Letter from the Publisher: American Detox

Posted by – June 14, 2022
Categories: Health & Healing Psychology & Personal Growth Letter from the Publisher

Sometimes it takes two tries to get something right.

Such was the case with North Atlantic Books and Kerri Kelly and her groundbreaking book American Detox: The Myth of Wellness and How We Can Truly Heal. I had first met Kerri several years ago at the book release of Radical Dharma by Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Dr. Jasmine Syedullah and had continued to follow her courageous work at CTZNWELL fighting against various forms of oppression that manifest in wellness spaces. 

When Kerri let me know in 2019 that she was working on a book, I was immediately interested. We met for tea in San Francisco and had the kind of conversation where you need a notebook to track all of the revelations that emerge when two people talk about a subject they are passionate about. Her book seemed to align with our publishing priorities and I encouraged her to submit a proposal.

When I brought her proposal to our acquisitions group a few months later, there was strong consensus to make an offer on the book. Kerri and her agent (the delightful Gareth Esersky) seriously considered our offer, but in the end they chose another reputable publisher. I was disappointed but told Kerri I respected her decision and that in the end I trusted that she went with what felt right. I was glad the book would be out there, entreating readers to grab a wrench to dismantle harmful wellness systems that en masse are more injurious than salutary. Systems that, if rebuilt, could actually embody communal care.

Eighteen months later, Kerri let me know that she and the other publisher had amicably parted ways, and that she would love to publish with us if our offer still stood. I didn’t perceive this as a consolation prize—sometimes life moves in surprising ways and offers us a second chance to re-see people, projects, and places that didn’t align the first time around. I have no doubt that our initial enthusiasm—as well as our support when Kerri chose another publisher—was a significant factor in her coming back to us. If we had been bitter surely that would have closed the relational door. 

Publishing, like the wellness industry, is steeped in domination ideologies, systems, and practices, and judging Kerri when she “rejected” us would have played right into that handbook. We work hard to decolonize the normative assumptions within publishing, and letting go of notions of envy and competition when an author chooses another publisher is part of that. Our staff talked about the book again, and we were happy to tell Kerri we’d love to publish the book in Summer 2022. 

Which is now. This week. Kerri’s powerful book is hitting the streets. How fitting that an author writing about dismantling the current ideologies of wellness and reconstructing a vision of communal care would join forces with a publisher working to do the same within its sphere. Interestingly, our work together was challenging at times—giving birth to a book can do that—as NAB and Kerri both butted up against our socialized roles of gatekeeper and writer, institution and individual. To best serve the book, we both needed to question and navigate some of our own internalized assumptions of “right” and shift and grow in our relationship. This for me is the most dynamic part of creative collaboration—when the crucible of the work becomes a work unto itself; when theory and abstraction give way to tangible situations that demand the navigation of difference.

For all of our labor and talk about rebuilding just systems, Kerri and North Atlantic Books had to do the act itself just to bring this revelatory and provocative book to the world. When Kerri and I first met for tea that sunny morning in the Mission, I never could have predicted the particular journey we would end up going on; it was more surprising, untrodden, and synchronous than I ever could have seen.

—Tim McKee, publisher of North Atlantic Books

About the Author

Tim came to NAB in 2013 and is honored to serve as publisher. Born in New York City, McKee grew up in Los Angeles and received a BA from Princeton University and an MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. He has worked in the nonprofit sector for his entire career, including serving as the long-time managing editor of The Sun magazine, the grants director for a social-justice foundation in San Francisco, and as a writer for several community-based organizations in California. He has also taught college-level writing and journalism. His book No More Strangers Now: Young Voices from a New South Africa (Dorling Kindersley) was an Honor Book for the Jane Addams Book Award and a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is happiest when bringing necessary stories to the page.