What black writers were mentioned most frequently in The New York Times in 2018? And what does the coverage signal about the kinds of black writers who receive the most coverage?
I've bee studying black writer and keyword mentions for years now, and some recent discussions about whether The Times was showing favoritism for one group over others had me curious about the coverage of a large number of writers in a single year. I constructed a list of 104 black writers and tabulated mentions of each of them between January 1 and December 2, 2018. [Click here for more notes on my methods.]
Here's a list of the most frequently mentioned 20 black writers from my list of 104. The numbers of mentions are in parentheses.
• Michelle Obama (200)A few things surprised me about these initial findings. For one, I assumed there was more gender parity. Yet only 5 black men writers appear in the top 20 mentions. Second, while I figured that Morrison, Coates, and Gay would receive some of the most mentions, I had not considered the same about Zadie Smith and the playwrights Nottage and Jacob-Jenkins.
• Toni Morrison (62)
• Ta-Nehisi Coates (57)
• Roxane Gay (54)
• Zadie Smith (43)
• Terrance Hayes (40)
• Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (34)
• Lynn Nottage (33)
• Rita Dove (26)
• Claudia Rankine (26)
• Phoebe Robinson (26)
• Colson Whitehead (25)
• Jacqueline Woodson (25)
• Michelle Alexander (23)
• Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (22)
• Jesmyn Ward (22)
• Tracy K. Smith (21)
• Tayari Jones (20)
• Alice Walker (19)
• George C. Wolfe (19)
When I looked over my entire list, I noticed that the prevalence of black women born outside of the U.S. or who are second generation. Adichie. Tomi Adeyemi. Ngozi Anyanwu. Esi Edugyan. Jamaica Kincaid. Edwidge Danticat. There are not as many widely cited black male writers born outside of the U.S. quoted in the Times.
Ok. What about poets? Dove appears frequently, but 19 of those 26 mentions are based on her position as a poetry editor for the Times. She selects and briefly introduces a poem nearly every week or so. Hayes was the editor before her, which explains why his name has so many appearances as well.
I identified instances when the 104 black writers were the featured subject of a news story or profile.
Here are the top 10 black writers included as the subjects in feature articles: Michelle Obama (20); Tracy K. Smith (8); Tayari Jones (5); Esi Edugyan (5); Ta-Nehisi Coates (4); Lynn Nottage (4); Phoebe Robinson (4); Jacqueline Woodson (4); Ngozi Anyanwu (4); Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (4).
So among poets, Tracy K. Smith is the big story. This year, she received far more feature coverage than any of the other poets, and she was featured more than all the other writers, notwithstanding Michelle Obama. Smith is the U.S. Poet Laureate, which explains some of the attention she received, and she also released a book this year. I'm going to look a little closer, as I think living in New York City or any area with a major newspaper carries weight.
There's certainly more to say about these findings. So more soon.
• Black Playwrights in The New York Times in 2018