On February 8, 2018, Penguin Random House shared the news that they will be starting a brand new imprint.
For those who are unused to the goings-on of the publishing world; an imprint is a name under which a publishing company chooses to publish certain material. For example, the Penguin Teen imprint publishes (you guessed it) teen-targeted books, but they’re still under Penguin Random House’s umbrella. If you look at the spine of a book and it says Harper Voyager on it, that’s the name of the imprint. HarperCollins is the parent company.
Penguin’s new imprint is called Kokila, pronounced KO-ki-la, and will be publishing stories “from the margins” that focus on the way children and young adults see the world. That’s right, it’s a children’s and YA-specific, diversity-focused imprint!
According to Publishers Weekly, Kokila will be releasing 15-20 new books a year, fiction and non-fiction. The imprint will focus on children’s and YA books, from picture books to middle grade to young adult, and will also be publishing graphic novels.
For those concerned about all aspects of good representation, Publishers Weekly reports that Kokila will not only focus on race or ethnicity; it will also be publishing stories centered around sexuality, religion, ability and “other markers.”
With movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and discourse over books like The Black Witch, it’s a wonder that so few publishers have focused on diversity. HarperCollins, for example, has over 50 imprints, none of which are dedicated to diverse fiction. There is one imprint — Amistad — that mentions it publishes multicultural books, but it’s mostly adult non-fiction.
Hopefully, Penguin will start a trend with the launch of Kokila. The imprint will be headed up by a diverse staff, starting with Namrata Tripathi, former Associate Publisher and Editorial Director of Dial Books for Young Readers. She was born in the USSR and has lived in Afghanistan, India, Canada, Pakistan, Germany, Poland, and New York. According to Publishers Weekly, Tripathi is an Indian expat who is working on attaining U.S. citizenship. She’s lived in the city since 1997, but says that her diverse background has contributed to her appreciation of different cultures telling their stories.
According to Penguin’s press release, Tripathi has been a driving force in many of the company’s diversity initiatives. She co-chairs the diversity-hiring committee at Penguin Young Readers, started the Penguin Stories program, and is a mentor in the Representation matters Mentorship Program. She was also a founding member of the CBC Diversity Committee.
Tripathi will be joined by a host of diverse women, including Jasmin Rubero, who has 17 years of experience working at Dial Books for Young Readers and has designed many critically-acclaimed books; Joanna Cárdenas, who was recently celebrated at Publishers Weekly’s Star Watch as up-and-coming publishing talent, is an experienced editor on the steering committee for Latinx in Publishing and co-founded the Representation Matters Mentorship Program; and Jen Loja, who is currently president of Penguin Young Readers and has almost 10 years of experience at Penguin.
If you’re wondering where the name Kokila comes from, you aren’t alone. According to Penguin, the name comes from a Sanskrit word for the koel bird. The kokila is “a harbinger of new beginnings” with roots in Indian poetry and myths. “In the spirit of its name,” Penguin wrote, “Kokila aims to make space for storytellers to explore the full range of their experiences in books for young readers.”
Penguin also included a list of authors they are already working with, and said additional names of authors will be announced later this year. The current authors are: Pablo Cartaya, Sherine Hamdy and Myra El-Mir, Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña, John Corey Whaley, and Calista Brill and Nilah Magruder.
We’re hopeful that Penguin’s initiative with Kokila starts a chain reaction in the publishing industry.
If you’re interested in a wider dialogue on representation and diversity, tune in to Fiction Forward, Fictionist’s in-house podcast all about gender, LGBT and POC representation in YA!