Reaching Across the Political Chasm
Getting Our Hands Around the Truth of America’s Legacy of Lynching

Designing Cover Jackets to Dress Up Our Books This Fall (And Keep Them Warm, Too)

By Louis Roe

Quilt pattern
All cover art images: Louis Roe

Now that we’re in summer’s final stretch, Beacon’s design department is busy putting together jackets for our Fall 2018 titles. Our cover designs are typically finalized about a year in advance of the on sale date for in-house and marketing purposes, so there’s finally enough emotional distance from the design process to reflect on these! Here’s a peek at a few of my favorites from this list.

Eileen Truax’s How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted?

Sometimes, the best thing an author can do for a designer is hand off the manuscript and take a step back. And another. And another . . . until they’ve found a comfortable place to wait for a couple of versions to show up in an email. Certainly with an open mind, and perhaps with a glass of wine. That being said, we always invite aesthetic suggestions if the author has them, and How Does It Feel turned out to be one of those occasions when an author’s recommendation led us in just the right direction. Through community connections, Eileen Truax put us in touch with a few talented artists. The prints of Oakland-based Favianna Rodriguez stood out to me immediately as vibrant and well-suited for cover design. With a little digging, I learned that Favianna herself is a queer and Latina activist, deeply involved in advocating for sexual freedom, decolonization, and migrant rights—an excellent fit for a book sharing the stories of Mexican immigrants living in the United States.

Big thanks to Eileen for introducing me to Favianna’s work, which continues to give me inspiration and information when immigrant detention and deportation feels like an insurmountable obstacle. 

Cover art for How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted

This video is a great introduction to Favianna and her art.

Charlene A. Carruthers’s
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

Some cover designs call for more aesthetic research than others. In the case of Unapologetic, we knew we wanted the subtitle to do most of the work, so the visual elements would need to be something simple—like a texture or pattern—but it also needed to signal Black, queer feminism. I ended up Googling images of African American quilts for inspiration, which led me to Gee’s Bend quilts. This style of quilting emerged from a tiny, rural community in Alabama, passed from one generation of Black women to the next, and it’s characterized by its improvisational and minimalistic qualities.

African American quilt

I built a pattern borrowing some shapes and colors from these quilts, then played with different arrangements of text within the pattern. The final layout earned consensus with considerably more ease than the particular colors and fonts, but in the end, we were able to settle on a design that satisfied all the decision-makers’ preferences.

Cover art for Unapologetic

Crystal M. Fleming’s How to Be Less Stupid About Race

If one book gets the award for being the most fun to work on this season, How to Be Less Stupid About Race gets the gold star. Which is lucky, because according to my save history, it took six months! Given the subject matter, though—coupled with Crystal Fleming’s fresh, no-bullshit writing style—I couldn’t help but feel excited brainstorming ideas for this cover. I also love opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues across departments, so I invited our editorial director Gayatri Patnaik and editorial assistants Maya Fernandez and Molly Velazquez-Brown to send me examples of off-handed racist comments they’d received through the years from friends and strangers alike. They sent me an enormous list. They’re phrases that someone might’ve said to you, or perhaps you might’ve said at some point. Things like:

  • My [insert random acquaintance] is black, so I get it.
  • I see people, not colors.
  • Not all white people . . .

One of my favorite directions with these phrases was a bingo board, a play on the meme used for calling out cliché behaviors across numerous subcommunities. We ultimately moved toward a design that allowed the phrases to be more readable.

Cover art for How to Be Less Stupid About Race

The phrases immediately give meaning to “racial stupidity”—and whichever side of the phrase you’ve been on, there’s a good chance they’ll sound familiar. Beneath the cover is the opportunity to unpack that.


About the Author 

Louis Roe, Designer: Louis has been designing at Beacon Press since 2015, after graduating from Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program and a brief stint in content marketing. He previously interned at Wind Ridge Books in Shelburne, VT.