Barnes and Noble has canceled plans to launch a series of classic books with diverse covers for Black History Month after an online backlash.
The bookstore had teamed up with Penguin Random House to release 12 classic novels, including Treasure Island and Moby Dick, with people of color on the covers. The books, known as Diverse Editions, were due to go on sale on Wednesday, Publishers Weekly reported.
The news sparked a wave of criticism on social media, with many saying a better way to honor Black History Month would have been to champion black authors. Author Adriana Herrera said the limited edition books were “the classics in blackface.”
A launch event celebrating the release of the Diverse Editions was due to be held at the Barnes & Noble store on Fifth Avenue in New York City on Wednesday. However, in a statement posted on Twitter that day, Barnes & Noble said the event and the initiative had both been canceled.
The bookstore said the covers were “not a substitute for black voices or writers of color.”
“We acknowledge the voices who have expressed concerns about the Diverse Editions project at our Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue store and have decided to suspend the initiative,” the bookstore said.
“Diverse Editions presented new covers of classic books through a series of limited-edition jackets, designed by artists hailing from different ethnicities and backgrounds.
“The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color whose work and voices deserve to be heard.”
The statement added: “The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles.
“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.”
The decision to shelve the project came after a wave of criticism from people, including numerous writers, on Twitter.
“What in the Caucasian,” Roxane Gay wrote in response to the announcement.
“They could have Googled, chosen a dozen books by actual Black authors that are classics & sent those out with fresh covers & a big event,” author Mikki Kendall tweeted.
“Add in bringing in contemporary Black authors to discuss these works & the whole thing is a win. They didn’t do the easy or logical thing.”
Writer Nnedi Okorafor added: “This fake diversity nonsense (where they replace white characters with people of color) is disgusting.
“It is not sincere or a solution. NEW STORIES BY PEOPLE OF COLOR ABOUT PEOPLE OF COLOR is the solution. WE get to tell OUR stories! Stop USING us and GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
Penguin Random House has been contacted for comment.