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  Adria R. Walker, New York State Team

Published 2:55 a.m ET Feb. 8, 2023

Rochester native CaTyra Polland has always had a love for words.

In elementary school, she read to her peers and younger students, sparking a love for literature in them, as well. She remembers trips to the library with her mom, participating in book-reading contests and in the beloved Pizza Hut program, where students received a personal pan pizza for completing scholastic reading milestones.

In middle school, she began writing poetry, even receiving honorable mention in a contest.

“I’ve always just loved any element of reading and writing, books and being in spaces where I could flourish in literacy,” Polland said.

That love continued through adulthood when, in 2016, a friend of hers was looking for an editor. Polland provided a sample edit, and the friend was impressed with her work. She referred her clients to Polland, planting the seeds for what would become Love for Words, the editing services business she launched in 2017.

Polland is passionate about helping authors stay true to themselves. Through her editing, she assists authors in maintaining their authentic voices — and, in doing so, Polland is working toward helping the publishing industry become more representative.

Helping authors stay true to themselves

After working with clients as an editor, Polland was inspired to write her own first book, published in 2017. “Professionalism, What’s That?” is about what people who are new to the workforce would need to know to be successful. Three years later, she published her first book of poetry.

After having a steady stream of clients, Polland formally registered Love for Words as an LLC. She realized that her target audience was other Black authors. As someone who has worked both as an author and an editor, Polland has been on both sides of the table and is able to specifically address and understand her clients’ needs.

For Polland, it’s important that clients know they are not being judged or demeaned when they come to her.

“When an author comes to me, the least of their worries is not whether or not I’m judging them because they’re using Ebonics or they’re using AAVE or they’re using names like CaTyra instead of Catherine,” she said. “I’ve heard from several clients that, unfortunately, that’s been their experience with working with white editors who don’t understand or appreciate Black culture.”

Just 11% of books written in 2018 were written by non-white authors, according to the New York Times. 85 percent of the people who acquire and edit books are white, according to a 2019 survey. Cognizant of this disparity, Polland hopes to bridge the gaps between the whiteness of the publishing word and the Black authors teeming with stories to be told in their own voices.

Polland says those clients have referenced having their manuscripts changed in such ways that the writers’ voice is absent. Polland wants to help ensure that Black authors do not have their stories changed to appease larger society. As someone who has worked not only as an editor, but as an author, Polland knows what it’s like to be on either side of the manuscript. That experience only further helps her relate to clients, most of whom are nonfiction authors or biographies or autobiographies.

“I’m very cognizant of that when I work with my clients,” she said. “I’m sensitive to their concerns and their needs and making sure that it’s a mixture of giving them feedback, asking questions and making suggestions. I’m not just going through your manuscript with a red pen and not taking their personal stories into consideration.”

How Black Authors Day was created

Polland has sought a way to elevate and recognize Black voices.

“It’s still a very much white-dominated industry, the publishing and writing industry, so I want to make sure that Black authors are at the forefront and we’re acknowledged for all of the contributions that we have made and the contributions that we continue to make and will make in the future,” Polland said. “I didn’t want our presence and our influence to be buried and ignored as it usually is, so I decided to embark on creating National Black Authors Day.”

Celebrated on May 4, National Black Authors Day is not to be confused with National Authors Day, which is celebrated on Nov. 1. Aware of the existing day, Polland created Black Authors Day to specifically highlight and celebrate Black Authors.

Polland is a member of the Rochester Black Authors Association, and she and the rest of the organization are planning the upcoming year’s celebration of the holiday. Polland says the event will include local authors, giving them a chance to both donate books and have books for sale. The organization plans to connect with other organizations and businesses who will be sponsors, to create a free event for the entire community to come to and enjoy. Later in the year, the organization is planning an expo, again to highlight Black authors.

How Polland has continued to make change

Jeanell Coleman Grimes is president of Rochester Black Authors Association. In 2015, before Polland moved back to Rochester, she attended the first Rochester Black Authors Expo as a support person for an author who was tabling at the event. By the next expo, Polland had her own table and was actively working with the organization.

“From day one, she’s always just been really, really enthusiastic about the literary scene in Rochester,” Coleman Grimes said. “We’re kind of joined at the hip when we’re trying to get these things off the ground and get them going. Year after year she has been involved and been a pivotal part of putting on the expo.”

As a member of the Rochester Black Authors Association board, Polland has continued her support of Black and brown authors. The organization hosts events in addition to the expo, including Books and Bubblies, for adults, and Books and Bubbly, for children. Books and Bubbles features children’s authors in an effort to encourage or inspire other young kids to put a pen to paper.

“A lot of that was really her idea, to really come up with that and put that out there for folks. She was just so excited and so passionate about being able to put on Books and Bubbles,” Coleman-Grimes said.

The event happened on the day of last December’s brutal snowstorm. While some organizers thought it might be best to cancel or postpone the event, Polland pulled ahead. Her passion pushed the event through and gained more supporters for the organization.

“The biggest and most important thing to know is her passion for our people. … Her passion for the culture and really bringing words to life for people,” Coleman-Grimes said. “Bringing words to life can take you places and that’s really where her passion lies and it shows. Just really being able to show people, ‘You can do this.’ … She does it all, she does it well, she makes it look easy. She is super, super busy with it, but the passion drives the purpose for her and it shows.”