Oakland author, illustrator and publisher Janine MacBeth has fused her talent as a writer and illustrator, her commitment to community and her acumen for business to celebrate the stories of us—the people of rainbow hue, who for generations have strived for access to a publishing industry that offered limited opportunities for people of color to tell their own stories.
Her publishing company, Blood Orange Press, is creating expanded options for authors and illustrators to tell stories in their own voices so that the growing audience of young people of color will grow-up seeing their lives reflected in the books they read.
In 2015, only 15 percent of children’s books published in the United States featured main characters of color. In addition, only 7.5 percent included African Americans as main characters; and of that 7.5 percent, only half were written by Black authors. In contrast, in 2011 the US Census Bureau reported that 50 percent of children under the age of 5 in America are kids of color—and there is little doubt that percentage is destined to increase.As an independent publisher, MacBeth is committed to filling literary gaps with stories that counteract stereotypes and limitations. Her passion and focus for publishing is also deeply rooted. MacBeth believes “the stories in each of us are beautiful.” When one has an opportunity to experience a Blood Orange Press publication it is easy to garner a sense of her love and reverence for books—every detail is attended to and as a result, her publications are truly relevant, inclusive and beautifully presented. It is widely reported that children benefit when their own experiences are reflected in the stories they read.
In a recent interview with The Voice/Black Voice News, MacBeth shared the story behind the name—Blood Orange Press. “My dad is a big gardener and is really big on fruit trees,” she explained. “He’d bring home saplings, or clippings of tree branches, and graft them onto the existing trees in the yard, so a graven-stein apple tree, for example, would have four or more different kinds of apples growing on it—branches of different varieties.
MacBeth told how as a kid, she remembered him bringing home a blood orange tree. “When it finally bore fruit, it was so beautiful,” she said. “The color on the outside, the burgundy freckles. When he cut it open and gave me and my sister a slice, I was enamored by the deep maroon flesh.”She continued, “As I grew up, the fruit had a lot of symbolism for me; my identity; and all the magic in the world. It was the perfect name for the Press.”
MacBeth, an Oakland native, attended the city’s public schools and loved learning and reading; however, she also recognized the books she read were not reflective of the world she lived in. “It leaves one with the impression—‘Books are not for us.’”
The books of MacBeth’s childhood were devoid of images that reflected her family (she is the daughter of a Chinese American mother and a father who is Black, White and Native American) or the other minorities in the community where she came of age.
It is the kind of structural racism that often goes unnoticed because it is so broadly and unconsciously accepted with minimal challenge to the status quo; but, there are many, like MacBeth, who attune themselves to this imbalance; and understanding it, work to change it. “You cannot grow-up without understanding how racism works,” she affirmed. “In college, I delved into ethnic studies and cultural anthropology to learn how these things play out in society.” MacBeth said she began to understand how our minds are trained to see the world. “It’s not just about physical restrictions,” she cautioned.Sometime during that personal journey, MacBeth said she knew she wanted to make books. “In college, I started to think about how books needed to support illustrators and authors to tell our story.”
Over the years, MacBeth learned as much as she could about all aspects of the publishing industry by working in the field first as a volunteer and eventually as a publishing associate.
The mother of two young sons, MacBeth is determined to produce quality literature reflective of all of America’s children.
In 2013, Blood Orange Released “Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!” written and illustrated by MacBeth. The book portrays a joyous, mixed race family and places an emphasis on the tender relationship between a father and his baby boy. It depicts how that love translates from generation to generation—a love so abundant in minority communities yet rarely portrayed in children’s books for reflection—It quickly sold out.Another Blood Orange Press Project, “One of a Kind Like Me or Unico Como Yo,” written by Lauren Mayeno and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, was released earlier this year. The story, told in English and Spanish is beautifully illustrated and provides a valuable message for all children against bias and affirms the beauty that exists when children can explore their authenticity.
Blood Orange press is a home for diverse readers, creators and bookmakers. “We can put out as many books as we imagine,” MacBeth stressed.
To learn more about Blood Orange Press, to purchase its amazing publications and/or to donate in support of future publications visit www.bloodorangepress.com.