Barnes & Noble has suspended its plan to release “diverse editions” of classic novels for Black History Month after getting slammed on Twitter for “literary blackface.”
The partnership between the company’s massive Fifth Avenue store and publisher Penguin Random House featured new jackets for a dozen classic novels — showing characters from books including “Romeo and Juliet,” “Moby Dick” and “Peter Pan” as people of color.
But the bookseller canned the scheme after Twitter users railed against the plan.
“Another version of literary blackface….eye…,” tweeted LL McKinney.
“So, they’re not retellings by poc and their #OwnVoices? They’re just new covers?” Twitter user @MercedesSiler said. “So instead of paying poc to write new fresh stories, they’re hornswoggling people into paying for the same old stories with covers that are heavily stereotyped & have nothing to do with the content?”
In a statement announcing the suspension Wednesday, the company acknowledged that merely slapping a new cover on the same old tomes was not the same as releasing books about or by writers of color.
“We acknowledge the voices who have expressed concern,” Barnes and Noble said in a tweeted statement. “The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work and voiced deserve to be heard.”
The covers the retail juggernaut had been planning included “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Emma,” “Frankenstein,” “Moby Dick,” Peter Pan,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Secret Garden,” “Three Musketeers,” “Treasure Island” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
“We spent centuries without autonomy over our own bodies. I could so see an amazing deeply horrific Frankenstein adaptation taking place in the mid-19th century in the American south,” writer @KendraJames_ tweeted. “But this? This ain’t it.”
“Wizard of Oz black girl having sneakers instead of shoes, as well,” user @HappyKoromaru wrote. “Not like I give a damn, but this is all so dumb and tokenizing.”
“Wait I thought we already had a black version of the Wizard of Oz called the Wiz,” another user wrote.
The company also canceled an event at the Fifth Avenue store intended to launch the new covers.