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One of 2022’s Best-Selling Authors Joins HarperCollins Workers on Strike

"The only way out is through."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: Employees of HarperCollins Publisher participate in a strike outside the company's offices in Manhattan on November 15, 2022 in New York City. The strikers, who work in a variety of departments at the company, have been bargaining for a union contract since December 2021. Salary, and a commitment to diversity and union security rights are some of the demands the workers have presented to the company. The union, Local 2110 of the UAW, represents more than 250 HarperCollins employees in the design, editorial legal, marketing, publicity, and sales departments.

At the time of this writing, the UAW 2110 union (representing 250-plus HarperCollins employees) is coming up on its eighth week of striking. The group of workers, which come from all parts of the company, is demanding family leave benefits, union protections, and a fairer baseline compensation structure—which is important enough before you realize HarperCollins is based in New York City. In addition to these demands, the UAW 2110 wants a direct action plan from the publisher to address racial diversity gaps in everything from hiring to the book acquisition process. Across publishing, from readers to authors, many are showing solidarity with the striking workers. This includes one of the most popular fiction authors at HarperCollins, Rebecca Kuang a.k.a. R.F. Kuang.

On December 16, the writer of series including The Poppy War Trilogy and Babel joined the picket lines alongside the UAW 2110 workers and other HarperCollins authors showing support. Neil Gaiman tweeted out, “I’ll be there in spirit too. I wish I could be there in body.” NY State Senator Brad Hoylman also made an appearance, as did the famous editor who headlined the 2022 publishing exodus (for some of the same reasons that UAW 2110 is striking)—Molly McGee. Kuang began with, “Hi, I’m Rebecca, and I wrote one of HarperCollins’s best-selling fiction titles of the year. It happens to be about the power of strikes and collective action.”

In addition to introducing herself and drawing parallels from the novel to the UAW 2110 workers, she read a passage from near the end of her novel, and compared the union activity—and how it is framed in the press—to the 1800s. This is the setting of her novel and is also a time of immense union activity across the world.

@fictionalmila She so real for this, remember the strike is still on going #rfkuang #harpercollinsstrike #babelrfkuang ♬ original sound – ?????????❦

Kuang’s connection to the strike doesn’t only come from the fact that Babel depicts the collective action of groups rising up against their oppressor. She is also an outspoken critic of whiteness in publishing as well as academia. Three days after her appearance at the strike, Kuang’s upcoming literary thriller Yellowface got a cover reveal.

'Yellowface' by RF Kuang. Image: William Morrow & Company.
(William Morrow & Company)

The book is a satirical critique about a white author who feels like she’s being slighted by publishing a recently passed Asian woman’s manuscript under an Asian name that she makes up. This book is published under William Morrow & Company, an imprint that ultimately falls under HarperCollins. If the publisher continues to ignore the simple requests from the workers, the rollout of this book will be used as a way of calling attention to the strike, especially because the book itself is a criticism of publishing. Says Kuang:

If HarperCollins wants me to keep writing books for them, they should treat the folks who put my books on shelves with dignity and respect. Otherwise, they might find that a lot of authors like me might be heading elsewhere.

If you want to support the union, check out their Linktree here.

(featured image: Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.