Friday, August 9, 2019

Editor Panel: Denene Millner

Denene Millner
Denene Millner
Denene Millner is the editor of Denene Millner Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint that publishes books featuring African American children. In its debut year, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, won Newbery and Caldecott honors and the Kirkus Prize for Children’s Literature. Her latest offering, The Fresh Princess, inspired by Will Smith’s iconic character, debuted in April. 

Denene Millner started in journalism—politics and entertainment—then moved into magazines, and has also written a big old stack of thirty books. She's interested in books that speak to the everyday experiences of black children, and started an imprint at Agate Publishing. The publication of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut changed everything for her, and soon led to Simon & Schuster knocking on her door.

Cover image for CROWN by Gordon C. James
She publishes exclusively African American authors and illustrators, and is not interested in books rooted in history or trauma - those books are needed, and are being published, but she focuses on black children and families having everyday life experiences, because those stories are still so underrepresented in our industry. Black kids, and really all kids, need and deserve those stories, written and illustrated by those authors and illustrators.

An example of what she's looking for: Crown hit it on all levels. She wants to see the things that no one else will publish, which is how she connected with Derrick Barnes and Crown. She wants books that portray Black kids' lives simply and purely as they are. That kind of honest, straightforward depiction of ordinary lives is very easy to find when the books' creators and characters are white, and those stories are just as real and just as universal for Black kids. She wants books where the moments and details of those young Black lives don't exist solely within the context of their explicitly defined blackness; they just are.

She's specifically looking for new authors, because she believes in the importance of providing those opportunities for Black book creators, especially illustrators. Crown is Gordon C. James's very first illustrated book, and it's a masterpiece. It's impossible to argue with the results of her commitment to finding new talent; it's already resulted in a game-changing thunderbolt of a book.

Follow Denene Millner on Twitter and Instagram

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