Phoebe Robinson on Spotlighting Diverse Voices Through Her New Imprint

Best-selling author, actor, stand-up comedian, podcaster, and producer Phoebe Robinson partners with Plume to launch the imprint Tiny Reparations Books, which will give her a forum to "highlight and amplify unique and diverse voices."

Phoebe Robinson
Photo by Mindy Tucker

Phoebe Robinson, best-selling author (You Can’t Touch My Hair; Everything’s Trash, but It’s OK), actor, stand-up comedian, podcaster (2 Dope Queens, with Jessica Williams), and producer, now adds imprint founder to her résumé as she partners with Plume, an imprint of Dutton, overseen by Penguin Random House, to launch Tiny Reparations Books. Robinson is excited that the imprint, whose first book, Robinson's Six Feet Apart will publish in September 2021, will give her a forum to “highlight and amplify unique and diverse voices.” Robinson and Tiny Reparations will focus on literary fiction, nonfiction, and essay collections, with a goal of publishing three to five books per year.

LJ: Who approached whom about creating the imprint? It sounds like it's been an idea in your mind for a while—what galvanized you into making it a reality?

Phoebe Robinson: Even back in 2014, when I met my literary agent, I already knew I wanted to do something that wasn’t just about me. However, at the time I really wasn’t entirely sure what an imprint was. I knew Toni Morrison edited books when she was writing, and I was thinking maybe working with an imprint would be easier. Little did I know. At the beginning of 2020, after my production company got going, I still wanted to do an imprint. It seemed like the time was approaching but when COVID hit, I was going to shelve the idea. However, my agent suggested this might be the right time to get out there, and I was certainly doing a lot of reading.

What does one do as the curator of a "highly curated" imprint?

Quarantine has made it possible to work around the clock. I do everything from reading submissions to calling an author we might want to acquire. The biggest part is just reading, from book proposals to the books themselves, to find material that connects. Don’t get me wrong, I also know how to delegate, but the authors under the imprint should feel connected and know that I am involved.

Who's the target reader for your imprint?

People with a healthy appetite for reading. Kind people. I’m a big reader myself—I’m at about 33 books so far this year. Anyone who enjoys literary fiction, nonfiction, and essay collections should find our books have heart and a lot to say. Readers can lean into humor or they can step away. I’d want any reader looking to feel uplifted and maybe challenged in the way they think and live their lives. We don’t have a concrete demographic, and you never know who will respond to what work, but I hope we connect with open-minded people who love to read.

How much will your reading tastes affect what the imprint publishes?

Tiny Reparations Books won’t publish only things that I like. Part of the point of choosing books for the imprint will be to challenge myself. I’m interested in the voices that are necessary and interesting in the landscape.

Can you see a difference in the publishing industry in light of the increased scrutiny surrounding the lack of diversity?

Progress is always slower than we want it to be. It’s tough to say I have seen a difference yet, but check back in five years. When I look back five years ago, when I was shopping my first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, I felt like people sometimes thought, “She’s Black. It’s not going to sell.” I feel there has been some progress. But at the end of the day there has to be work behind the scenes as well. The decision makers in marketing, publicity, acquisitions—they have to change and sustain the change for the long term. This imprint is not the only one looking for books with differences in orientation, class, and ethnicity. We aren’t done yet, but there is progress.

Do you have a preferred format? Will Tiny Reparations Books handle them all?

Format options are a book-by-book choice. I prefer the weight of a book in my hand and physically turning the pages. Others prefer an audio or ebook. I want to keep it open for the author, and of course the publisher will have a say as far as the financial aspects.

You've been described as a workaholic. You have a book in the works (Six Feet Apart), a production company, a new publishing imprint. What's next?

I have a new podcast, Black Frasier, a hybrid interview/advice show due out in August through winter. I have a talk show with Comedy Central, but it’s on temporary hold. I’m really going for it: How much can I put on my plate before I pass out? After that? Maybe I’ll take a vacation. LOL, probably not.

Maggie Knapp is a librarian at Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX, as well as the LJ Reference Short Takes columnist.

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