PRH Opens ‘The Conversation’ To ‘Sustain Antiracist Engagement’

In News by Porter Anderson

Penguin Random House creates collections of antiracist content for users, from families and young adults committed to a more equitable world to corporations working on their own approaches.

Image: Artwork from Penguin Random House’s ‘The Conversation’ site

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

Curated Content in Race Relations
Described as a site “to support families, educators, communities, organizations, and readers who are working to combat racism and end racial inequities in our daily lives,” Penguin Random House in New York today (September 22) has announced an online hub of resources.

The Conversation is an extensive curated aggregation of “programming for readers, including discussion guides, title lists, and special content” with “a strong focus on family reading and community engagement,” the publishing house says in its media messaging.

Its core resource, of course, is the many relevant lists of titles that a publisher the size and international reach of PRH can bring to bear on a topic. But the site also features “resources to facilitate dialogue about books by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and other iconic writers,” the company says.

“It will also provide toolkits, inspired by the works of Ibram X. Kendi and Jennifer L. Eberhardt, for creating antiracist workplaces. The site will feature books and content from all of Penguin Random House’s publishing divisions, and the company is creating book bundles and materials for independent bookstores to help these businesses with their outreach to local schools and libraries.”

Jaci Updike

As might be expected, children’s interests are “a primary focus,” featuring information for parents “for raising antiracist children” with titles from Jacqueline Woodson and Nic Stone and others. Coming later in the autumn, a family-reading initiative is to be added, with reading guides “for the adult and young-reader editions of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, along with video content and other resources to facilitate meaningful family conversations.”

In a prepared statement, PRH US president of sales Jaci Updike is quoted, saying, “In virtual classrooms and virtual conference rooms, and within our company, people are grappling with how to discuss our world, and how to create real and lasting change.

“We want to amplify the work of our authors,” Updike says, “engage with readers, listen carefully to what’s being asked of us, and share resources that fuel conversation and spark collective action.”

And with “The Conversation” geared, the company says, to include educators, librarians, booksellers, activists and allies, as well as Penguin Random House employees, it’s coming at a good moment.

78 Percent White; 73 Percent Women

Selections from a section of PRH’s ‘The Conversation’ for ‘Young Adults Invested in an Antiracist Future’

Taking the step to reveal its internal workforce demographics, PRH followed through on a promise of transparency, publishing the results of its study of its own workforce.

The determinedly forthright effort underlying this was touched on in Sunday’s (September 20) profile by Alexandra Alter at The New York Times of Penguin Random House USA CEO Madeline McIntosh. “I feel and fully acknowledge the lack of progress in our company and in our industry,” McIntosh was quoted by Alter saying during a companywide video address. “We are not where we want to be.”

In 2018, the company hit its highest number for employing Black workers, who made up 6.6 percent of new hires that year. The company’s gender imbalance registered as 73 percent of the workforce being female in non-warehouse positions and 59 percent in warehouse roles.

In nonwarehouse positions, 78 percent of employees were surveyed to be white, 7 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, and 4 percent Black.

By comparison, in warehouse positions, the breakdown was 80 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, and 3 percent Black.

While this is hardly comfortable information for any company to share—and many in the British publishing industry have moved faster to perform and report such self-surveys than American publishers have—PRH is taking a resolute stance on the situation now.

Making this representation a reality is one of our most urgent priorities,” the company writes, in posting its US division’s workforce demographics information.

“To this end, we are committed to sharing our workforce demographics and to tracking and measuring our progress toward our goal of reflecting the racial and ethnic makeup of American society. Moving forward, we will update this data on our company website annually, keeping us accountable to both ourselves and the public. Change is overdue and we, as an industry leader, have a responsibility to make that change happen.”

The release of the new “Conversation” compendium of resources comes at an interesting moment, divided as it is, in part, into:

There also are umbrella sections for:

  • Readers and Book Clubs
  • Parents
  • Businesses
  • Young Adults
  • Educators

Updike says, “We want to maintain momentum in our communities, and provide resources for our collective journey ahead.

“All of PRH is committed to the ongoing development of The Conversation, to creating new material and responding to current events as close to real-time as we can.”

Image: Artwork from Penguin Random House’s ‘The Conversation’ site

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he 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 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.