Friday, March 31, 2006

Readers Cafe

Race continues to be a factor in America that effect just about everything, and the publishing industry is no exception. It has become a controversial issue about African American authors' book(s) being placed in segregated sections of bookstores and titled African American Literature.

According to thefreedictionary.com, African American literature is literature written by, about, and sometimes specifically for African Americans. As African Americans place in American society has changed over the centuries, so too has the focus of African American literature.

African American writers want the same thing almost every writer wants: to become a bestselling author with legions of fans. These authors want to be mainstream and believe that their ethnic is hurting their chances at success.

Most publishing companies argue that African American authors have a unique opportunity to become successful authors because they do in fact, belong to a niche market. Also, what African American authors need to understand is that they are a part of an emerging market. Publishers are now beginning to make attempts to understand the African American market and are developing marketing plans that are different from the mainstream market. So the key is marketing and promoting an innovative plan that will boost sales and name recognition. The author must have confidence in their work and security with who they are, white or black. If there work is quality material people will support it and not be concerned with the race of the writer.

Authors argue that a resounding majority of African Americans want to be considered a writer period, before their considered an African American writer, and want their books to be found beside white author's work. Some authors feel that advertising their blackness dampers their efforts toward appealing to a wider audience. It's the words on the pages of their books that should matter. On the other hand, authors Toni Morrison and Alice Walker always insisted during interviews that they are "black women writers" who write for "black people" and yet at least 40 - 50% of their books are purchased by whites. since many authors are challenged with breaking into mainstream, they have become proactive by turning to self publishing, self marketing, promoting and some have opened their own store(s).

Readers argue that many African American customers appreciate having an exclusively black section in franchise book stores. Before Terry McMillan, Kimberla Lawson Roby and Bernice L. McFadden, blacks were reading books by white authors. But when more black authors came onto the literary scene, blacks are choosing to read books by Bebe Moore Campbell, J. California Cooper and Diane McKinney-Whetstone and many others, because they speak more to our experience. I'm not exclusive to African American authors, I simply enjoy a good book, but the choices that have become available are overwhelming. My personal collection of books by African American authors has reached 431.

Critiques say African American literature exists both within and outside American literature and is helping to revitalize the country's writing. There are some within the African American community who do not like how their own literature sometimes showcases black people. African American literature can exists as its own entity. This artistic pattern has held true with many aspects of African American culture over the last century, with jazz and hip hop being just two artistic examples that developed in isolation within the black community before reaching a larger audience and eventually revitalizing American culture. The same can be said for African American literature. Imprints inside major publishers are creating a phenomenal rise in titles and genres in fiction and nonfiction. Whether African American literature will keep to this pattern in the coming years remains to be seen.

Some of the criticism of African American literature over the years has come, surprisingly enough, from within the African American community. The general consensus view appears to be that African American literature is simply reflecting the increasing diversity of the united states and showing more signs of diversity than ever before in its history. This view is supported by the fact that many African American authors and writers representing other minority groups - consistently reach the tops of the best-seller lists. If their literature only appealed to their individual ethnic groups, this would not be possible.

According to Market News blacks spent $326 million on books in 2003. Authors are writing for black readers, and according to the numbers, black and whites are buying their books, that are making publishers and booksellers take notice.

Praises to Amistad Publishing & Harper Collins for breaking the mold with creative thinking.

I listened to CrossTalk hosted by authors Donna Hill and Anna Dennis on Thursday (March 30, 2006) night with guest author Lolita Files gave thanks to her publishing company and her agent(s) for placing her latest novel "Sex. Lies. Murder. Fame." in the front of the bookstores.

Authors of color are generally placed in a section segregated from the mainstream of authors giving them limited exposure.

Unfortunately, We live in a world where race matters!

1 comment:

dragonfly said...

I'm still stuck on what we're writing ABOUT. I don't read a lot of fiction in general; I'm a fact and non-fiction kinda gal [not to mention schoolwork reading]. But I can't lie -- I'm scared of a lot of these Black novels. My impression is that they are glorifying the dysfunctions of our community. Too busy trying to "Keep It Real" rather than work on changing the reality.

On the other hand, as I get more and more involved with media literacy and my relationship with Newark changes, the more I consider reading some of those novels as a way for me to understand the world that I commit so much of my life to trying to reach out to and help. I used to joke that Newark was just another Detroit, but that I like Detroit better [well, I WAS born there!]. Well, I guess I'm just drawn to cities full of angry, disenfranchised Black people who rebelled and got shafted, and now still trying to figure out what to do about it.

Hypocritical for me to judge that literature before I even read it. We're told to write about what we know so that it can enlighten others to your truths. Before I can help my brothers and sisters, I need to understand them. Break out of the suburban ghetto of my upbringing and grab a Zane to read on the A train like everybody else.

And speaking of how race matters, if you haven't already, check out the documentary 'Street Fight' about the last mayoral election in Newark, with Cory Booker against Sharpe James. When you have old school gangsta players calling an ivy league-educated Black man 'White,' it spins the discourse about race and culture in a whole 'nother direction...