Black publishing giant sold

HarperCollins acquires Amistad Press

In an effort to tap into a fast-growing and lucrative market, HarperCollins Publishing has acquired Amistad Press, one the country’s leading publishers of African American authors-among them Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.

HarperCollins, the second largest publishing company in the world, has purchased other, smaller publishing houses in recent years. Now with the acquisition of Amistad, HarperCollins President and CEO Jane Friedman says her company can enter an untapped market.

“The African American marketplace is one area that has not been served to its fullest potential,” says Friedman. “Our ability to publish, market and distribute books will meet that need.”

Founded in 1986, Amistad Press has provided a platform for many authors heralded in the African American community. Amistad has told the life stories of such notables as Arthur Ashe and former Congressman William Clay. It has also featured the works of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright in its literary series.

Amistad Founder and Publisher Charles F. Harris says he welcomed the merger because of the choppy seas smaller publishers often must exist in. “We will now be able to attract more authors and publish in a way smaller publishers can’t do in this market.”

Manie Barron, associate editor at Random House, called his competitors’ action “a fabulous move for both parties. I always loved what Amistad was trying to do, but as with the case of all small publishers, capital became an issue and impeded their progress.”

Barron says that with the help of Oprah’s Book Club and the works of popular artists like Maya Angelou, Terry McMillan, Alice Walker and now Iyanla Vanzant, commercial fiction and inspirational books are realizing sales in the hundreds of millions.

With the merger, Harris will join HarperCollins as vice president of the imprint and as an executive editor of the HarperCollins General Book Group. But Friedman says this doesn’t mean that Amistad will lose its autonomy when it comes to selecting the works of African American authors.

“Our intention was to allow autonomy in the editorial selection,” says Friedman. “We are really relying on Charles to show us the light.”

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