Five Questions for Dawn Davis, from the Salonniere

Last month, Dawn Davis, editorial director of the Amistad imprint at Harper Collins, was promoted to be its publisher, and also given the job of Executive Editor at Ecco, another Harper imprint. Dawn is one of the most influential women in publishing, and is particularly a woman-to-watch when it comes to identifying, promoting and supporting women writers of color. This Saturday, at the Javits center in New York, four of Dawn's favorite authors will be appearing for the first-ever Circle of Sisters bookclub, hosted by the Circle of Sisters Convention.

When she told me about the event I wanted to support it, too, and asked her to tell me more in our "Five Questions" format.

1. Can you tell me a little bit about the Circle of Sisters convention?

The Circle of Sisters is a two-day expo targeted toward women of color. It brings together entrepreneurs, wellness and financial experts, as well as entertainers and politicians. It's an annual conference at Javits organized by the radio station WBLS/WLIB, a popular r&b radio station here in NYC, CT, and NJ.

2. How did you come up with the idea of doing a book club at Circle of Sisters? What are your hopes for it?


The Circle of Sisters has a wellness panel on which Amistad authors have been asked to participate in the past. But there was no forum for novelists. As a publisher constantly trying to pair my authors with readers, I thought there had to be a way to get my authors in front of the 35,000 attendees. So I proposed a book club event to their management. They said if you organize it, we'll publicize it! We're getting radio ads for four books, Black Water Rising by Attica Locke, Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter and Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. So I'm hoping that by hearing the names of the books a number of times, we'll reach an audience beyond those able to attend the book signing, which is happening this Saturday, October 30th, from 1-3.

3. What do you want people to know about the authors you have gathered together? How are they different? Similar?

First and foremost, I want people to be aware of these four books. With the exception of Terry McMillan, these are all debut novelists. And as you know, the hurdle with first time authors is building their audience. I also want people to know that there is a crop of authors out there who are writing in very diverse ways. For awhile all we saw were Terry McMillan derivatives. Ernessa writes modern romantic fiction and her influence in 32 Candles is the filmmaker John Hughes and his movie Sixteen Candles. Attica Locke writes like Dennis Lehane or Walter Mosley. And Dolen has written an accessible historical novel. Apart from taking their craft seriously, they do have one thing in common, they're all mothers. Terry's son is older but the other three all have baby girls. I am talking toddlers or younger so when we talk about women writers, we have to consider that they are writing with one if not two jobs. I'm in awe of that.

4. What are the unique challenges that face black women writers? The opportunities?


Merchandising within a bricks and mortar retail space is a huge issue. Many black writers are disheartened to find themselves next to the street fiction books. And another challenge is reaching non black readers. And another challenge is reaching nonblack readers. Most of the books with multi-racial characters that have been hugely successful have been written by white women or men, The Secret Life of Bees, Little Bee, The Help. We've yet to really make those same inroads with readers with books penned by black women.

5. And lastly, what are you reading now?
Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. So many readers I respect had nothing but wonderful things to say about it.

Related links:
She Writes Radio: "What Do Editors Want?", featuring Dawn Davis and Barbara Jones, Editorial Director of Hyperion Books and Voice, in conversation with She Writes founder Kamy Wicoff. (aka me)

Books by Women of Color: Separated, and Not Treated Equally, Either...

White Readers, Meet Black Authors -- a video produced by Carleen Brice

Follow Up On the Call for White Ambassadors, by Countdown to Publication columnist Lori L. Tharps

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Comment by Dawn Davis on December 6, 2010 at 9:46am
Thanks, Ginger, for the kind words and support. You won't be dissapointed by that selection and they are all so varied you won't get bored. Be well. D
Comment by Ginger McKnight-Chavers on December 3, 2010 at 8:37am
I'm reading 32 Candles and absolutely love it.
Comment by Ginger McKnight-Chavers on November 1, 2010 at 10:33am
what helpful comments - and thanks for the heads up re the Circle of Sisters book club - i downloaded the selections on my kindle as soon as I read your shewrites interview with Kamy. And congrats on your well-deserved promotion.
Comment by Roxanne on October 30, 2010 at 3:34pm
Thank you for sharing info about the Circle of Sisters Convention and for sharing info on the challenges faced by writers of color.
Comment by Patricia Woodside on October 29, 2010 at 12:24pm
Thanks, Dawn. Do publishers such as Harper Collins have any thoughts around influencing things shelving or getting the books into the hands of nonblack readers? I get the impression COS will have a largely black audience.
Comment by Dawn Davis on October 29, 2010 at 11:37am
Thanks, Dolen and Carleen. Creating alternative bookselling opportunities such as this is one of the ways we hope to help black writers connect with readers, Patricia.
Comment by Patricia Woodside on October 29, 2010 at 7:05am
Never heard of COS but it sounds like a great event. Love that debut authors are included in the bookclub, and you've selected a great group. I'm wondering what plans Harper Collins might have to help address some of the issues facing black writers?
Comment by Dolen Perkins-Valdez on October 29, 2010 at 6:35am
Dawn is doing such great work. I admire and respect her so much!!
Comment by Carleen on October 28, 2010 at 7:59pm
Congrats Dawn!
Comment by Vivienne Diane Neal on October 28, 2010 at 3:14pm
Excellent article. I will share it on my Facebook page. Best wishes.

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