I thought it would be interesting to focus my book reviews on stories by black authors. And right now, I can’t find anything. That’s when it occurred to me. Where are all the black authors?
I work in a bookstore and my access is greater than most. I have the opportunity to see many of the books that come in that many people will probably never notice. There are so many authors that stay under the radar and will never achieve bestselling success because book marketing and promotion are so political. But considering my job I should have been able to find something. All I find, however, is another type of fiction.
The bookstore where I work has an “Urban Fiction” section. This loosely translates to Black authors writing erotica and gangster dramas. (BAWEGD) The section has now been less appropriately titled “African American Interest.” Even this British guy I work with finds the section offensive and politically incorrect. I have no interest in “BAWEGD” lit and I am an African-American woman.
There may be an entire subset of the black population who applauds Zane and other black authors who write “BAWEGD” lit. And you know what, good for her and good for them. But I, as an African American woman am not interested.
Now aside from the BAWEGD lit, there is a whole other topic that seems to be popular with black writers. And that is the slavery, and racial injustice experience (SRIE). I do not demean or deny the validity of those experiences. However, I’m tired of reading about it.
Where are the authors writing about experiences like mine?
I’ve never heard gunshots in real life,* nor have I seen actual illegal drugs in person. I grew up in suburbia, went to a “good” high school and a well-respected college (Go Canes!) I know nothing about BAWEGD lit.
My experiences are vastly different from the racial inequities experienced by my parents and grandparents.
America has elected a black president,* so it’s clear that as individuals we can overcome racial oppression in this country. I would love a book that mirrors my experiences; Mirrors a struggle that may have nothing to do with being black. I would love a book that inspires me, or speaks to me. Or lets me escape the real world. And what would make it even greater is if it were by a black author.
I’m not just going to review black authors who write the types of books I’m looking for. I’m going to review anything that catches my interest. That being said, I just want to give African American authors a fair shot.
*Update 2019: I have since heard gunshots in real life, at my apartment complex. Scared me so much that anything from car doors slamming, cars backfiring, and people dropping heavy trash in the dumpster makes me jump. I probably don’t have PTSD, but the people who live in these insufferable war-like conditions (in America’s inner cities), where gunshots blend into the daily noise, certainly do…
I’ve also learned that despite my experience as a “privileged black person,” I’ve been subject to inequitable treatment because of my race (and gender) in other, less-obvious ways.
Furthermore, we’ve seen throughout Obama’s presidency, and now Trump’s presidency how deeply entrenched racism is in our society. That even though a black man reached the highest office in the land, many people did everything they could to tear him down (a bit of it started by Trump, but I digress) In fact, their presidencies have brought everything out in the open.
Nonetheless, I still believe there is a need for literature with black characters that isn’t solely focused on race, sex, drugs, romance, illicit affairs, or life in the hood. We need more diversity in writing by black authors–publicized–to provide mirrors for a diverse set of black experiences.
I know that my first book addresses race, but it was a story I needed to tell to make sense of my own past. As an author, I’m committed to telling stories about diverse black characters, and as a reader, I’m committed to sharing them.