Barnes & Noble scrapped its tone-deaf plans to celebrate Black History Month with a campaign that rendered classic literature characters as black on newly redesigned book covers.

The campaign, called "Diverse Editions," was intended "to further drive inclusivity and diversity in literature, and help more young readers see themselves represented in these classic books," according to a press release for the original campaign.

Writers and diversity advocates heaped scorn and derision on the idea, deeming the campaign "literary blackface" and calling on the publishing industry to instead highlight real books by actual writers of color:

Following the backlash, Barnes & Noble released a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying the campaign was suspended, and an event meant to celebrate it tonight was also canceled.

"The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color, whose work and voices deserve to be heard," the statement said. "The booksellers who championed this initiative did so convinced it would help drive engagement with these classic titles."

The 12 books chosen for the campaign were selected after an AI program scraped through a hundred "classic literature" books and eliminated those that featured characters that were explicitly not-black — or, as the original press release put it: "an A.I. program was used to scour the pages of 100 classic literature books that portrayed white characters on the cover — and revealed several books in which the protagonist's race was never specified — only assumed."

The books included Romeo and Juliet, Treasure Island, Frankenstein, and The Secret Garden — a book whose main character, readers may remember, is the daughter of a British family in colonial India who screams at her maid that "You don't know anything about natives! They are not people."

"It's deeply problematic. It's not even an oversight," said writer Frederick Joseph of the campaign. Joseph, 31, owns a New York-based marketing agency and has his first book The Black Friend coming out next year.

"It also speaks to why there needs to be more inclusion of people of color in making these decisions," Joseph added.

Last month, the publishing world was roiled by criticism of Jeanine Cummins' novel American Dirt, which was blasted for stereotypical portrayals of Mexicans and accusations of cultural appropriation. The publishing industry is more than three-quarters white, according to a poll by Lee & Low Books.

"Championing diverse voices in book publishing is crucial," said Alaina Lavoie, Communications Manager for We Need Diverse Books, in an email. "It would be fantastic to see publishers and bookstores releasing and promoting new editions of classic books by people of color and marginalized people, particularly if those books have been largely ignored by the canon."

"Marketing, promotion, new covers/editions, book tours, and bookstore displays all signal to readers that a book is worth reading and talking about," she added. "And it's been said over and over again, but hiring diverse employees (and then actively supporting those employees) is extremely important at every level of publishing."