At Washington’s Howard University, the 2018 move-in. This year, the university is handling all of its fall semester courses online and will be non-residential. Howard is one of the six Historically Black Colleges and Universities from which HarperCollins’ Ecco team will draw applicants for its new fellowship. Image: Howard University, Justin Knight

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Sweeney: ‘An Urgency To Do What I Can’
As publishers in many parts of the world work to develop new approaches to diversity and inclusivity, there are two settings involved. One is inside the publishing houses, where the question is whether a staff reflects its consumer base. The other, of course, is in that consumer base and the question of whether the content being offered meets the needs and interests of those readers.

The new fellowship announced Tuesday (August 18) by the HarperCollins US imprint Ecco lies in the first arena, a fellowship created to help diversify the publishing workforce.

This initiative has been led by one of the imprint’s authors, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, the Los Angeles-based author of The Nest (March 2016), which has been translated, Harper’s promotional information says, into 26 languages. Harper lists a new Sweeney book, Good Company, for a May 2021 release.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The D’Aprix Sweeney Family Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Publishing is intended “to support members of groups that have been historically underrepresented in publishing gain entry to the industry.”

The program is partnered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, to run for five years with a commitment of US$100,000. The fellowship will provide tuition, room, board, and incidental expenses of up to $10,000 for each of two students annually while they’re in the Columbia Publishing Course.

And recipients are to come from six campuses of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities network, schools that, as Nolan McCaskill and Maya King reported in July for Politico, have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, the virus has impacted communities of color with disproportionate numbers. Those six participating universities are:

  • Alabama A&M University
  • Albany State University
  • Dillard University
  • Hampton University
  • North Carolina A&T State University
  • Prairie View A&M University

Daniel Halpern, president and publisher of Ecco, is to administer the fellowship, working with a rotating selection committee of three Black writers who have industry experience. The first members of that committee are:

Sweeney, Halpern, members of the fellowship committee and other Ecco staffers expect to hold informational sessions on the six campuses to recruit applicants for the new program, and Ecco’s staff members expect to work as voluntary mentors to the selected fellows.

Ecco’s Halpern: ‘Incredibly Proud’

At North Carolina A&T State University’s Dudley Hall. The university has issued a special document on ‘Continuity of Teaching and Learning Support‘ (PDF) for coronavirus operations guidance. Image NC A&T

In a prepared comment for the announcement, Sweeney is quoted, saying, ““I feel an urgency to do what I can to promote better equity for underrepresented voices in publishing.

“I’m excited to partner with my publisher Ecco to promote in-house participation for this effort and, I hope, to help create long overdue change.”

Halpern says, “Cynthia’s action to invest her financial resources to make positive change toward better representation in publishing, is something I feel incredibly proud to support here at Ecco. It’s exciting to think we can be instrumental in bringing in a new generation of diverse voices to our industry, and Ecco is honored to be teaming up with her on this fellowship program.”

Shaye Areheart, who directs 73-year-old Columbia Publishing Course, is quoted, saying, “The CPC has long been a strong proponent for diversity in publishing and we are very excited to continue our advocacy with the D’Aprix-Sweeney Family Fellowship and Ecco.”

The Columbia course’s alumni include Morgan Entrekin, Jordan Pavlin, Madeline McIntosh, Jazmine Hughes, Namrata Tripathi, David Granger, Weslie Turner, Scott Moyers and Concepción de León.

The program’s promotional information says that at least 90 percent of its graduates find work annually at “presses, publishing companies, magazines, and literary agencies.”

Ecco—an imprint that focuses on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and cookbooks—includes among its authors Margaret Atwood, the late Anthony Bourdain, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Richard Ford, Charles Frazier, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Andrew Sean Greer, Padma Lakshmi, Dennis Lehane, Madeline Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more.

Among its best known titles among consumers is Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, which Ecco published in February 2015. It would go on to be adapted as a Netflix Original directed by Copenhagen’s Susanne Bier. The film stands with Extraction as one of the Top 2 most popular of the Netflix Originals films, according to Lucas Shaw at Bloomberg.

Malerman’s sequel, Malorie (July 21), has been published by Penguin Random House/Del Rey.

Howard University’s opening convocation 2019. Image: Howard University, Justin Knight

More from Publishing Perspectives on issues in diversity and inclusivity in publishing is here. More from us on HarperCollins is here

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.