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Whoops, they did it again: Bloomsbury whitewashes and withdraws [Updated]

Magicunderglass For the second time in less than a year, Bloomsbury USA has put a white girl on the cover of a book that's about a girl of color. This time, the book is "Magic Under Glass" by Jaclyn Dolamore. The romantic fantasy features Nimira, a brown-skinned protagonist -- but the cover, at right, is what was shipped to stores. It's now being withdrawn, the publisher's website says, because:

The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.

After the hullabaloo stirred up by Justine Larbalestier's "Liar" -- which featured a white girl on the cover, while the book has an African American protagonist -- the publisher seemed to have heard readers' complaints. "Liar" was redesigned with an African American model on the cover, in a similar pose as the original.

But the greater message seems to have been lost. That message, But the Larbalestier writes on her blog, "is not about the accuracy of covers on books."

It’s not about blonde when the character is brunette, it’s not about the wrong length hair, or the wrong colour dress, it’s not even about thin for fat.

The one about race and representation.

Sticking a white girl on the cover of a book about a brown girl is not merely inaccurate, it is part of a long history of marginalisaton and misrepresentation.

On Salon, Kate Harding writes, "Putting a white person on the cover of a book about a brown-skinned character doesn't merely imply that people of color aren't worth as much to publishers; it pretty much says it outright." She also floats the possibility that Bloomsbury did pay attention to the uproar over Larbalestier's book -- and hoped to foment similar attention for a debut author.

Which would be a shame. "I do truly understand why some people are upset by my cover," Dolamore blogged Wednesday. "But a writer is the only thing I've wanted to be all my life, it's an outlet for a girl who is often timid to express her soul. If you want to know how I feel about acceptance, love, and diversity, it is in my books.... I do hope that you'll give Nimira and her story a chance, and that you'll love her as much as I do."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

[Updated 7:31 a.m., Jan. 22: This post incorrectly said "Magic Under Glass" was published by Bloomsbury's Walker Kids imprint. It was published by Bloomsbury USA Children's Books.]

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For those of us who are writers of color, this latest episode is not a surprise. Many of us can recount stories of similar insensitive treatment from larger presses. For example, when I was shopping around my first short-story collection, one very large press told me that I was talented but they wanted something more commercial, something with "movie potential," such as a "Latino version of 'Waiting to Exhale.'" In other words, I was told that if I populated a novel with beautiful, middle class, youngish Latinos, they'd be interested. This is why many of us get published by smaller university-affiliated presses that have a real interest in publishing literary fiction even if it can't be easily classified or turned into a movie. Thank you for reporting on this.


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