It can be hard for African-American authors to get published. The publisher of Harriet Tubman Press, a new imprint announced this week, knows what it's like to struggle to get your voice out. That publisher, exiled Ethiopian journalist Elias Wondimu, told KPCC that he came to America but found that information isn't always readily available, even in a democracy.
"You need to have access. Not only the ability to write, or the freedom to write, but the freedom to publish also is important for a community. Otherwise, that community will be rendered voiceless," Wondimu said.
Why is the imprint named after Harriet Tubman? Wondimu said it's due to the power of one voice.
"The role that she played as one person, even if her husband didn't want to leave, but her leaving to freedom, going back to bring more people — I think this is what we are trying to do," Wondimu said.
He added that it would be easy for those at the publisher to publish their own books or those of their friends to help academics get tenure, but they're trying to go back and publish more books while helping others see the light.
Wondimu started Tsehai Publishers in 1997, which is now based at Los Angeles's Loyola Marymount University, focusing on African academic publishing. The new Harriet Tubman imprint is focused on African-American academic and literary works, trying to publish work that isn't being published by larger publishers in an era of media consolidation.
"The big companies promise to produce many of these books that we have been looking for, and of course it didn't happen because of financing or sales, and whatever the case might be," Wondimu said. "I think we can democratize the publishing space."
Diversity continues to be a challenge in academic publishing, Wondimu said, noting that many African-American scholars complain about their access to publishing and that diversity efforts are lagging behind in the academic publishing world.
"For us, I think we can contribute rather than waiting for something to happen the next generation, or the following," Wondimu said.
Wondimu said that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is working with the Association of American University Presses to offer a fellowship helping young scholars from minority communities learn the publishing world and get employment within it.
"The biggest publishers, are they doing this? I don't know. It doesn't seem like it, or even if they're doing it, it's very small in comparison," Wondimu said.
Harriet Tubman Press is also set to offer its own fellowship and internships to accomplish those goals.
The new imprint will be publishing a couple of books by the end of the year, Wondimu said. They're focused on new writers, though they also plan to go back and republish some classic work to make it more easily accessible.
Wondimu said that he wants to produce books of a standard that can't be disputed, with academic work that can be used in schools and literature that tells stories that aren't normally seen in the mass market.
The announcement of the new imprint is part of the 10th annual Leimert Park Village Book Festival, which takes place Saturday.