Barnes & Noble Cancels Black History Month ‘Diverse Editions’ After Backlash

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
Font Size:

Barnes & Noble is cancelling a Black History Month project that would have featured people of color as cover art for classic novels after recieving backlash.

The company released a statement Wednesday announcing the cancellation of the “Diverse Editions” project, which would have included books such as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” with people of color in the cover art, according to USA Today.

The project would not have included any changes to the text itself. Instead, for example, Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” would have appeared on the cover as an African American girl with red sneakers while the text of the book remained the same as the original writing. (RELATED: Melanie Celebrates Black History Month)

The project has been criticized for appearing half-baked and superficial, with people online saying that Barnes and Noble should have promoted texts written by black authors instead of retooling the covers of past books if they wanted to spark dialogue and awareness of Black History Month.


“It’s still a story by a white author, featuring a white character, told via the white gaze,” author L.L. McKinney told NPR. “And none of this has changed within the contents of the story itself. They’re essentially just slapping a cover on it to ‘celebrate diversity.’ But a lot of us felt that you’re just trying to cash in on the fact that it’s Black History Month, and now all of a sudden,black faces and brown faces will sell books. Just maybe one, two years ago, people were saying in meetings, ‘Yeah, you can’t put black people on covers. It’s not going to sell the book.’”

The author Adriana Herrera told USA Today that the project, scheduled to be launched this week before being cancelled, was “the classics in blackface.”


In Barnes & Noble’s statement, the company notes that the covers aren’t a substitute for black voices or writers of color, and that the cover art was created by “artists hailing from different ethnicities and backgrounds.” 

“The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles,” the statement says. “It was a project inspired by our work with schools and was created in part to raise awareness and discussion during Black History Month, in which Barnes & Noble stores nationally will continue to highlight a wide selection of books to celebrate black history and great literature from writers of color.”