John Legend is committed to amplifying Black voices on stage, on screen and now, on the page. Working with his longtime business partner, award-winning producer Mike Jackson, the duo has launched Get Lifted Books, the new publishing arm of their media company Gift Lifted Film Co. “We’re both English majors and we love great storytelling and collaborating with great storytellers. We’ve been doing that in film and television and much of that content comes from great books. We thought it would be a great extension of what we do,” Legend tells EBONY.
Their first title, Rosewater, is from content innovator and author Liv Little, who says, “Rosewater is the book that I’ve always wanted to read, one with Black women as the protagonists that doesn’t focus solely on race and trauma but rather on the dizzying experience of falling in love. It’s inspired by the people and places that are close to my heart. It’s set in the city where I first kissed a girl, where I first fell in love and where I found queer community and discovered so much about myself.”
Rosewater is the kind of storytelling Legend and Jackson want to bring to the world. “We want to get these great stories out, particularly from underrepresented storytellers, and use our platform to shine a light on their great work,” Legend says. And Little is ecstatic to be a part of that effort. “Working with the Get Lifted team has been a delight,” she gushes. “I couldn’t have wished for a better publisher to get this book into the hands of readers who may not have seen themselves in a romance like this before. I hope that there is something for everyone in Rosewater as the themes of family and love and figuring out your place in the world are universal.”
Legend and Jackson share more about their new company, plus, the EGOT gives the lowdown on his new tour project.
John, can you believe all the projects that you’ve done with Get Lifted? You have accomplished so much in just 10 years.
John Legend: It’s been amazing. People always ask me about the EGOT, having won the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, and I wouldn’t have the Emmy or the Tony without being a part of Get Lifted and all the things Mike and I do together. We’re working with really talented collaborators: great filmmakers, writers and directors, all the people who help put these projects together and pour their ingenuity and creativity into what we do. We get to build something really beautiful together. Now we’re taking all of that knowledge and experience into helping authors get their books out.
What kind of stories and themes did you want to help spread through Get Lifed Books?
Mike Jackson: When we launched the company in 2013, it was a miracle just to have a smart, elevated Black story on any platform. While there were a lot of people putting out content that highlighted people that look like us, we didn’t feel like we were being fully represented. We want to show the full breadth of what Black America looks like in our culture. We endeavor to tell stories that highlight a different Black experience that is still relatable to all.
Legend: If you look at what we’re planning to release for Get Lifted books, a lot of it really does focus on love and how complex and nuanced it can be in its different manifestations. Liv is writing from her experience as a Black woman, artist and queer person living in London. I feel like that’s a really interesting perspective on love. I think so much of my career has been built on writing and telling stories about love, and a lot of the books we’re going to release from Get Lifted books really tell those kinds of stories.
What drew you to Liv’s novel Rosewater that it was chosen as your first book?
Legend: There was a bidding war; she was a popular commodity in the publishing world. People were excited for what she was going to create, and she did not disappoint. She created a really beautiful novel. I’m so glad we won the opportunity to work with her in the States and release her book here.
How hands-on are you with the publishing process?
Jackson: We’re involved in every step of the process from submissions, manuscript readings and outlines to book bids. We work with the novelist when they’re turning in drafts all the way to the delivery. What we didn’t want to do was just put our name on something and then let other people drive the bus. We really wanted to be a part of building and delivering it. It’s important beyond the words on the page, even the optics of the covers, to show and highlight people that look like us so that we can see ourselves in the imagery.
Legend: With our experience working in television and film, we’ve been very involved in development. We’re used to doing iterations and drafts with writers and giving notes and feedback as we try to help them do the best work that they can do.
John, you’re doing a million things: writing, performing and raising kids. Where do you find the time?
Legend: we have a great team. I don’t have to do everything on my end. We have folks out there reading content before I see it and narrowing it down to what I really should focus on. In every aspect of my career, I feel so blessed. I get to work with really smart, talented people who I trust. And so I do what I need to do. There are so many other people that are working hard and intelligently to make sure that we only create things that we’re really proud to put my name on.
Jackson: We have a little funny inside joke, which we call the mic test. We always make sure by the time things get to John, in any scenario, if someone put a microphone in front of his face and asked him about what we were doing, it’s representative of who he is as a human being, and furthermore, who we are as a company and our brand.
What do you see for the future of Get Lifted?
Legend: We want to make an impact, and when you put out great content that connects with people it really makes a cultural impact. That’s what we want to do. That’s our goal, we’re creating content that is aspirational, provocative and intelligent. We want it to break through, and hopefully, we’re doing that as we go forward.
Jackson: We take this responsibility very seriously and we know it’s a privilege to be in the position to share stories and affect change in the culture. We wake up every day and work towards putting out the best message and content highlighting the best experiences that are aspirational for our audience.
John, where are we going to see you perform next?
Legend: I’ve been doing these solo shows, I wouldn’t call it a proper tour, because it’s just me on the stage so we can schedule them a little bit more sporadically. I sing and tell my story, giving people the behind-the-scenes of my childhood and some of the collaborators I work with early in my career—stories people probably didn’t know about me, even though they have seen me in the public eye for 20 years now. I’ve been taking it throughout the country and internationally; et I just did it in London. And I love doing this show. It’s a two-hour experience of me on stage. And it’s been going on beautifully. We’ll do more of those.