Injustices in Publishing

The publishing world has a history of limiting the voices that do not reflect a white, male, straight, or middle-class point of view. Narratives told by people like Sanora Babb and James Baldwin are few and far between due to this reality.

Sanora Babb is not the first writer who comes to mind when reflecting on the Great Depression or Dust Bowl. The first figures who come to mind are authors like John Steinbeck, who wrote The Grapes of Wrath, and photographers like Dorothea Lange. As historians attempt to dig deeper and understand the period more, perspectives like Babb's are more important than ever. She was a woman who had experienced homelessness herself, as she fled Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. What separates Babb from others is that she was not only documenting her surroundings, but she was one of the people whose story should be documented and a part of the historical record. 

James Baldwin's influence has recently returned into American culture, with film adaptations of his works including I Am Not Your Negro and If Beale Street Could Talk receiving commercial and critical success. Centering on the black experience in racially torn 1960s-1970s America, these books and films are the first works people think of when they remember Baldwin. Yet, despite its initial critical acclaim, Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room, a story featuring a homosexual relationship between two white men in Paris, is often overlooked and forgotten. From Baldwin's initial efforts to publish it, white publishing companies thought it lacked what they had come to expect from Baldwin: narratives strictly regarding the "black experience."

Found in the "Sanora Babb Papers" and the "Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Reject Letters" collections at the Harry Ransom Center, Sanora Babb and James Baldwin's stories unearth the marginalization that both faced in navigating a publishing world not designed for them. 


Ashton Sauseda, Cameron Osmond