By Steve Dunk
Today we’re pleased to welcome Dara Beevas to the WNDB blog to discuss Wise Ink Creative Publishing.
Hi Dara, thanks so much for talking to We Need Diverse Books! Tell us about Wise Ink and the kinds of authors and stories Wise Ink is looking for.
Wise Ink is a publisher for independent authors, meaning we work with authors who were self-publishing, and they hire us to provide high-quality customized publishing support, editing, writing services, and design. We’ll work with illustrators as well, helping the writers navigate that. We also offer proofreading, eBook support, printing, and distribution services, along with a marketing team.
I would say we are not your typical author services company in that we usually attract authors who are really mission oriented; meaning activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, healers, folks who are truly committed to putting into the world something meaningful, something that will make an impact. And what I love most about Wise Ink is that our authors are not people who typically see themselves as “authors”. I love that because in my career I’ve found that storytelling is most powerful when it comes from everyday people.
Being an English major I of course love literature and I love the great works that were put into the sphere by people who were honing their craft over lifetimes, and they loved the written word, and they’ve created masterpieces. And I don’t want to diminish those books because I love those books, but I also think that storytelling is what kind of binds us all together. It’s this commonality that we share that we don’t really know about until we hear each other’s stories. And so, our authors at Wise Ink are typically able to use language to talk about why change needs to happen, or why they’ve uncovered the secret of something that can help others. I love that Wise Ink is a home for those types of minds.
Talk about finding your way to Wise Ink and what the early stages looked like.
So, I was working for an amazing small publisher here in the Twin Cities at the time. It was not the kind of publisher I expected to find myself at, but when I moved to Minneapolis, it was a different vibe with publishing here. I was working for large non-profit publishers on the East Coast prior, and when I moved here there just weren’t those same sorts of publishers, and so I found myself at this really lovely boutique publisher in a suburb of Minneapolis.
I did that for five years, working for a lovely man who became a mentor to me, but he was in his 80s when he hired me, and then he died, so I was sort of left at a crossroads. I had been running his company with my best friend Amy at the time, and she and I were just like “Okay, we’ve been doing this for five years. We know how to run a publishing company. What would we want if we were to start something ourselves?”
Just from asking that simple question, there was a shift in the universe, it was like one “what if” after another. We dreamed of Wise Ink over lunch one day, and six months later we were signing our first clients, and we never looked back. We found that we were successful right away, getting off the ground quicker than we thought we would. And not to say we haven’t had some tough years, but that was in 2013, and we turned 8 this year and it’s just been a joy. Wise Ink has been the joy of my life.
In an interview you said, “Black publishers have a major role to play with the uprising, and when serving artists and serving artist organizations, we really are positioned with the revolution at our doorstep. To be influential and to truly have our voices heard during this time.”
Talk about Wise Ink being at the epicenter of that massive cultural and racial atomic bomb that went off last year in Minneapolis.
First off, it was not a surprise to most of the Black, Indigenous, and people of color here, so I just want to start there. I know the world is shocked, I’m sure a lot of the U.S. is shocked, I know white people here were definitely shocked, but the Black community here was actually not shocked when George Floyd was killed, and that in of itself, speaks volumes. It says to me that there are two vastly different ways that people of color are living apart from white people in the same city, and I’ve just been sort of dissecting that as a publisher. Like, what stories are not breaking through?
Black and brown people were in despair, yes. They were heartbroken, yes. And we still are by the way, we are still heartbroken, we are still in despair, we are still holding the hemorrhage of this horrible lynching that we saw in the daylight. And in a very unapologetic knee, forcing life from someone was a traumatic experience for the Black and brown people who live here. And how is it that that could have happened to begin with?
And so, I think that what I’ve been wanting to focus on is telling the story about that racial divide that has always been here. The Twin Cities is a very segregated city, it always has been, it’s very intentional, and we need to tell that story. And so, I’ve just been sort of looking at what are the stories that haven’t been told, that need to be told.
What educational tools need to go into our school systems? How can we support the organizers and the activists who have been out there long before George Floyd? Who were out there long before Philando Castile? Who were out there long before Jamar Clark and Daunte Wright? And who will be out there long after? And how do we get their stories told?
How do we talk about the buildings that have burned to the ground and the owners of those Black and brown businesses who provided shelter and amnesty for the people who were protesting? So, there’s just so much to talk about, and I don’t want this moment to pass us by. Oftentimes Black and brown folks feel the least worthy of telling their story, because who’s going to listen? Like their story doesn’t matter.
And so, it’s my responsibility as a Black publisher to say not only do you matter, but your story matters as well, and if we can tell your story, that might save somebody else’s life. Because I want my white neighbor to ask some questions before they call the police on somebody walking down the street with a hoodie on next time. I want my white neighbor to stand up for me and with me, and not be shocked, and say, ‘This is not the community I want to live in.” And know what the hell they’re talking about when they say that.
The answer may seem obvious, and as it turns out, representation matters and is very important in all walks of life. But tell me just how important it is for today’s Black youth, including future generations, that they see a version of themselves working in the publishing industry as a professional.
Well, I know for me, I did not see a Black publisher when I was a young girl, a girl who was literally saved by books. Reading gave me a life of purpose and meaning and supplied me with an escape. It supplied me with sustenance, it truly was like food and shelter. But I didn’t know what was possible for me in this world of books.
I’ve thankfully landed here, and I give all praise to God and my ancestors for that, because my mom didn’t know a Black publisher. She didn’t say “Oh my God, my daughter loves books. She loves writing. Let me connect her with somebody who owns a publishing company, maybe she could intern there.” She just didn’t have access or the resources to get me here. It’s all been happenstance and miracles, and I don’t want that to be how our youth land where they’re supposed to land, on a hope and a prayer.
I think that is too often the story of our Black youth. They love art and so they paint, and they draw, and they hope that somebody knows how to get them to a point where they get to do that for a living. That’s not how it works for a lot of white kids. They’ve got access to resources and friends who can help them reach their goals. Too frequently I think our Black kids, for example, are not afforded those same tools and resources, and often it has to do with the schools they go to and/or the neighborhoods they live in. It also might be just, you know, cut it down the poverty line, right? And so, for me, I get to thankfully work with young people who are writing books, achieve those goals.
Right now, we’re working with a group of Black youth who are comprising an anthology called “Rehumanize Me,” an anthology written and led by Black youth from across Minneapolis on themes including liberation, healing, self-determination, Black joy, and so much more. It is being created in partnership with 826 MSP, an arts education nonprofit that amplifies the voices of Twin Cities youth.
And what I know about young writers is that they take the craft of being a writer as seriously, or even sometimes more seriously, than the adults do. They don’t want to be seen as kids when they’re writing, they don’t want to be seen as young people who just happen to have a book, they want to be seen as humans who have something to say. These young writers are seeing the world through a lens that we are lucky for them to be writing from, and I am overjoyed and excited and curious about that.
You faced discrimination and pushback from your white peers and co-workers when you made the decision to leave your job and start Wise Ink. What would you say to the Black girls and women out there who are facing gender/race/age-based discrimination and barriers?
You really can’t lose sight of what you know and what you are here to do. And I always think about what Toni Morrison said about racism, “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” So, that would really be my advice.
You might be looked at as somebody who’s less capable, or that thing you’re building or creating or dream of is not as attainable, all those things that we’re normally told about our Black dreams. And I also love Langston Hughes’ A Dream, Deferred, which is saying “don’t let your dreams shrivel up like a raisin in the sun”, because you have that dream for a reason, and they’ve gotten us this far. And I know for a fact that my dream of Wise Ink has published countless Black and brown people who would not have had their words see the light of day otherwise.
I hope that inspires someone, to know that your dream not taking shape, is the absence of someone else’s dream taking shape. So, if you don’t follow your dream for you, follow it for the person that dream is going to help and open a door for.
In this industry, for marginalized creators, success is measured differently, unfairly I would say, since there’s this expectation that to break through, your work has to be incredibly, unrealistically, high level. Where would you like to see Wise Ink in 5-10 years, what would you call a success?
Success would be having most of our books centering or serving the Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. And I know that is an uncomfortable thing to say, it feels uncomfortable even for me to say it. Because again, I know that white supremacy is so entrenched in everything, that decentering whiteness feels like an assault, right? But that is what’s needed, especially here.
If we never published another white-centered book, and I mean as a society, not my company, we would actually be okay, because almost every successful book that we know of centers whiteness. So, for me as a publisher, if I were to say, “how do I leave an imprint on this earth?” it would be to really ensure that most of the books I’m putting out into the world are serving people of color on some capacity, if not centering them completely.
With Wise Ink now in its eighth year and no signs of it slowing down, what are you most proud of at this point?
I’m proud that I live in a city where I believe Black voices are being embraced, and that the Black voices have the power to ripple out and have an effect in other cities where some of these same issues occurred. I’m proud that Wise Ink gets to be a tool for the revolution, and I never expected that, so, to be where I am today, I know that my ancestors are proud of me.
I take pride in the fact that my daughter says she wants to be a publisher. I’m proud that she knows what a publisher is and that my picture book is in her kindergarten classroom. I’m so proud that I get to do work that is changing my little world, and it’s for sure helping others change their little worlds also.
And so, I feel like our little world changing that we do ripples out to make some type of impact that’s meaningful, and hopefully pouring good and light into a world that desperately needs both.
Tell us about Amina of Zaria, aka The Warrior Queen, and the Lil’ Queens picture book series.
Most of my previous books were really related to the publishing space where I play, and I’m proud of those books, but I had this itch that a lot of my authors talk about with me. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and was kind of looking for books for her. I knew that she’d probably like princess stuff and there’s only one black Disney Princess, and that is the situation for a lot of Black moms.
So, I’ve had this book for years called, In Praise Of Black Women, which is basically an encyclopedia of African Queens, and I thought, there are so many Queens in this book, what if we had picture books to tell those stories? Amina of Zaria is about Queen Amina who lived in the 16th century, and she expanded her empire larger than any monarch had at that time. It was West Africa, but it was most of West Africa that she ruled, and she was a force. She shaped Zaria, or Zazzau as it was called during her time, shaping it into a trading Mecca.
Because it was the epicenter of trade, there were many outside villages that wanted to take over, and so she rode her horse into battle, not just ruling from a palace. And that’s what I talk about in the book, she ruled from her horse, and from the battlefield.
My next story, which is almost done with illustration, is about Queen Nanny of the Maroons because she is Jamaican, and as you know, my family is Jamaican. And again, I love the fact that Queen Nanny isn’t your typical Queen, we’re not talking about a woman who was dainty and delicate, who was beautiful to look at and that was it. Nanny escaped into the mountains, but she also went back down into the plantations that were run by the British, helping more Jamaicans escape, keeping them out of slavery.
And there are not very many picture books in Jamaica about Queen Nanny even though she’s a national hero and her face is on the five-hundred-dollar bill. They learn about her of course, but there are not very many picture books about her.
So yeah, it’s just a joy for me to use my platform as a publisher to create the books that I myself would have loved reading as a child.
Finally, what titles does Wise Ink have coming out that readers should be looking out for?
Definitely the young Black writer’s anthology Re-Humanize Me is going to be fantastic, that will be coming out in 2022. They have a Kickstarter that’s launching in November, going through December, so I want to make sure I highlight that. We also just published an amazing anthology of stories from BIPOC trans folks called The Letter Formerly Known as Q: Voices from Minnesota’s Queer Immigrant Community that just released this fall, and it was edited by Nancy Musinguzi.
And we have a picture book called J Is For Justice written by Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the most phenomenal organizers, activists, social justice warriors of our city. We are very excited about that one.
Thanks so much, Dara!
Dara Beevas (she/her) has been in the publishing industry more than a decade. She is the author of The Indie Author Revolution and has a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University. She was selected as an emerging writer by the Givens Foundation for African-American literature and was named a 2016 Bush Foundation Fellow. She lives with her husband and daughter.
Steve Dunk was born on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and now lives near a lake just outside of Toronto, spending his days obsessing over most things in geek culture, but mostly just trying to drink coffee and read in peace. He’s been blogging for various sites for as long as he can remember, focusing on the big three, movies, books, and music. His reading tastes stick pretty close to Young Adult but occasionally ventures outside enjoying middle grade, new adult, and adult as well. Fantasy, sci-fi, speculative, romance, contemporary…he loves it all. He reviews books and interviews authors on his podcast, Everything is Canon, over at Cinelinx.com with a focus on BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ authors and allyship. He doesn’t like sports, has lots of Star Wars books, and has two dogs. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.