Tuesday, January 04, 2005

African Americans In Literature

Over the course of American Literary history the role of the African American character has been depicted from slave, to sex pot and everything in between. With the recent flooding of the market of AA books of fiction the world view of African Americans has taken yet another turn. No longer are the books written by and about AA characters there to make us think, change our lives or make us proud of our accomplishments but rather showcase the baser side of AA life. The wave of Urban fiction has taken over bookshelfs and are topics of discussion on book readers lists across the country. Many authors are losing book contracts or are not being resigned because they either can't or will not write what has become popular.

With literature being a vehicle that reflects the microcosm of society how do you feel the surge of urban fiction depicting drugs, murder, whores, pimps, sex that most can only imagine have an effect on how AA are viewed by the world? Is it enough to say "well at least people who haven't been reading now are?" Is it justified to say, "many who were never published before are now in print?"

As writers do we have a responsibility to society at large or simply have the right to "write what we want as long as it sells?"

(accidently duplicated comments removed)


Dee said...

I am also concerned about the state of the black publishing world particulary with the rise in both street fiction/baby mama drama fiction/scandal for profit sake fiction. Although these issues are worth addressing, the way in which they are written and portrayed concern me most. The Autobiography of Malcom X and Makes me Wanna Holla spoke on crime fiction but they were written well. The Black Underworld became universal, because the story was told with universality and written in great English prose.

Why is that important?

Because not only the language we speak, but it the only language that has words to describe every emotion, every hue, every action. Very few languages can do that.

Thanks Donna, great blog.

Dee Stewart, Editor and Reviewer

Anonymous said...

I for one think that it is good that we have more choice in AA
fiction. Just because some of the books out there aren't my cup of
tea doesn't mean they dont have a place in AA literature. I would
like some of these self published urban fiction newbies to invest in
good editors so that other self published AA authors aren't grouped
into the poorly edited, bad grammar category.

As for crossing the color line in literature, I can say about a ood
30% of my fan base is non AA. Just based on the people in my
Yahoogroup and readers I have networked with. It could be because of
the subject matter of my books.

I've always tried to appeal to an age group, younger women. I don't
think I have sold many books to men. So I never really focused on
marketing to one race, even book store wise, I didn't care if a store
had an AA section or not I was sending them my stuff regardless.

I for one am more happy with AA fiction that I was 10 years ago.
With the new technology in printing, there are just soooooo many
different types of books that weren't available before. Some of the
books I have read, not even just urban fiction, I can just tell that
a traditional pub might pass on them but I enjoyed them.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

We can't be happy to just have a AA books on the market. Frankly people can write what they want but the fact remains that whatever you write you are a role model for other aspiring writers. Being a role model is not something that you sign up for. How many times can we read the same stories with 3 girlfriends, a cheating man, college drop out and sex sex sex? Be creative and inventive or else society at large will never take us serious. They already perpetuated the myth that black men had tails, now they'll be doing the same thing with these urban fiction writers, they'll believe that this is our life and that we all write this stuff and that if we drink champagne that it's bought with drug money. Show some class.

Anonymous said...

About ten years ago, when I got my one and only job in publishing right around the time Terry McMillan sold a trillion copies of Waiting to Exhale, I remember reading an article about Paul Coates of Black Classic Press and how he was using Print On Demand technology to republish classics that are out of print.

Little did I know that a decade later I would be using that technology to publish my own book Again and Again through iUniverse. I think it is absolutely FANTASTIC that ANYONE can publish a book nowadays.

I don't write Urban fiction and I haven't read any as of yet, but I do intend on picking up a book or two at some point. I've read Donald Goines and I own an Iceberg Slim book as well--so why not?!?

What I'm saying is I have absolutely nothing against the urban fiction genre. I do agree that it's a reflection of American society as a whole but not necessarily African Americans. Afterall take a look at the show Desperate Housewives, which is the most lauded evening soaps of the year(--maybe the last five years!) On that show, which depicts white (and one hispanic)surburban women they have drugs (one of the teenage sons smokes dope and one of the housewives took her son's ADD medication as an "upper"). There's been a murder (actually two murders). There are no pimps, but they had a prostitute a few weeks ago. And of course there's quite a bit of sex. One of the characters is sleeping with a highschool boy...

I really can't comment on how well written the Urban Books are tho I've heard Sister Soljah's Coldest Winter Ever--one of the first of the genre--is very good. It's on my to-read list. However, I am watching these writers in terms of their prodigiousness (forgive my spelling) and how hard they work to sell their books. A few years ago an editor of a literary magazine said that writers must be more entreprenuer than writers these days to sell their work. These urban fiction writers know how to hustle. I've got to admire that.

I am no entrepreneur. If I had my way, I would just write, all day long. But I realize I not only have to write, I've got to sell as well. So today I called up several newspapers to find out their advertising rates. I realize this is the way it is now, especially since I'm self publishing, but I've heard it's even that way in the mainstream houses now too. The books don't sell themselves, the writers have to do it.

I'm not worried one bit about the Urban Fiction genre. The other day I was looking on somebody's best sellers list (I can't remember the website) and after all these years, Carter G Woodson's Miseducation of the Negro is still a best seller! We all have different reading and writing tastes, and I respect that.

Leah Mullen

MikkiLanna said...

I am glad that AA books have been gaining ground in the publishing industry. For too long AA's and all other minorities have had to see their interests sidelined because of white racism. The excuse was that books about non-whites didn't have a universal theme that they could relate to. But the truth of the matter to me was that the narrow-minded men who ran the industry only wanted to see "exotic" material from minorities that they felt was unique and different from the general white world; henceforth, minorities were caught up in a stereotypical vein.

Today, the field of subject matter is much wider. Because the white world is more comfortable with blacks in general. Black faces on television, in the movies, etc. make us more familiar and less threatening. Moreover, the music industry,R&B and rap music in general has a world-wide appeal to white folks.

Prejudice will always be a part of the American social landscape because our country was founded and flourished on the principles of racism. But and the publishing industry becomes more available to minorities and we gain more ground in the industry as publishers and editors, we will have a greater impact on the images that come about, instead of our books being limited one imprint in a large publishing house.

Urban books have their audience and we writers who write about middle-class and upper-class blacks shouldn't feel that this kind of literature is a backlash. The only way it can be is if this is the only kind of genre that gets published. It's the same situation as with "Waiting to Exhale." Some Brothers I spoke to often commented that is was male bashing. The same was said of "A Color Purple" and the play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow Wasn't Enough."

(To Be continuted)

Demetairs said...

I guess when you really think about it, African American literature, much like some hip hop and some black cinema, has become the new version of Blaxpoitaion, only and sadly enough, it's our own doing. I wish that our young artist could some how understand that their work goes beyond " the hood. " They are our voice to the world. For people that may not come in contact with us, these are the only images that folk have to go off of. I constantly ask the question: Is that really the image that you want to send to the world of a people that come from Kings & Queens? From the outside looking in, we (black folk) look like animals. I firmly believe that is why we're feared and not held with much regard. We are compromising our integrity for the sake of making a buck. And of course publishers, record companies, and movie execs could care less how we portray ourselves, just go get that money. People please understand, there has to be some things that are not for sale. Although some of these stories represent some aspects of a select few African American's lives, it doesn't represent us all. With such shallow stories we are helping to create a false representation of a great people. I'm not asking aspiring writers to carry the struggle on your back through your writing, but what I am asking is that you be fully aware of your power and how you're molding the image of black folk through your novels. Again I say we come from great people and greatness is expected of you. Show the world how well rounded you are as an author. Tell the world about all of the wonderful things that many blacks do but go unheard. I believe in you and I'm with you.

Brotha Demetairs Bell


Demetairs said...
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