Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guest post by author Donna Hill

The Beat Goes On

I want to clarify one thing before I get started so that there is no question or confusion. When I started my writing career twenty years ago I was a mere child! With that being said, I still find it amazing to realize that I have been blessed to be able to do what I love and remain in print for twenty years.

What is equally amazing to see is how the literary world has changed. When I began in 1990 with my debut novel Rooms of the Heart, there may have been six African American romances ever published up to that time. I had thought that the reason why I didn’t see romances with black faces on the cover was because black writers were not writing them. That wasn’t the case. The publishing industry was not publishing our stories. And it was a small black publishing company, Odyssey Books that changed the face of publishing when they published Rooms. They published many of the authors who became household names today such as Francis Ray, Rochelle Alers, Eboni Snoe, Sandra Kitt and others. The line of black romances from this small company put the industry on notice and in 1994 Kensington Publishing launched the Arabesque line, which began the flagship for African American romance. And the rest they say is history. We finally were on the map and the success of black romance opened the doors for publishers to begin looking at and publishing commercial black fiction.

I was fortunate to be able to publish in several genres, romance, women’s fiction, mystery & suspense, a little erotica and a paranormal or two, even got three television movies out of the deal. But many of my colleagues discouraged by the marginalization that black authors experience gave up, others were let go from contracts or didn’t get them renewed when some publishing houses wanted more sex, more drama, more pathology from black authors.

While it’s true that there are more black books being published, the success came with its own set of restrictions. Mainly that black books, black authors and the stories that we wanted to tell were only being marketed to black readers—no matter what the content or message and relegated to a certain section of the store. Separate but equal? And with so many writers vying for the same pool of readers it is inevitable that the well began to run dry. There is only so much sex, violence, drugs, drama and pathology that readers can take.

Fortunately, as with everything, publishing too is cyclical. And on the horizon is what could very well be the new black renaissance with novels by black authors that once again paint us on a global scale. Television and films featuring our books: Sins of the Mother [based on Orange Mint and Honey] by Carleen Brice, Joy by Victoria Christopher Murray, One in A Million by Kimberla Lawson Roby, and literary works such as Glorious by Bernice McFadden, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Precious by London author Precious Williams [The U.S. version coming this summer will be called Color Blind], Uptown by Donna Grant and Virginia Deberry among others.
This is the kind of energy and movement I experienced twenty years ago. There was an excitement in the air and literary stars were being born, with the skill and talent to tell our stories in all of its glory and dimensions. But the future of this renaissance is up to the reader. Without reader support and word of mouth, this exciting time in our history will be no more than a blip on the screen.

Donna Hill celebrating 20 years with the release of WHAT MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME (March 1, 2010) the long-awaited follow-up to RHYTHMS. 


Pamala Knight said...

Thank you for the eye opening yet hopeful post. I'll be anxiously awaiting your new release. Keep on giving us, the public, a glmpse inside the genius of your writing.

Shelia Goss said...

Happy Anniversary Donna. I've been a fan of your work from the beginning. I've also enjoyed the works by all the authors you mentioned in your post.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Odyssey Books! I remember them! They were located in Silver Spring Maryland! I wanted to get a book published, so, I went to the mailing address (it was a house in a Silver Spring neighborhood), knocked on the door, and said I was interested in speaking to the owner of Odyssey Books! It turned out that the house had become a group home and Odyssey no longer existed! I just wanted to see my work in print, and had not been successful in contacting an Odyssey Books representative, so, since I had the address, I just showed up at the house. A lot of great authors did get their start via Odyssey! Thanks for re-awakening that fond memory, Donna!

Joy said...

Interesting article.

I live in Jamaica and I find that what is imported is a wealth of novels by Caucasian writers. As weird as it sounds, I only discovered black romance writers a few years ago. Now I look out for romance novels by black writers . I also make it a point to encourage book stores here to order more books by black romance writers.

Katrina L. Burchett said...

Happy Anniversary, Donna, and congrats on your successful writing career :) And thanks for mentioning the movies. I'm looking forward to watching Sins of the Mother but I didn't know about the others. I'm particularly interested in the movie based on the novel Joy by Victoria Christopher Murray. That is one of my favorite books! I can't wait to see that one!