It’ll be a while before we can go back to bookshops in person to browse the shelves, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t get excited about the next book to dive into! Our editors came together to assemble a list of titles they’ve worked on that have been released this season and ones lined up later this year. Biography, history, criminal justice reform, queer equality . . . take your pick! We can’t wait for you to read them!
Jonathan Rapping’s Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice (August 2020)
Jonathan Rapping’s book on the key role of public defenders in criminal justice, Gideon’s Promise, is one I inherited from our recently departed and much mourned senior editor Rakia Clark. (I don’t mean she departed this world; she's hard at work at Houghton Harcourt these days. Hi, Rakia!) Rap is one of a kind, and his ideas are game changers. I don’t take credit for helping him make the book as sharp as it is, but I did do the blurber part with him. That consisted of my saying, “Would any of the big thinkers in the field maybe want to read the book for possible comment, do you think?” And then my receiving glowing endorsements from Paul Butler, James Forman, Ben Crump . . . and then Michelle Alexander, and then Bryan Stevenson, and then--hoping she wasn’t too late to the party—Stacey Abrams. But I’m also hearing from people he trained, and now from people his organization saved from the maw of the beast of our current system. Did I say I feel lucky that we're publishing this book? I’m humbled to be working with this guy. And adding this book to one we just published, Zach Norris’s We Keep Us Safe, feels like we’re really in the conversation about recognizing the humanity of all people and creating safer communities by ensuring justice and opportunity for all.
—Helene Atwan, Director
M. V. Lee Badgett’s The Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair and Equal Treatment Benefits Us All (May 2020)
I’m excited about this book because it’s doing something fresh and urgent. As we know, the human rights argument for queer equality is often made, including in books we publish at Beacon. And that’s important. Badgett agrees that, first and foremost, LGBTI equality is a human rights issue. But Badgett is also an economist who’s been working on issues of LGBTI equality for twenty years and she realized there are spaces where the human rights argument isn’t seen as persuasive or respected. In those spaces, what matters is the bottom line. What Badgett has found is that fair and equal treatment of LGBTI people is not only good for them and the ethical thing to do—it's also good for the bottom line.
The three things Badgett covers in the book are: first, that LGBT discrimination hurts individual incomes. In short, there are financial costs to not having the same opportunities as cisgender people. Secondly, discrimination hurts companies. More and more companies, including Fortune 500 ones and global companies, now recognize this. And finally, homophobia and transphobia are harmful to economies. Did you know that countries with more rights for LGBT people also have higher GDP per capita than other countries with similar economic characteristics?
Part of what’s effective about Badgett’s argument is that in addition to the US, she has conducted research in a number of other countries—including Canada, the UK, Australia, India, and the Philippines—so this is a global argument.
The Economic Case for LGBT Equality will be in Beacon’s “Queer Ideas” series, which we’ve had for over fifteen years ago now, with Michael Bronski as the series editor. Michael and I are thrilled with this groundbreaking new addition to the series.
—Gayatri Patnaik, Associate Director and Editorial Director
Daniel S. Lucks’s Reconsidering Reagan: Racism, Republicans, and the Road to Trump (August 2020)
In 1980, Reagan ran for president, and his campaign slogan was “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Sounds familiar, right?! Trump took much more than that from Reagan’s playbook, and Daniel Lucks gets into some of that in this book.
I’ve been wanting to sign a book on Reagan and race for about twenty years now. Of course, there are many books on Reagan, including a number of hagiographies, and it’s striking that none of them focus on his views and policies on race, which were devastating.
We know Reagan had this cheerful and upbeat persona, but this book brings out an observation that Anthony Lewis once made about Reagan. He said, “. . . beneath the affability, there is a void.” This book is about that. Lucks’s goal is to help create dialogue around a new and sober reckoning of Reagan’s legacy which is long overdue.
This biography covers Reagan’s childhood and his surprising early liberalism. He traces Reagan’s gradual embrace of conservatism, his opposition to landmark civil rights legislation, his coziness with segregationists, and his skill in tapping into white anxiety about race. And using words like “welfare queen,” “law and order,” and “states rights” for political gain. Lucks argues that Reagan rode the wave of the “white backlash” all the way to the Presidency and was what we might call a polite racist. Never overt, but effective because he had this sunny demeanor and charm.
As president, Lucks argues Reagan had the worst civil rights record of any president since the 1920s. He supported the South African apartheid regime, packed the courts with conservatives, targeted laws prohibiting discrimination in education and housing. This book covers a number of Republicans, including Newt Gingerich, Jeff Sessions, Trent Lott, Rehnquist, and others, so there’s a lot of rich historical context.
Lucks feels that one important reason we need to have this reckoning about Reagan is because we’re still facing the effects of his presidency today. Reagan’s policies established the foundation for the current attacks on voting rights, assaults on Affirmative Action, and the demonization of poverty. And, of course, Reagan launched the war on drugs that targeted African Americans, Latinos, and the poor, leading to the carceral state.
The last point I want to make is that Lucks notes that Trump’s election caused many conservatives to lament Trump’s takeover of the Party of Reagan, and claim he is an aberration. But Lucks shows that Trump is not an anomaly but in fact the logical continuum of where the Republican Party has been trending since Reagan. I think this is a worthwhile and urgent book and hope it’ll find the large readership it deserves.
—Gayatri Patnaik, Associate Director and Editorial Director
Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner’s Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist (February 2020)
Every editor will recall humbling moments of receiving a proposal that promises to profoundly impact peoples’ lives. For me, one of those moments was receiving a proposal by Judy Heumann and Kristen Joiner, which became Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist. Candid, poignant, and written in her unforgettable cheeky voice, it recounts Judy’s remarkable and lifelong fight for equal access—from education to the workplace to inclusion in society. One climactic moment in Judy’s life, when she and other people with disabilities took over a governmental building, is portrayed in Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” starring Ali Stroker as Judy. It was powerful and set an example not only because it presented a relatively unknown yet significant piece of US history that should be widely taught, but also because it featured disabled performers. Later, Ali Stroker would make history as the first wheelchair user to win a Tony. When searching for a voice actor for the audiobook, we were delighted and honored when Ali Stroker agreed to once again play Judy. Upon reading the book, Stroker endorsed it, writing, “Judy’s story has shaken me to the core. For the first time, I see myself in someone else.” We hope others will, too.
—Joanna Greene, Senior Editor
Ian Zack’s Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest (April 2020)
We’re so excited about Odetta, an inspiring biography of the well-known and beloved singer. The book follows her humble beginnings on the west coast to her shy entry into entertainment through her activism and emergence as the “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” all the way to her tumultuous later years. It’s the first definitive biography of the singer, and the book feels that way. Lots of interviews, lots of information revealed from her personal papers (housed at the New York Public Library), etc. Ian Zack has written a narrative book that rightly uplifts this iconic figure. Originally acquired and edited by former Beacon Press senior editor, Rakia Clark, this book fills a gap in our historical understanding and appreciation for the folk singer who inspired so many others, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin.
—Maya Fernandez, Assistant Editor