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Cover judgment: Clever or offensive?

December 14, 2009 |  4:15 pm

Pw_afropicks

When images of the cover of  Monday's issue of the trade magazine Publishers Weekly began circulating around the Internet, Twitter burst into a heated discussion, using the hash tag #afropw.

The magazine -- which posted the cover image, as it does every week, on its own website -- dedicates an issue annually to African American publishing. But something about the picture and the phrasing got on people's nerves. A sample of the complaints:

Baratunde Thurston, a comedian and editor at the Onion, tweeted: "could've been beautiful on mosaicmagazine.org or bibookreview.com but PW lacks community credibility"

The Root, a website focused on black perspectives, tweeted: "Let's be clear: Picture = Pretty Cool. Cover context = Entirely less stupendous." And "Straight up, this could've flown as a GREAT cover. On Ebony. In 1976."

Authors Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant tweeted: "It's like the NYTimes article last wk about 'Of Color' gifts. Stupid. Like we only want black stuff. No iPods for us!"

Senior editor Calvin Reid, who did not respond to Jacket Copy's request for comment (which, unfortunately, arrived after hours New York time), wrote on Twitter that since the magazine picks recommended books in the issue, going to picks -- as in picks for Afros -- seemed like a funny leap. Publishers Weekly later tweeted, "I admit that I love afro picks! In the 1970s I had many just like them also stuck in my massive afro."

Putting African Americans on covers -- or not -- has been a big issue this fall. In this Sunday's Off the Shelf, Lizzie Skurnick looked at the dust-up over Justine Larbalestier's "Liar." Although it features an African American protagonist, the original cover design featured the face of a Caucasian girl instead, and such whitewashing had antecedents in young adult fiction.

As publishing struggles to reach readers, we aren't sure what to think of this cover. Is it funny and winking? Or does its use of "Afro" with the image of Black Power picks strike the wrong note?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image of PW cover via Harper Studio

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