MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Cake Literary on Writing Diversity and Spicing Up High Concept Fiction

CAKE logo+2.7.12

Honoured to welcome Cake Literary to The Brown Bookshelf today! Writers, activists and entrepreneurs who “believe that crafting a good read is like baking a great cake — rich, fresh, delectable flavor with a healthy dose of heart”, the founders of Cake have already transformed the publishing landscape with a mission to engage readers and writers from all walks of life. From their Web site: “Co-founded by New School MFA grads Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Cake Literary is a creative kitchen whipping up decadent literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers.”

These women are awesome. Let me just get out of the way:

Guest Post: Making Our Own Recipe – CAKE Literary on Writing Diversity and Spicing Up High Concept Fiction


Black people don’t often view writing as a viable career path.

A professor in my first MA program told me this during an advisory meeting. He said it so casually, as if he was talking about the sky being blue or water being wet. He waited for me to affirm his conclusion: to shake my head up and down, acknowledging that he’d made an astute social observation, or to start crying while launching into my story of overcoming adversity to get into college, and now, against all odds, into a specialized graduate program in children’s and young adult literature.
I gnawed at my bottom lip, kneading my hands in my lap, and waited anxiously for him to hand me back my paper on religious programming in children’s fantasy fiction, so I could leave. There was no story to be told to validate his belief. I grew up a spoiled nerd in the suburbs of Washington, DC, with my nuclear family (minus the dog), and an endless pile of books.

I said nothing.

My professor wasn’t a racist who had a closet full of white KKK robes. Instead, he was a deeply intellectual widower with a quiet, almost granola, hippy-ish energy, and this made the whole thing even worse. He was kind and supportive. He was smart and well-read. Yet his observation of me (and my people) was so limited and reductive.

I should’ve corrected him. I should’ve told him that I stand on the words and pages and books of others who paved a road for me: Alice Walker, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Virginia Hamilton, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Andrea Pinkney, and many more. That I wouldn’t be knee-deep in unsubsidized federal school loans if I didn’t see being a writer as a viable career path.

To make sure I didn’t come off as the aggressive/overly-spirited/feisty/sassy/angry black woman, and to make sure he didn’t feel uncomfortable around me (or with my blackness), I stayed silent. I smiled, sipped a cup of tea, and I let his statement stand. I stayed in the safe-zone.

I should’ve said something.

The phrase still replays in my head. Dhonielle Clayton photo
I failed those who had taken the risk to put pen to page, who had fought to get published. Over the last six years, this moment became a little suitcase of shame that I carried around, where his words and the way I felt were neatly packed inside like layers of folded shirts and matching socks and starched dresses.
I should’ve said something.

When I met Sona Charaipotra, a super smart and savvy woman who I connected with on the first day of class at The New School, I knew she was going to become a major part of my life. Over endless chats and shared stories of invisibility (and not the kind that comes with a cloak) and being TV/film junkies and a collective well-spring of great ideas that we wish were on the shelves, we knew we’d stumbled upon something that was missing from the books we read as kids and teens, and the books and media circulating now.

Diversity.
sonaheadshotWe discussed the books we wanted to write, those that we thought would be awesome, and tinkered around with starting a venture that used diversity as a spring-board to great story-telling in a fun, sexy, page-turning, un-put-downable way. And CAKE Literary was born.

CAKE Literary is a literary development company that focuses on high concept fiction with a strong commitment to diversity.
What exactly does that mean? We’re not a literary agency, or a publisher. We’re a packager cooking up decidedly diverse book ideas, manuscripts, and proposals, and providing work-for-hire opportunities to authors in order to bring those books into reality.

What’s high concept? That book or movie or TV show you can describe in one-line. An orphaned boy discovers he’s a wizard and must destroy the evil warlock who murdered his parents. A feisty girl takes her sister’s place in a televised death game in a dystopian America. Two sick teens fall in love and confront the fault in their respective stars. Sound familiar? These are the kind of books we’re aiming to create. Big stories with heart, delicious concepts, a compulsive energy, and a healthy dose of diversity. We have a secret recipe that you’ll have to stay tuned to learn more about.

Our first project, formerly called DARK POINTE, now TINY PRETTY THINGS, follows the journey of three ballerinas at a cutthroat ballet academy. Each girl has a different background, mirroring the natural (and sadly, often hidden) diversity in the ballet world. But it’s not the primary focus of the book. It’s about ambition and dance and what one is willing to do to be the best. But these diverse characters are not tokens either – with just their skin color or hairstyle described one or twice to remind the reader of their “otherness.” Their otherness is innate, integral. Readers won’t forget how their backgrounds inform parts of their everyday experiences – the very way it shapes both Sona and I as we navigate our realities.
What’s cooking in CAKE’s kitchen? We’re working on several projects, and busy trying to find talented writers to join us on this mission. We hope to have more news to share soon.

We’re hopeful that, with the recent articles being written about the dearth of diversity in YA and children’s book publishing, and Ellen Oh’s fabulous #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, our colorful world will start to be reflected in the books written for children and teens, and that more authors of color realize that their voices are needed.

I am lucky because CAKE Literary is helping me finally say something.

Interested in learning more? We’ll be looking to hire writers beginning this summer, so connect with us on CAKELiterary.com or via CakeLiterarySubmissions@gmail.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @CAKELiterary.

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13 Responses to MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Cake Literary on Writing Diversity and Spicing Up High Concept Fiction

  1. tadmack says:

    I am NOT EVEN LYING when I say I have so much love for this project and hope that they get big and huge and grow and take over the world. Kudos to you, Cake!

  2. I know that awful feeling–wishing you’d said something, challenged the inaccurate perception. No more! Thanks–a beautifully written post.

  3. jackiewellington21 says:

    Great post. This question is for cake. WILL YOU ADD PICTURE BOOKS TO YOUR LIST IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WITH 48 STATES ADOPTING THE COMMON CORE, THERE IS A NEED FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN TO SEE THEMSELVES IN BOOK AS WELL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

    • Thanks so much! We will definitely be adding picture books to our future plans. Stay tuned for our website, which is launching later next month. As a school librarian working with teachers, I’ve seen this huge push for picture books. I am very excited at the possibility of seeing more on the shelf, and a full rebirth of that market.

      • jackiewellington21 says:

        That is awesome. I will hold on to my manuscripts. I appreciate the response.

  4. jackiewellington21 says:

    Also, I am carrying around that same feeling of “wish I had said something.” Just two months ago on FB, someone made a huge issue and stereotypical remarks about African-Americans and it hurt my feelings. But I did not speak up. Instead, I shared my discomfort with others when I decided to withdraw from a group. Needless to say, they spoke up because they did not like what happened. But then a friend asked me, “Why didn’t you say something?” I responded, “I learned a few things in the military. When you serve your country, you learn to pick your battles. You learn to decipher between a battle and a war (because they are not the same thing contrary to people’s belief.) And you learn to only fight if it will make a difference. Like your professor, he was looking for you to speak for the whole race of African-Americans and brown people. You can’t fight ignorance with ignorance. You not responding, spoke volumes. Trust me, he heard you.

    • Thank you so much for your support, and sharing your story. I didn’t have the courage to speak up, but now, I do. After watching the following video, and hearing Maya Angelou speak about courage, it drilled home that I should’ve said something, but now, I won’t ever be quiet :).

      http://www.comedyhype.com/social-comedy/comedy-moment-dave-chappelle-explained-maya-angelou-left-chappelle-show/

      • jackiewellington21 says:

        I love Maya, and had the pleasure of meeting her when I was in the Army. Maybe you can appreciate this poem I wrote in her honor.

        A TRIBUTE TO MAYA ANGELOU by Jackie Wellington

        Maya, you no longer have to be a caged bird,
        confined in a tiny space,
        looking out from behind those bars.

        Now, your spirit is set free,
        You can glide towards the moon,
        sail upon the clouds,
        and settle in your new home – Heaven.

        I became a “Phenomenal Woman”
        because you said that’s who I am.
        And I believed you.

        I shook hands with a “Freedom Fighter”
        because you said that’s what I should do.
        So I listened.

        I stopped “Passing Time,”
        stopped existing,
        and started living.
        (That was your advice to me.)

        You told me, there were “Senses of Insecurity.”
        “Don’t buy in to the stereotype,” you said when you recited this poem.
        At that time, I lack “Communication I, Communication II,” and “Artful Pose.”

        Now look at me, standing here in “Remembrance.”
        Reminiscing on the life of an author, motivator, poet, actress, human rights activist, an abolitionist of mental slavery, and a wonderful human being.

        You have left your imprint on the future of our nation.
        The little boys and girls of all races, cultures, and ethnicities.
        You will join your brothers – Martin, Marcus, Malcolm, and Mandela.
        And your sisters – Rosa, Harriett, Sojourner and Eleanor Roosevelt.

        Thanks for impacting my life.
        Thanks for motivating me to be something bigger and better.
        And thanks for being you.
        Rest In Peace, Maya Angelou.

  5. tjgholar says:

    Great post! And congratulations on your new venture. I look forward to reading more about it.

    By the way, I can totally relate to your story about not speaking up. My senior year of high school my math teacher said something to me that was particularly hurtful, and rather than confront him about it, I turned my anger inward and it caused me so many problems, even years later. I am glad that you are proving your old professor wrong in your own way.

    • Thanks so much for commenting and your support! In the moment it’s so hard, at times, to say things. I am still learning that it’s important to do so. No matter how uncomfortable it will make me, or the other person. Work in progress! — Dhonielle

  6. […] Last week, they began their series with CAKE Literary. Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, the ladies behind CAKE Literary are creative, energetic and forward thinking entrepreneurs. Their recipe for success is creating quite a stir! I was able to catch up with Sona lately and she was gracious enough to write the following post. I think what strikes me most as I read the various posts she and Dhonielle have written, is how their passion for diversity in YA lit grew from rather negative situations but is blossoming into something positive. Their passion is their energy. Here’s Sona! […]

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