Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest blog post by Margaret Johnson-Hodge

FYI, Good story in today's NY Times about black writers.

This week, we have a guest blog from Margaret Johnson-Hodge, author of Red Light, Green Light. Everything below is from her.

As a young girl, there were a few things I knew for certain. I knew my father was named Jesse and my mother was named Alma. I knew I was the youngest of three children and that I was named after my grandmother. And I knew that I would stay black and die (an old black saying). But I didn’t know that one day I would become a writer and I certainly didn’t know that when I did, my stories would be limited because of the color of my skin. When I became a “National Bestselling” author, I found out my stories were only ‘suited’ for a black audience. I wasn’t told this directly, but it was shouted to me by the places that the publisher sent me to on book tour and the type of ‘media coverage’ I received. I was able to secure mention in Ebony and Essence, but never made it to “People Magazine” I did a ton of book signings in black areas, but the ‘white’ ones were too far and few between. While I appreciated and understood being featured prominently within the black community, by my seventh book, I was hungry for something other, something more. I dreamed of being on “The Today Show”, but would have settled for “Good Day Atlanta”, but it never happened. The closest thing I got was community cable TV.

When I moved south, my world widened and I made all types of friends. I became best friends with Tara, an Irish-Italian, and fast friends with Liz, a white woman who had been born in Iowa. I also got to know a few of my white neighbors. They all bought my books and read them because they knew me personally. These white people were buying my books, reading them and enjoying them. But my publishers had convinced me that they were the ‘exception’. That only black people really read ‘Margaret Johnson-Hodge.’

So you could imagine my surprise and delight when recently I attended a book club meeting held in my honor and there, in the room, sat an older white woman who had not only read my book, but loved it. I tried not to stare at her, but I found my eyes looking her over closely, tying to determine how it came to be? How had she, an older white woman, not only found my book, but managed to ‘love it?’ Did she know that she wasn’t supposed to, that my books were for black folks only? And more importantly, were there more like her out there, somewhere?

The answer—Yes—came to me swiftly. I did have White readers and probably Asian readers, Hispanic readers and readers on the planet Mars. After years of being told it wasn’t it so, I now know that I do. This has become my newest ‘certainty’ in life. It is my goal to make it yours too…


Anonymous said...

Margaret, I appreciate that you wrote this blog to inspire other Black writers to not see themselves inside of a small fishbowl. Unfortunately, when you move from writer for strictly for personal fulfillment to writing and PUBLISHING professionally, these are the obstacles a Black writer faces. It reminds me of when a white teacher told my ex-husband (who was studying for a degree in Biology) that he should take the easier road and take the post office exam or maybe become a civil servant instead. In any case, this serves as a reminder that we cannot let others define our worthiness, limit our exposure or convince us to live small. Your stories are about life and human experience told from the perspective of a Black woman - not necessarily just Black people stories. There is a difference. I am glad that you and now others can appreciate this!

-R. Hodge

evelyn.n.alfred said...

This post made me smile.

Margaret, did you ever talk to that woman in the audience to find out what she loved about your book?

Carleen Brice said...

This is the first time this has ever happened. This post got a response guest post sent via email!

gempress said...

Margaret, I so identify with you and your blog. I have walked and continue to walk in your shoes. It pains me to know that the publishing world has deemed it their duty to continue the ideology of segregation. Like you, readers of my books come from diverse nationalities, but my ex- publishers didn't want to hear it. But you know what, I say keep doing what you're doing. It might be slow in coming, but we will continue to write, we will continue to publish, and we will prove the mighty publishers wrong.

Your friend,
Gloria Mallette