This article pays homage to the many vestiges that have made African-American literature so prevailing in circles where people of color has made a niche for itself...this also is a chance for the forces that made it happen get a pat on the back!
My love for books and all things literary has allowed me to parody and make mention of a memorable line that I want to attach to this article. I make this possible by alluding to Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) to Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) in the film Casablanca. The significance of the quote in the film, which influences its multiple usage to posterity in the sense that it links Rick to his love for Ilsa…so is it the same for my bibliophilistic mindset, and how much African-Americans has fallen in love and embraced books. Diversity has not always been kind to us, especially when we weren’t as endowed as we are nowadays, literally speaking. We spend too much on books not to be — to the tune of over $327 million as reported by Publisher’s Weekly. Does that make us bankable? You betcha! The landscape is so much different now, as opposed to how it was 15-20 years ago before Terry. Imagine if Zora and her cohorts from the Harlem of yesteryear were writing to our sensibilities. We’re in control of our destiny, and have made commensurate strides in this industry, but I remember when Black writers struggled to get their work recognized, but you couldn’t prove that by me in the 60’s and 70’s as I read James Baldwin, John O. Killens, and Frank Yerby; or as a young freshman in high school first learning about the Harlem Renaissance, or even with the book that changed my life – ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison.
When one looks at the African-American literary mirror though, impressionable images reflect back. As serious writers in the academy, and looking at the humanities in aspect of African-American literary worth, we’ve grown mightily in bringing substance for the masses. And oh my, just look at how much we’ve grown! Authors of the written word have proliferated for inclusion, curators of writing think-tanks have given us enough room to be as creative as we want to be, literary fortitude in forums online and offline are prevalent to lend commentary as needed; our book clubs are generating viable venues for authors for spontaneous notoriety, the formation of imprints within the industry to fuel our input has the major publishing houses always redefining the value of our offerings; and we even have prominence within the media (Oprah Winfrey) influential enough to make a difference and be respected in many circles – all are in place to give us legitimacy worth reckoning with. As you read this entity, be mindful of interpretive analogy based on observations of the changes and accomplishments over the years pertaining to our unique literary lore.
With all of this at the fore, I wanted to bring to attention of light analogies of the staples, icons, and energetic people that are allowing us to be taken seriously. In order to bring you this report and be honest in my evaluation, I do so with a disclaimer lamenting the fact that we owe quite a bit to those in the field that have helped to make the trends that are prevalent in Black literature. They know whom they are, and any omission here should not be taken as a slight to contributions not stated. The bastions of our bailiwick are continually at work in the literary arena where our battles are continually fought. We debate and opine whether discrimination is rife or rational. We get a chance to see who are able to bask in the sun, whom are licking wounds, and whether individual or collective strategies are really working, and to what effect. Change is eminent and constant, where accolades are awarded on all levels of achievement. Simply put — more books than ever are being produced by people of color. I was told roughly 1,000 books a week roll from the presses, and our prints are visible. We want to continue being that force to be reckoned with, and making sure that the resources to document our ascendancy are available for view. We want those resources and aids to keep our brethren reading and our colleagues writing. Do you have any contributive thoughts or reflections on how far we’ve come? I’m sure you do, and based on most of the commentary that this Blogging in Black forum has created, there’s so much to say and share accordingly. Black readers are as diverse as any other readership category, and would demand the adjunct tools to broker information. I feel that bringing the aforementioned entities to the fore would do more for those that are seeking trade magazines and our own annotated best selling lists to gauge where we stand.
We continually want to see ourselves reflected in the literature we’re reading for and about us, because we know directly and indirectly that it helps to build better self-images, and know that if the playing fields are even we can hold our own and far-exceed with the best of them. In these times we want to discover and expand on self, keep our role models (at home and in our communities), and learn from our archetypes. It would be folly not knowing where we need to improve. Moreover, and specifically in African-American literature circles, we tend to possess a flair for the dramatic and color our stories with vivid analogies to paint scenes from all of our leanings and learnings from the Diaspora — which will always be relevant to the Black Experience. There is no false sense of complacency when we know what’s going on in our communities…and what books are being read. I envision us carving niches to better distribute a slice here, or a slice there of the proverbial pie in the sky – as long as we read and write responsively. Not only is Johnny reading better, but also he’s endeavoring his peers to jump on the bandwagon and support the discussions that selling books are just part of the story.
In that regard, we’ve taken control of our own written words because we’ve seen too often how much we tend to spend on books, have witnessed the huge blockbuster book deals (or lack of same) that come down the pipe for some of our authors that are perceived to have ‘made’ it, and for those that are already notorious. Those that haven’t stepped into the limelight yet know that if they continue to persevere their day is coming. I feel confident that books written by people of color will flood the marketplace redefining status quo knowing that there are more black publishing companies than ever. We’re seeing more black editors, and more self-published books, and publishing houses wanting to cater to our expertise. Witness e-Harlequin’s absorbing BET Books and what they are doing with Kimani Press. Many writers no matter what the state of mainstream publishing are concerned will want to take control of their destinies by empowering to write and publish their own stories, thus fueling entrepreneurs and other options.
When you ask me about whom, what, when, and how of our industry, I shake my head with wonderment, for I’ve seen how such an icon as Black Issues Book Review (BIBR) has dominated our mental palates for resource and resolve in the industry. Times change and the beat goes on with more innovative ingenuity in the form of the new holding company of BIBR introducing yet another cachet that will in the words of Ken Smikle — We’re trying to bring an otherwise unheard black perspective about things happening in book publishing across the board. Mr. Smikle is one duly making decisions that effect what we read and the news associated with good vibes reverberating positively. Not too many can boast of having sisters so RAW that viable book reviewing has become a priority for those seeking honest opinions to support the craft. I remember a few years back at a Miami Book Fair event talking to Carl Weber about the timeliness of being in the right time and place for influential value, and he shared with me the importance of following through on basic instinct; Marlive Harris of G.R.I.T.S. fame is notorious for allowing the use of stored resources to be the fulcrum of her worth to many in virtual marketing online; Within this Blogging In Black stage you should have drawn a bead on Tee Cee Royal and her poignant presentation pertaining to other aspects of industry vibe, including dishonesty…and if you weren’t moved by the commentary then you should reread it; Then there’s Troy Johnson manning the helm of AALBC doing his thing; The Colom family giving us Genesis Press come to fore; Tony Rose comes to mind of a man on a mission; witness the accomplishments of Zane, Vickie Stringer, Curtis Bunn, Janet Hill, Max Rodriguez, Linda Gill, Haki Madhubuti, et al. Just look at the self-publishers and other adjuncts that make up the better part of our whole who are doing what they do to tap into their own resources to contend. When you see for yourself how we vie, you understand that we too, deserve our place so diligently we fought. But hey, the list goes on…you get my gist, right? BEA recently begrudgingly made room for us, but we aim to go one better by representing bigger and better venues in the future.
In closing, mainstream publishing and other persuasions see us and know that we are here doing our thing. Whatever you’re doing be it individual or collectively in this industry, continue carving your niche. Keep the stories coming, write with reckless abandon, but do not lose the wit, words, and wisdom that are ours. Most importantly, do not compromise your worth by falling for anything. Be productive and allow your peers to be conducive to any networking options to strengthen your literary communities. Fraud and deceit is prevalent in any realm of influence. To this I say to you — continue to use discernable options, deductive reasoning and plain ole logic and common sense to guide you…and oh yeah, support your peers for applied impact! In my lifetime, and as I endeavor to write for legitimacy I will do the same. I want to be able to know that we writers and readers can be accepted as equals and have the scales balanced for a level playing field. They need to see us for what we are, read our books, articles, and journalistic élan to give credit where it’s due. We can thank pioneers like all of the earlier writers, and people like Vivian Stephens, Gloria Naylor, Terry McMillan, and others for laying cornerstones for balance. They gave us so much more to pave the way. Once we endeavor to own distributing companies, continue to holler loudest when our books are not positioned adroitly in bookstores, see more Blacks in influential positions in major publishing houses, and in turn allow a huge piece of the rock to have viable and solid foundations for entrepreneurial verve, our contribution will not stop. We will always diversify and demand to be heard! Is that asking too much?