This Publishing House Is Reshaping How We Look At Diversity In Literature

The author, the illustrator, the editor, the publicist. Sometimes, in the world of books (while it’s a world we love to live in) the publisher is forgotten about, but no more!

Book Culture On Writing

In the world of books—a world we all love to live in—the publisher is often a forgotten entity; the author or book is usually best remembered post-publication. The unsung hero of the literary process, however, is the publisher; the ones who take risks on new authors, books, or concepts. And a publisher with a vision is a wonderful and unfortunately rare thing.

Six Foot Press is one such organization that is focused on creating and delivering amazing books (which we’ll get to, I promise) but they do it all with an ethos and a vision that honor inclusivity and amplify some of the most important yet undervalued voices. Six Foot Press publishes original children’s books, as well as comic books, graphic novels, art books, and more traditional publications. The children’s books beautifully meld the streams of art and literature, with the latest release from their repertoire featuring truly amazing original art that complements a heart-wrenching story.

We spoke with the Six Foot Press team to learn more about what they do, how they do it, and the drive and mission that make it all work.

 

From A Journey Toward Hope. Illustration by Susan Guevara. Courtesy Six Foot Press

What was the inspiration in creating Six Foot Press?

Six Foot Press is the publishing division of a Houston-based video game company, Six Foot. Initially, the idea was to publish books and comics based on existing Six Foot properties, but we very quickly realized that we had a chance to do something more. We’ve been in publishing for years—variously as authors, editors, agents, etc.—but always as cogs in the publishing machine without the ability to actually influence the operation of that machine.

So often people think, “If I were in charge, I’d do it this way.” But it’s exceedingly rare to have thought something like that for decades and then to suddenly be in charge. We felt that this was an incredible opportunity. Given our connection to games and comics and popular culture, we took Uncle Ben’s (iconic if overused) advice to heart: “With great power comes great responsibility.” In other words, now that we had the power to publish what we wanted, we had the responsibility to publish books that matter.

Fortunately, the leadership team at Six Foot has been nothing but 100% supportive since day one.

 

 

What do you want to accomplish with Six Foot Press? What is your mission?

Our mission is to seek out and provide a platform for compelling stories and writers and artists. We want to support the sharing of untold stories from unheard voices. We understand that publishing has always upheld white supremacy and patriarchy, and we want to give women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups the opportunity to contribute to the groundswell of change happening in this country and around the world.

 

How can people help you with your mission? What can people do to make a difference?

People can make an enormous difference in the book world with their time, energy, and disposable income. Please read our books, and if you like them, please spread the word by telling your friends and family about them and sharing them on social media. Word of mouth has always been the single greatest determining factor in whether a person buys a book. Also, please go on Amazon and Goodreads and leave our books positive reviews!

 

What do you feel is missing in the publishing world? What does it need more of?
The publishing world—specifically, the publishers, executives, and editors, the people who decide who gets published and who does not—is still overwhelmingly white. Thus the 40% (and quickly growing) of the U.S. population who identify as nonwhite are almost completely absent from the decision-making process. And as readers, teachers, librarians, and parents, they do not see themselves or their children reflected in the books that surround them. The publishing world needs more equitable representation at every level, but especially in senior leadership roles.

 

 

What would you want people to know about diversity in publishing? What should all publishers be focusing on? 

Authentic voices and stories and experiences are essential to overcoming ignorance and bigotry. The publishing industry thinks that having characters of color in a book makes that book “diverse,” but that is simply not the case. For example, last year, approximately 25% of children’s books published featured a major character of color, but only 8-9% of children’s books were written by a person of color. When this happens, there is less opportunity for genuine cross-cultural learning.

How do art and illustration fit into the mission of Six Foot Press?

We are art lovers and some of us have spent decades working in museums and arts institutions. In our books, especially children’s books, we want to promote visual literacy. We want to challenge and encourage our readers to look and observe carefully. And when images and text are brought together to tell a story, the experience of reading can become all the more enriching.

 

From Love Around the World. Illustration by Fatinha Ramos. Courtesy Six Foot Press

How do you find your authors and illustrators, what do you look for?

We rely on an expansive network of colleagues and friends in the industry. We attend book fairs and events such as ComicCon and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. We are generally always on the lookout for unique writers and artists who can create immersive environments that are easy to walk into and get lost in.

We have also made it a point to partner with mission-based organizations and institutions to help them tell their stories. Major: A Soldier Dog, in partnership with History Nebraska; A Journey Toward Hope, in partnership with Baylor University’s Global Hunger and Migration Project; and American Struggle: Teens Respond to Jacob Lawrence, a co-publication with the Peabody Essex Museum, are some examples of this effort.

 

 

What do we have to look forward to in the upcoming year or two from Six Foot Press?

We are really excited about the forthcoming graphic novel Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter, about a teenage descendant of Mary Shelley who has a special gift for helping supernatural creatures, which has been getting wonderful attention even before its release.
Our Middle Grade novel It Doesn’t Take a Genius (Spring 2021) is an example of a project based on an existing Six Foot property, in this case, based on the Six Foot Pictures feature film Boy Genius, starring Miles Brown and Rita Wilson. The brilliant novelist Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich has written what is essentially a stand-alone sequel to the film.

We also have A Place of Our Own, the second book in the Ava Murray Writes the World book series, about a young girl in the Bronx who wants to become a journalist and tell stories about her neighborhood. The series is written by pioneer journalist Joshunda Sanders and illustrated by the Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist Charly Palmer.

We also have Love Is Love, the second volume in the Love Around the World kids’ book series, about a lesbian couple who get married in every country around the world that has legalized same-sex marriage. It is based on the true-life story of its author, LGBTQ+ activist and writer Fleur Pierets.

These and our other projects are helping us fulfill our mission of telling compelling and inclusive stories.

 

From Bill Sienkiewicz: Revolution. Courtesy Six Foot Press

Non-fictional Pursuits   

The fictional pursuits of Six Foot Press are not the only focus, as the team provides engaging and dynamic educational and recreational publications too. Grammaropolis uses personified parts of speech and punctuation marks along with traditional instruction and assessment to revolutionize the way millions of students have learned about grammar and writing. Bill Sienkiewicz’s Revolution is an insight into the Emmy-nominated artist’s work, with curated images and an engaging interview with the artist himself. What all of this shows is an overwhelmingly positive understanding of niches in the market, as well as an admirable set of company values. Six Foot Press is revolutionizing children’s literature, as well as publications in artistic, educational, and historical spheres. Theirs is a vision that is lending itself to literature that is insightful, inspiring, and above all else—incredibly readable.

Feature image via Six Foot Press