“…If we did that we would have Harlequin romances on the cover every week.”

By Bobbi Booker
The Book Report

“We don’t choose to review books based on the size of the book tour. If we did that we would have Harlequin romances on the cover every week.”

…NY Times’ reponse as to why it did not do a formal book review during Tavis Smiley’s historic 13 weeks as a Top Ten NYTimes best seller.


For more than a dozen weeks, Tavis Smiley’s “The Covenant for Black
America” has been firmly ensconced in the top five of the New York
Times’ list of nonfiction paperback books. The book has proven to be a
publishing phenomena since it is the first nonfiction book by an African
American publisher to reach and top the best-seller list. Yet, for all
its success, the New York Times has yet to do a formal review of the

“The only mention of the book was in a sidebar,” said author and
Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. The “sidebar” Glaude referred
to is “Inside the list, ” written by Dwight Garner, senior of the New
York Times Book Review. The column, says Garner, “is an explanation
of books that are on the best seller list and how well they’re doing.”

Smiley spearheaded “The Covenant” project and edited the text that
essentially gathers six years’ worth of national symposiums in a
collection of essays that plot a course for African Americans. “The
Covenant” book is divided into 10 chapters outlining key issues and
primary concerns that affect Black Americans–from health to housing,
from crime to criminal justice, from education to economic parity. The text
features a collection of essays by contributors Dr. David Satcher,
former U.S. surgeon general; Wade Henderson, executive director of the
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Angela Glover Blackwell,
founder of the research think tank PolicyLink; and Cornel West,
professor of Religion at Princeton University.

The popularity of the book, published by Third World Press, the
nation’s oldest independent African American book publisher, has been
spurred primarily by talk radio, church congregations and plain old
word-of-mouth. According to Smiley, the first stop of his national
tour drew over 5,000 people in Houston, TX. Since then upwards of
30,000 people have come out to support the book’s 10-point message.

“In the book review we don’t review phenomenas as much as we review
books,” said Garner explaining that “the process here is subjective
and we miss good books all the time.”

“Tavis Smiley is terrific at what he does,” said Garner. “He’s a very
smart man, but we don’t choose to review books based on the size of
the book tour. If we did that we would have Harlequin romances on the
cover every week.”

Gould charges that inadequate coverage of this book by the mainstream
media is another example of America poking its head in the sand in
regards to race relations. “It’s not just a phenomenon on the New York
Times best seller list,” charged Gould. “Mainstream America doesn’t
have a clue. I don’t know if mainstream white America has an idea that
a Black reading public is sitting around thinking and talking and
debating these issues and preparing themselves to engage in a much
more robust example of what it means to be a citizen.”

Smiley says this book explores the possibility of hope and strength
will help leaders and citizens keep Black America moving forward.

“Our impact has been widely felt,” said Smiley. “As best we can track
this, what we now see is that given the mainstream exposure the book
has received there are people outside of our community who are
embracing the text. (Others races) are embracing it because if you
took the word ‘Black’ out of this book, what you have is a
comprehensive, progressive agenda for making America better. That
should surprise any of us because that is what our history is and part
of our contribution to this country. Black folk have always been the
conscious of this country. The success of the civil rights movement
empowered all kinds of people. The strength that we had to love anyway
empowers and continues to empower all kinds of folk outside of our
community domestically and internationally.”

The African American community continues to experience devastating
social disparities, including the more than 8 million people who live
in poverty. “There are a lot of Black folk who believe that a piece of
Black America died on that balcony with Dr. King in Memphis 38 years
ago. There are many folk in our community since then who have been
wondering ‘Where is the game plan? The guidebook? Where’s the blue
print or the agenda for how we, in a post-King world, can make Black
America better.’ We don’t just live in a post-King world; we live in a
post- (hurricane) Katrina World. On the other side o this hurricane
there are many more people asking ‘how do we take control of our own
destiny?’ That’s where this text comes in. This is the first time that
we’ve had a blue print, a guide book if you will, for how we advance
our communities on any number of fronts. The book really lays out the
top 10 issues of importance to Black people and tries to provide a
framework for how we can advance our community.”

While the message contained within “The Covenant” is resounding
through the African American community, mainstream media may be forced
to eventually deal with it.

“I wanted to say to, that when books become this big we do sometimes take a second look at them and I think
this is the case where it’s possible where we’ll be doing that,” said
Garner in a return call clarifying his earlier statements. “I can’t
say for sure, but it does influence our decision sometimes where books
catch on with a larger public and I think it’s something we’ll think
hard about.”

“Tavis Smiley has a profound faith in the possibility of everyday,
ordinary Black folk and the Covenant with Black America demonstrates,
illustrates and exemplifies that faith in a way we’ve hardly ever seen
before,” said Glaude. “And what follows will only make our ancestors

Originally appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune May 7, 2006



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