Sunday, May 1, 2011

controversial book covers #2: American Indians through the eyes of mainstream publishers

1989 cover
When my first novel, Jenny of the Tetons, was about to be published the bound galley arrived with a beautiful wrap-around cover. I was thrilled. At first.

Then I looked closely at the painting. The mountains weren't the Tetons and Jenny, a Shoshone Indian, resembled a white pioneer. Her face was pale, her hair short, and she wore a gingham dress. I protested vigorously to my editor. Not only was the cover inaccurate, it showed nothing of Jenny's proud heritage. I pleaded for a do-over: for Jenny to be in her native clothing, which was described in the novel, and for the Tetons to be authenticated. This is one of the most distinctive ranges in the West! That they and Jenny were generic, was a disgrace.

The painting was tweaked: Jenny's skin was darkened and she was given braids [PHOTO, above]. Dress was the same, ditto the mountains. When I asked why more wasn't done, my publisher answered, "Artistic license."

Jenny of the Tetons (Great Episodes)
2002 paperback reprint
The paperback reprint is worse. A white girl is featured on the cover [PHOTO, right]. In the background is a fuzzy photo of an Indian woman on horseback, pulling a travois with two children in what looks like a reed cage. She is holding a baby in a cradle-board. This Jenny looks haggard and bummed out. It's a sad example of a publisher relegating a Native American to the background. Is it because of marketing in this case, that a fair-haired girl will sell more covers than a tired Indian? I hope this stereotype is just a mistake and that publishers will start doing more to honor our indigenous friends.

Jenny Leigh was a real person. She was married to an English fur trapper and they had six children. She was so respected and admired, Jenny Lake in the Tetons was named for her.


Debbie Reese said...

I haven't read JENNY OF THE TETONS. People who followed the discussions of book covers last year will be interested in knowing you experienced the same thing with your book.

Thanks for sharing it, Kristiana.

Kristiana Gregory said...

Debbie, after reading your post about the new DEAR AMERICAs I realized these issues still permeate publishing.

As an aside, I met the illustrator years ago at a book signing ... he's a very nice man and a gifted artist, but he confessed that he hadn't read JENNY OF THE TETONS when he painted the cover! The responsibility still falls back on the editor & publisher.

Heather Spiva said...

Wow, interesting. Sad too, when the picture on the front of the book is SO "potentially" indicative of what the reader thinks he/she is going to read on the inside.

Kristiana Gregory said...

You're so right, Heather. Unfortunately, many prospective readers do judge a book by its cover.