Loyola Marymount University is now home to the only African-American publishing imprint at a United States university: Harriet Tubman Press. LMU and TSEHAI Publishers announced the launch of the new imprint at a standing room only event on August 15, 2016, held in conjunction with the Leimert Park Village Book Fair.
The new imprint will publish academic work and literature, sharing stories from African-American communities and increasing publishing opportunities for African-American writers and scholars. “If we want to make change, we have to tell stories from different perspectives,” said Elias Wondimu, who founded TSEHAI and will manage the new imprint.
An exiled Ethiopian journalist, Wondimu founded TSEHAI to publish and distribute scholarship on African life in the United States, where media and academic work about Africa have been scarce and too often inaccurate. Harriet Tubman Press extends that mission to African-American communities, who similarly have lacked access to the institutions that shape the public narrative about their lives and communities.
About 90 scholars, writers, and Leimert Park neighbors filled the house to celebrate the launch and to engage a panel discussion on African and African-American publishing, moderated by Michael Datcher, an author, radio host, and English professor at LMU. Wondimu and the other panelists agreed that the new press meets a need for African-American readers and writers, and for readers everywhere.
Writing is “an important way to engage Blackness, among ourselves and with others,” said Adilifu Nama, a professor of African American Studies at LMU. “Literature gives us the broadest canvas to imagine possibilities, to break out of preconceived notions of what Black folks are supposed to be.” He pointed to science fiction authors like Octavia Butler whose writing “goes beyond the everyday, but addresses the everyday,” as examples of the imaginative, transformative power that literature can have in African-American communities.
But publishing opportunities for African-American writers, both fiction writers and academics, are too few. Shonda Buchanan ’97, M.A. ’03, a poetry professor at Hampton University, said she has counted only six Black publishing houses in the United States, and none at a university.
“The world is wanting for our stories,” said Brad Elliot Stone, a philosophy professor at LMU. Black Lives Matter has brought global attention to African-American experiences and racism in the United States, Stone said. “Let’s show them how these lives matter, not just for ourselves, but for the world.”
TSEHAI Publishers is housed in the Marymount Institute for Faith, Culture and the Arts at Loyola Marymount University.