Have you heard about the recent controversy surrounding the cover art for the novel Liar by Justine Larbalestier? Me neither until about 20 minutes ago. Here, allow me to fill you in:
Larbalestier wrote a Young Adult novel with an African American protagonist — a compulsive liar who decides to stop, but finds doing so more difficult than she imagined. Bloomsbury Publishing picked up the novel and chose a cover for the novel featuring a picture of a white girl.
Larbalestier, who is white, speaks gracefully about the situation, but is quick to concede the following: authors do not have final say on their covers. But to say the very least, she is openly displeased.
Now, hold onto your britches: this isn’t a new issue for authors. In fact, none other than Joel Chandler Harris faced the same problem when it came to illustrations of his black, fictional protagonist, Uncle Remus.
The Uncle Remus that Harris created was a tribute to the slaves he admired and respected during his youth on Turnwold Plantation. Harris considered the original illustrations of Uncle Remus to be condescending caricatures that didn’t do his character justice.
Doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of wisdom and worldliness. Publishers believed that a minstrelized Uncle Remus would sell better than a more authentic illustration.
Over 100 years later, the same problem persists in a big way. Novels featuring African Americans on the cover are usually promoted differently, and thus do not sell as well as novels with covers featuring white folks, perpetuating the issue. Frustrating.
I urge you to read Larbalestier’s blog post — she discusses the situation thoroughly. And just for the record, the Australian cover has nobody on it at all.
UPDATE, August 8, 2009: Here’s the new North American cover. (h/t @russmarshalek)