Who is missing ? Lead author stirs up anger with ‘too white’ story | History books


It took almost a decade to research and write, and is over 750 pages long. Corn History makers, described as “an epic exploration of those who write about the past,” was itself rewritten after its author failed to consider enough black historians, scholars, and writers.

Richard Cohen was told by his editor to produce new chapters and develop others after failing to sufficiently recognize the roles of blacks and African Americans.

“It was to do with the sensitivity of the editor,” says Cohen, who previously wrote the much-loved Chasing the sun and How to write like Tolstoy. “I was then asked to write more and made about 18,000 more words.”

The History Makers is to be published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Now, despite the rewrite, the book’s publication in the United States has been canceled, according to sources in New York. Cohen’s contract with Random House in America was signed a few years ago, and sources say it is worth around $ 350,000. Yet after researching the changes to black history and historians, the publisher drastically withdrew from the deal last Wednesday. Cohen’s wife, leading American literary agent Kathy Robbins, is urgently seeking a new publisher in the United States.

History makers is still to be released in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on June 25, with prior reviews by Hilary Mantel and Amanda Foreman, followed by a book serialization on Radio 4.

Questions have been raised as to why Cohen – who was a leading editor in the UK before moving to New York City 20 years ago for a second career as a writer – left out so much black history in the first draft. The teaching of black history at American universities has been an integral part of the curriculum, as Black History Month has lasted for half a century.

Cohen’s book is described on its publisher’s website as “an epic exploration of who writes about the past and how the biases of some storytellers continue to influence our ideas about history (and who we are) today.” hui ”. It spans 2,500 years, from Thucydides and Tacitus to Shakespeare, Gibbon and Voltaire, before ending with television historians such as Simon Schama and David Starkey.

“Black history has not been welcomed into history,” says British historian David Olusoga. “Blacks have been invisible in history.”

Until rewrite is requested, History makers was above all a Eurocentric book. “But it’s like that, as if Africa and African Americans had been forgotten,” said Hakim Adi, professor of African and African Diaspora history at the University of Chichester. “It’s denigrating the history of the world, and black people in particular.”

To make amends, Cohen, who edited Jeffrey Archer’s early novels, significantly expanded his chapter on the American Civil War, including the story of Frederick Douglass, the runaway slave who later wrote five volumes of memoirs. historical. It has a brand new chapter, Who Tells Our Story, largely about black people in America over the past two centuries, including educator Booker T Washington and WEB Du Bois, sociologist, historian and movement leader. Niagara, who sought equal rights.

Richard Cohen.
Richard Cohen, author of the new book. Photography: Woody Campbell / Simon & Schuster Publishing

To counter criticism of the lack of African historians and writers, Cohen added Leo Africanus, a 16th-century Berber who wrote the stories of the Maghreb and the Nile Valley. Some say this convert from Islam to Christianity was the inspiration for Shakespeare Othello.

In the more recent past, there is Henry Louis Gates, the influential American television historian and author, who also rediscovered our night written by Harriet Wilson, the first African-American novelist; and Toni Morrison, whose books, such as Beloved on a family just after the Civil War, were often historic.

Even with its rewrite, Cohen’s book does not directly include the story of Windrush, but examines the West Indies and England through Trinidad-born CLR James’ book on cricket, Beyond a border.

“In Britain, in particular, black history has been widely viewed in the context of imperial history and often lies,” says Olusoga. “Black history has also been delegitimized and deemed political or linked to grievances. There was this determination to keep it on the sidelines.

Cohen seems more assured of the influence of historical novelists including Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whose A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich primarily concerned his own experience in the Gulag, as well as British authors such as Mary Renault with her stories about Ancient Greece and CS Forester with her exploits as Hornblower in the Napoleonic Wars.

Another chapter, Bad History, highlights some of the dubious “facts” written by writers like Julius Caesar, who gave a very biased view of his own achievements, and Shakespeare, who is probably responsible for more inaccurate versions of historical figures. , especially monarchs, than anyone else.


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