Monday, December 22, 2008

Washington Post essay

Sunday, the Washington Post ran an essay I wrote about Buy a Book by a Black Author Month. I received some lovely emails in response. Those that took time to be thoughtful in their messages, I thank you. Unfortunately, the response also included some quite despicable comments. I stopped reading them at noon on Sunday. Last time I looked there were over 100. If you left a thoughtful comment and I didn't see it, I apologize. My eyes were blinded by the hatred and ignorance.

I won't try to answer every person who said they don't read black authors because blacks lie, because our culture is misogynist and homophobic, because we write poorly, because we only write about being black, because our books are dull, boring, preachy, whiny, and self-pitying, and, Lord help me, something about O.J. Oh, and the way black authors are promoted is Je$$e Jack$on's fault. (Racists are big on using $ for s's, apparently.)

But I do want to point out one common, strange assumption that most of the commenters seemed to share. They justified their reasons for avoiding black authors with reasons that also apply to books by whites and others. I mean, woman who talked about misogyny and homophobia, you do realize that there are white people who are women-haters, right? I mean, surely you've heard of Rush Limbaugh and his feminazis? And you do realize that maybe one or two or more black books don't demonstrate misogyny and homophobia, that, in fact, some black writers are actually feminists and/or gay themselves? And to the guy who said our books were dull and if you read a book or 12 by a white author that put you to sleep, you'd start avoiding Stephen King, too? Because that's the logic you're using.

I don't want to give any more energy to the negative. I'm only responding in this way so that those who have questioned why this blog is needed can see a bit of what black authors face. And to make it clear that I do not plan to STFU, as one commenter advised.

I also realize how much I'm preaching to the choir here, but sometimes the voice of the choir is what we need to hear to know that we're not alone in the world.

Merry Christmas, y'all...and thanks for reading and buying books!


Delia Christina said...

found you via negrophile and that post article and you've made my blog roll, too!

i've liked some of your reviews and while i'm not white i do read a lot of white authors - so thanks for clueing me in on folks i think i'd like reading.

Lisa said...

I spent a long time reading through the comments of your excellent piece this morning and I wasn't all that surprised at what I found -- the good or the bad. It reconfirmed my opinion that a segregated African American section in the book store can't possibly be a good thing for the authors. I don't believe there is such a thing as African American fiction.

There are very fine writers and there are very bad writers of all ethnicities and in all genres.

Many comments seemed to reflect that some readers are not at all interested in reading fiction that reflects on issues related to race. On the surface, that sounds pretty closed-minded and possibly racist. For some people, it probably is racist. For others though, I think it's a reflection on American readers. Some people aren't interested in reading books about social issues at all. The waters get muddied here.

I've been wondering what the reception to the book, THE HUMAN STAIN would have been if it had been written by an African American and not Philip Roth.

Some of the most interesting fiction I've read recently deals with differing views on race in America within the black community. You can't lump Jesse Jackson in the same category as Clarence Thomas, just as you can't lump literary fiction with graphic novels.

I don't know if you were aware at just how much controversy this well intended project would stir up, but I am glad you did it and I'm very proud to know you. :)

PatriciaW said...

Carleen, keep doin' your thing. WE need YOU.

I haven't read the WP piece nor the comments--trying to stay away from unnecessary negativity right now--but I can imagine.

One misconception is that books by African-American authors are all about social issues, as another commenter indicated. Not all books by AA authors deal with social issues at all, or at least not explicitly. (Per my high school English classes, if you dig deal enough, you can find social issues in anything.) Sometimes, we too, just want to be entertained.

Do you see the need for this project? There's so much work to do.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Carleen, I'm so sorry that you've been attacked by so many hateful idiots. There are some really bizarre people out there.

I liked your WaPo piece very much and posted part of it on my blog.

DeBerry and Grant said...

We have not been able to get to the comments part of the article since we posted one (which was a resounding hear! hear! we second that emotion of course)Saturday night. But you're right to let the hate and negativity roll off--imagine what The Obamas' mail must look like. Not that it makes it any better, it just proves that there remains much work to be done on the issue of race in America. And telling the stories of our lives, which may be about race but most often is just about trying to get through life's ups and downs (like everybody else), is a part of that work. So keep keepin' on! We know you'll hang tough Carleen.

moonrat said...

That's heinous, Carleen. It makes me really sad.

But good point re: the choir. Nothing is closer to conversion than hearing the whole choir sing together.

Ali said...

I didn't read the comments but I did read the article and it's perfect. I'll echo what Patricia said: WE need YOU. Even though, as a white reader, I may be referring to a different "We"--I would argue that it comes down to the same "We", in the end.

SouthLakesMom said...

I loved your piece in the Post (my hometown newspaper). I have to say that I read mostly mysteries, and I never check the author photo before pulling the book off the shelf. Nor, if I dislike a book or think it's poorly written, do I look at the photo. We all need to concentrate on what unites us -- a love of GOOD WRITING and GOOD STORIES -- and dismiss the rest.

Claudia said...

Carleen, I thought the article was fabulous! The cringe-worthy comments are hard to handle and if nothing else, they only reinforce the need for the kind of awareness that you are bringing to the industry. So I hope you know that there are a lot of people out here who understand and appreciate your point of view!!!

A Paperback Writer said...

This is a depressing post -- not because you're depressing, but because of what happened to you. That stinks. I'm sorry.
I usually tell my students that jerks come in every color, from every background, and both genders. Looks like some of them found you. (I also tell my students that decent people come in all colors, etc. too.)
I'm white, and quite frankly, I never really thought about consciously reading books by Black authors until I stumbled across this blog. Women authors, yes. Scottish authors, yes. Hispanic authors, yes. But I'd never sought out black author just because they were black. Sorry. I'd just never thought about it. I'll try to do that more often now.
I'm part way through Joplin's Ghost now, and it's pretty good (a bit too much gratuitous sex for me -- but I feel that way about Neil Gaiman much of the time as well, and I love his way with words). The concept of the story is great -- and I'm a huge Joplin fan. (Joplin's music plays a key role in one of my YA manuscripts. Many of my students who beta-read the ms for me got hooked on Joplin because I wrote about his music.)
Anyway, I'm glad you brought my attention to this category of writing. It's good for me to branch out.
Keep trying. Maybe the jerks will at least keep their mouths shut.

Doret said...

Over hundred responses, nice. That means alot of people read the article. I am guessing only the people who had hateful things to say left comments after awhile, because of fear ignorance or boredom. People who believe in what you're trying to do will spread the word and may be more open to giving an African American author a try. So congrats on a great article.

Carleen Brice said...

Ding, Thanks for adding me to your blog roll.

Lisa, Here's something else to add to the equation: publishers often don't want books by black authors UNLESS they are about race and/or social issues.

Patricia, Yes, I know that was one of the many assumptions made in the comments. The essay got cut, but now I wish we had kept in more about that very idea. Oh well. Something had to go for reasons of space.

Katharine, Thanks very much!

V&D, I saw your comment and THANK YOU so much! You and Shon Bacon were 2 of the 1st comments and it looked very promising for a while.

Moonrat, It's not so bad. As Lisa pointed out, it's not really too surprising. As Doret points out, I'm sure most of the people who read the piece felt differently and didn't feel compelled to spew.

Ali, I take your meaning and we're on the same page. Thanks!

Paperback writer, Sorry to spread the depression. I was hoping to let go of some of it here. Didn't mean to infect you with it.

Doret, True. And it's getting linked around. I heard from a bookseller it was in a Shelf Awareness email newsletter. Do you get those?

Wilhelmina said...

Carleen, anyone doing something right is going to get a lot of stupidity in response. You have opened up a very important dialog and you have every reason to be proud. I suspect that many of those who made negative comments either have long since stopped opening themselves to new writers and new ideas or are not readers at all. The article was excellent and many, many of us are so proud that you wrote it.

Lisa said...

One other thing I wanted to add that might help to put the WaPo comments into perspective is a conversation I was having with a work colleague recently about online newspapers and comments. There are by far a much larger proportion of ignorant comments on newspaper pieces than on blogs or other more focused types of media. Half the people who comment don't seem to even have read the articles and they seem more intent on commenting back and forth to each other and there is rarely, if ever any kind of moderation or validation of comments. One other thing newspapers with an online presence don't seem to do well.

Carleen Brice said...

Wilhelmina, Thanks so much for this comment! I really appreciate it!

Lisa, Very true. A friend and I were talking about that yesterday: letters to the editor are selected for print in the paper, but online it's a free-for-all.

Karen L. Simpson said...

Oh this make my heart hurt. But we all have to speak up or nothing will ever change, nothing will ever get better. Thank you for taking the lead on this.

Moanerplicity said...

It's very unfortunate that in this year, and in an era where we will soon have a man of color in the White House, so many people still co-exist among us with a sad and tragic pre-civil rights mentality.

I never understood why bookstores deem to keep books by Black authors separated in the *ghetto* of their literary terrain. Is this their not-so-subtle way of judging something as inferior to the rest? Most Black writers don't speak in another language. We don't feel a different set of emotions than our White counterparts. Humanity is colorless.

If a book is labeled as fiction, regardless of its author, why isn't it simply placed in the fiction section?

Rhetorical, I guess.

I write what's generally considered to be 'literary fiction.' The one thing I detest is to be limited in any way, thus, there is a purposeful direction toward depth, poetic and lyrical expression and rich thoughtful prose featuring Black, gay, White, straight, rich, poor, old and young characters. But because I'm a Black man, it is deemed "Urban." While I feel this is insulting to the nature and humanity of my work, others simply call it 'marketing.'

BTW: When I first stumbled across your blog, I actually thought it was a cruel inside joke. I imagined that someone was being disparaging towards Black authors. I've seen such things before, so nothing much surprises me anymore.

It's absolutely wonderful that your essay was published in the Post. Congratulations to you! I feel what you're doing, what you're asking of readers is so REVOLUTIONARY in scope that people with narrow minds might find it offensive or exclusionary or consider it a form of reverse-racism.

I applaud you. I admire you. I say, RIGHT ON to YOU!

As far as the negative comments: Forward thinkers have always endured their share of ignorance and people who hate blindly. How sad for those people!

You, on the other hand, are among an illustrious group of very special people; historical souls who will live forever because, in their own way, they managed to change the perception of the masses.

Keep doing YOU!

Happy Holidays! Snatch JOY!

One Love.


Bernice L. McFadden said...

Happy, Merry Carleen - r u ready for change? It's coming -- keep watch on the horizon and hold on to your keyboard....:)

Carole McDonnell said...

Hi Carleen:

The internet is made up of very odd people. Often I think it's only the unkind folks who post comments to stuff, folks with an axe to grind. Am not saying that the US is roaring toward equality, but the nastiness on the internet is generally disproportionate. Great article. And yes, I don't much like the African-American section of bookstores.

Esther said...

Sorry you had to put up with all the nasty comments. Unfortunately, while the Internet can be a great force for good in the world (when it brings people together, like on this site!) it can also give people an opportunity to spew all kinds of hate while hiding behind anonymity.

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OEBooks said...

I'm coming in on this a little late, but must add a comment, as this has been an old, but popular theme in forums I've attended. In short, as pointed out, there are the good and the bad. And then, at length, there's mostly the unfamiliar.

It's like that thing with food, a blog I'm currently working on. There are people who won't even try a cuisine that looks unfamiliar - both black and white. I used to feel that way about onions.

I hated onions! Backed away from them, turned my nose up, gagged, swore I'd never eat them. Out of a bag raw they were hard and bitter. Made my eyes water, and not in a good way. I didn't have to take one bite. I knew what they tasted like from the smell. But now today I love onions, though I still refrain from mixing them in potato salad.

It's all in growing and maturing and acquiring that taste, which is why your blog is really great! I must add this one to my feed.

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