Back in 2015, when actress and comedian Phoebe Robinson was shopping around her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, she was turned down over and over by imprints that either didn’t get her vision or simply told her that they weren’t interested in a funny essay collection by a Black woman. (“Aka publishing can be racist,” she says.) Frustrated but undeterred, Robinson pushed forward, eventually finding a home at Plume, where the title quickly become a New York Times best seller.
Since then, of course, Robinson has gone on to publish another successful collection of essays, co-host a wildly popular podcast-turned-HBO special, 2 Dope Queens, star in her own Comedy Central series, start her own production company, and scores of other accomplishments. But she never forgot how hard it was to get that first foot in the door.
The experience inspired her to start her own publishing imprint called Tiny Reparations Books, which launched this week, along with the release of her third collection of essays, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes. The mission, she says, is refreshingly straightforward: to publish books that highlight and amplify unique and diverse voices.
“Like most industries, if you’re not a cis, straight white guy named Brian, it’s a struggle at times to get your art out to the masses,” says Robinson. The point of the imprint is to help broaden the landscape so that more women, POCs, and folks from the LGBTQIA+ community can share their work the way they want to. Books are such an integral part of society and culture. So to evolve, we need all kinds of minds challenging us, exciting us, and moving us.”
Robinson is debuting eight first-time writers on her slate, and she says working closely with them has been everything she hoped it would be. “I never wanted to just write,” she says. “I always wanted to help others get published and since I loved books, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll just have an imprint because Toni Morrison edited and that seems like toooo much work.’ Clearly, I had no damn idea what an imprint did. [laughs] But now I got an education and I’m in the mix as a tastemaker, which is nice for ego, of course, but more importantly is thrilling because I get to fall in love with new voices and then encourage readers to do the same. What a dream job.”
For InStyle‘s Badass Women issue, we caught up with Robinson to talk about the imprint, her new book, and why she’s still waiting for Jason Momoa to come calling.
Congrats on Tiny Reparations Books! What has been the most gratifying part about working on the imprint so far?
Without a shadow of doubt: the roster is comprised of debut authors. Every time I think about that, I get so excited. I guess the universe was paying attention to how difficult it was to shop my first book around in 2015 (aka publishing can be racist sometimes) and knew deep down, how much I want authors to not experience what I did. So to be in a position where I’m helping make things better and being a champion of the brilliant work that’s coming out is pretty thrilling and one of the great responsibilities of my life. I truly believe these writers are going to go on to have wonderful, long, impactful careers.
You’re also releasing your third book, a collection of essays called, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes. What do you hope people take away from it?
Listen, the past year and a half has been a shitshow and we’re slowly coming back into our lives as slightly (or massively) changed people. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. I want this book to make folks open themselves up, think, and feel hopeful. Maybe that’s a tall order, but it’s doable. We have been through it, so to relax and find joy in things is necessary.
You were recently named one of InStyle‘s 50 Badass Women of 2021. What do you consider your most badass quality?
Relating and connecting with people. People trust me and I don’t take that lightly. Being open, honest, and vulnerable allows others to feel safe and be their most true selves. We live in a world that can be so fake, toxic, and controversial for the sake of making noise. So to shut that out and really establish legitimate bonds with people is special.
Besides starting your imprint, what’s the most badass thing you’ve ever done?
Jumping off a bridge in Zimbabwe. It was nuts and amazing. I don’t know if I would do it again. Ok, I would do it again if I had tequila. [laughs]
What’s the biggest personal obstacle you’ve had to overcome to succeed?
Being $60,000 in debt! Eating dry ass salads and going to housing court ain’t cute. There were many nights I cried myself to sleep and wondered if going through all of this financial stress in the pursuit of my career was worth it. Still, those low points taught me so much that has made me stronger and more compassionate as a person and smarter as a businessperson.
Is there one piece of career advice that has always stayed with you?
What really resonates is the advice of just do things the way I want to. Now, that doesn’t mean a pure, undiluted voice. Sometimes, you need outside help to let you know what is good and what is garbage. But throughout much of my career, I’ve received the subtle and not-so-subtle message: “Do it like the white guys.” But I’m not white nor a guy. And also? That’s boring! There are already plenty of people doing that. The point of me being here is to add another different and interesting voice to the conversation. So being encouraged to just be myself and hone the skill sets that are uniquely mine, not only makes me happier, but helps me create my best work.
What’s next for you? What would you still like to accomplish?
So much! For Jason Momoa to play my TV husband. To learn how to play the piano. To keep creating work I’m proud of and uplifting other talented voices. To enjoy eating peas. My boyfriend is a Brit and he loves them, and I’m like, “Bruv, they’re trifling.” But if he can watch Selma and have his heart ripped open, I can have split pea soup and not be a drama queen about it. #RelationshipCompromise