Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Get rid of AA imprints?

My friend Linda Chavis hipped me to this article on HuffPo, "Rejecting the Publishing Ghetto." Something tells me without African American imprints there are fewer African American books. But he makes lots of good points here. Publishers do tend to treat these imprints with less respect.

Hello 2010!

Goodbye to 2009 and hello 2010! Writers, editors, publishers and booksellers are all skittish about what the future holds for us. Will technology save the industry or be the death of it? With books digitized will people be willing to pay for them or snatch them free like they did with music? We're about to find out.

I'm choosing to focus on what I can control, which is letting people know about good books. And, of course, writing. Working on your next book is always the best medicine to worrying about your current one(s).

In addition, I'm lucky to have something special to look forward to next year. "Sins of the Mother" the TV movie version of my novel Orange Mint and Honey will air on LMN February 21st! Stay tuned for more details (a contest!)

Forgive my little personal commercial break. Back to doing what I do here. I'm also lucky to be able to come to this blog and hear from readers who are hungry for good books! Thank you for all your support last year!

Following are a few of the new books that I've heard about. Many more can be found on APOOO Book Club's site. Remember, pre-orders really help writers! And check the authors' websites for tour dates. They might be in your neck of the woods and you could meet them in person!


Searching for Tina Turner by Jacqueline E. Luckett. I'm currently reading the advance copy, and I sure hope this book makes a big splash. All those ladies who rushed out to see "It's Complicated:" you'll love this book too! Want a taste? Here's Chapter 1.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. This book is getting all kinds of advance pub (watch for it in the February issue of O Magazine!), and for good reason: it's about a resort (which actually existed) where slave-holders took their slave mistresses. Publishers' Weekly says: In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history . . . Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez's ability to bring the unfortunate past to life." If you're on Facebook, join Dolen's fan page


The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow. This novel won the Bellwether Prize for "fiction for social change," which Barbara Kingsolver created. I've mentioned this here before, but soon it's out! Have you pre-ordered? DENVER FOLKS: Heidi will be at the Tattered Cover Colfax on March 11!


Uptown by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant. These ladies stay on the "ripped from the headlines" tip. Their last book was about a woman laid off from her job. This one is about "money, power and real estate" and I happen to know they had to deal with the crash of the real estate market. DENVER FOLKS: Donna and Virginia will be at Tattered Cover Colfax on March 12!

What Mother Never Told Me by Donna Hill. On Donna's website she calls this, "A story of healing, hope, love and forgiveness" and says "WHAT MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME is a book for every daughter, every mother, every family." News flash about Donna: she's celebrating 20 years of publishing in 2010. That's TWENTY YEARS! Congratulations Donna!

Author J.D. Mason is back with Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It, a story about three women who were friends in high school and meet again at their reunion thirty years later. Promises to be a great story about women's relationships, secrets and lies!


The great Pearl Cleage is back with Till You Hear From Me.


In May I'll be singing glory, glory because Glorious, Bernice McFadden's latest literary novel will be out! Author Susan Straight calls it "Intense and sweeping."

Not to jump too far ahead, but a couple of friends of the blog have pub dates in 2011 too. Look for The Silver Girl by Tayari Jones from Algonquin Books and Act of Grace by Karen Simpson from Plenary Publishing. Watch here for more about these and other upcoming releases!

Happy New Year everybody!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-changes and Ch-ch-ch-Christmas

As you can see, the place has a new look. I'm not exactly thrilled with it yet, but it's easier to read (I hope) and looks more of a piece with my personal blog (which I really like!) and my website (which I also like). It's hard being blogger, webmaster, book promoter, and oh yeah, a writer and promoter of my own books. I hope you will stick with me as this blog changes and grows into itself, and as I grow into all my roles.

Since this week is Christmas, I'm going to take some time off from blogging. If you're still shopping, you already know what to do, right? Just in case you don't, I will paraphrase Michael Pollan's "eaters' manifesto" from his book In Defense of Food. Here's my "readers' manifesto" that is in defense of writers:

Buy books. A great variety of them. When it comes to reading, there's no such thing as too much.

(Me as I was beginning to find my role in life)

Happy Holidays everybody! See you next week with a look at 2010--lots of books I'm excited about coming soon! I'll also announce who won a "I  black authors" T-shirt and who won a button!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guest blog: Stacy Hawkins Adams' Christian fiction recommendations

Journeys of faith are as unique as the individuals traveling them. 

Just as one style of worship and set of religious practices don’t resonate with every Christian, neither would one type of Christian fiction novel.

Since writers hail from all walks of life and varying connections to God, so do our expressions of that faith in our fictional work.

In fiction, few of us are trying to preach. We want our characters to “reveal” biblical truths or convey lessons simply by being and doing. Readers are invited to enjoy our stories and take whatever messages they will. Some novels will simply entertain while others may sear your soul.

The beauty of this genre is that rather than cookie-cutter stories that all end the same, readers who search hard enough can find writers whose books engage them and challenge them as much as books from any other genre.

Consider adding the Christian fiction novels below to your gift list this Christmas:

· The Ideal Wife by Jacquelin Thomas – Bestselling author Jacquelin Thomas pushes the envelope in this novel by addressing the swingers’ lifestyle and what happens when one woman casts aside her morals and faith for the sake of what she believes is love.

· Sins of the Father by Angela Benson - This compelling novel shares the story of a wealthy media mogul who has a secret second family. When Abraham Martin’s conscience gets the best of him, he – and his families – must face the consequences of his choices and learn to forgive.

· This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti – This classic Christian thriller is an action-packed story of spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil. Readers will finish this book with a deeper understanding of the power and importance of prayer.

· Blessed Trinity by Vanessa Davis Griggs – In this novel, the oldest of three sisters perfects a fa├žade of success and happiness, when in reality she has spent her life guarding a terrible secret. Readers will keep turning pages to find out when and how she’ll handle the truth, and whether it will destroy her or strengthen her faith.

· Chosen by Patricia Haley – Sibling rivalry rears its head in this novel when the leader of a multi-million dollar ministry decides that his younger son rather than his firstborn should take the helm of the organization. The two half brothers and their mothers plot and scheme over who will have final control. Their actions remind readers that authentic faith in God doesn’t hinge on titles and power.

· The Rivers Run Dry by Sibella Giorello – In this Christian fiction mystery, a flawed FBI agent struggles to settle into a new assignment while dealing with a boss who dislikes her and while helping her mother through a personal crisis. Readers can relate to Raleigh Harmon’s imperfections yet still be intrigued by her work and her efforts to find a missing woman.

· The Bishop’s Daughter by Tiffany Warren – Bestselling author Tiffany Warren reflects our culture’s disdain for Christians through her journalist character Darrin Bainbridge, who decides to tell the “truth” about Hollywood ministers by exposing one bishop’s fraud. Darrin’s plans are complicated when he falls in love with the minister’s daughter.

· The Face by Angela Hunt – In this intriguing novel, a severely deformed woman who has been hidden in a CIA facility since birth and used to help the government accomplish certain goals, is discovered by a long-lost aunt. The aunt helps her reclaim her life and decide, for the first time ever, who she wants to be and for whom she wants to live.

· Lady Jasmine by Victoria Christopher Murray – The latest novel by Victoria Christopher Murray, who is credited with birthing the African American Christian fiction genre, tells the story of Jasmine, a character from Murray’s previous novels who has a history of scheming and lying. Jasmine has promised her minister husband she’ll keep no more secrets from him. She tells all but one horrible truth – the one that now leaves her facing blackmail.

There should be something in this eclectic mix of Christian fiction novels for most book lovers on your list. Some of the titles are overt in sharing messages of faith while others use Christianity as an undertone. Choose a genre –mystery, suspense or romance, for example - that your book lover already appreciates and you won’t go wrong.

Stacy Hawkins Adams is an Essence bestselling Christian fiction author, freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her sixth novel, Dreams That Won’t Let Go, will be released in January. Other titles include The Someday List, Watercolored Pearls and Worth a Thousand Words. Visit her website to read excerpts of her work: www.StacyHawkinsAdams.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

There can be only one

Reading some of the "best of 2009" book lists I'm starting to wonder if African American authors aren't Highlanders. It seems like there can be only one of us per list (that is, if any of us are allowed through the golden gates at all). I have to say I feel a little sorry for Colson Whitehead. If there can be only one black author standing at the end of the game, you know it's going to be Dr. Morrison! (Actually.... Could she be...? Naaah!)

What books or authors would be on your Best of 2009 list? On your list there can be as many authors of color as you want! And let's show 'em how it's done: we'll even let white writers on our lists too. Of course, their books have to be really, really good. *wink*

My "Notable Books of 2009" include:

Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts Jr.
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Big Machine by Victor LaValle
Hold Love Strong by Matthew Aaron Goodman
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
I Am Not Sydney Portier by Percival Everett
The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis
Jailbait Zombies by Mario Acevedo
Kiss the Sky by Farai Chideya
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

While I was feeling like a list-making fool, I created a list of 50 Black Book Gift Ideas at IndieBound. Fiction & nonfiction; a little something for almost everybody. I didn't include kids' books. If you want kids' books suggestions check out The Brown Book Shelf and Happy Nappy Bookseller. They know their stuff!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meet: Erica Kennedy

Erica Kennedy is the author of the novels Bling and Feminista (both of which are great reads and would make great gifts for someone who can't get enough of People, US Weekly, and Vanity Fair and appreciates witty writing and meaty ideas). She blogs at The Feminista Files and you can also follow her on Twitter.

Erica was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work and her views of the biz....

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

Erica Kennedy: I tackle most things with humor and that's how I think of myself: as a humorist. Sometimes I think that comes out of the fact that I had a very dysfunctional childhood and I have suffered from depression so it's a "tears of a clown" thing. You need to find the humor in everything just to survive. Like if I were ever to write an Augusten Burroughs-style memoir of dysfunction -- and I could -- it would still be funny like his always are.

I read somewhere that writers are always telling the same story in different ways. And I think I'm always telling the story of the haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders. I'm very interested in the idea of social hierarchies -- who is revered and why. In Bling, there was a cast of rich, powerful or famous people and then others who wanted that power. Also the women in Bling got to tell most of the story which is not how it is in the real hip-hop industry where women are mostly objectified. My new book, FEMINISTA, is class warfare wrapped up in a romantic comedy. In both of my books I write in multiple POV because I've felt like both the have and have-not. Haven't we all? There's always someone who has more, always someone who has less than you.

WRMBA: Tell us about your latest novel.

EK: FEMINISTA is a romantic comedy with edge. Sydney Zamora, the heroine is aggressive, she's angry and that was a conscious decision. I think a woman showing her anger is a feminist act as is writing a chick lit about one! I hate when the heroine in chick lit/flicks is this infantilized klutz who just wants to find a man to save her. Sydney goes on a very active, misguided quest to find a mate but it's really about her figuring out her own shit.

I wanted to play with the idea of masculine and feminine because we've reached a time when men and women don't have such defined gender roles. Sydney is very aggressive and Max, the love interest, is very passive. That doesn't have to do with their gender, that's just who they are. Sydney's sister, Liz, is very passive but her wife, Joyce, is aggressive. Again, not really about gender but rather their personalities. So I think it's great that both men and women have more leeway to be uniquely themselves but it also creates confusion when it comes to dating because we're still not sure who should, say, pick up the check. That's why the book starts off with that situation going very awry!

WRMBA: How do you feel about the "bitch lit" tag?

EK: That came out of an early Publisher's Weekly review and I embraced it. It signals to people that this is not your typical fluffy chick lit. I know people will receive that label differently depending on what they are projecting onto the word "bitch" but I think the same could be said for Sydney. Some people say they love her, some people say they can't stand her -- and I love both reactions equally. When a character that I dreamed up in my head can provoke such a visceral reaction, I'm happy.

Funny thing is I read a non-fiction book called "Am-bitch-ous" while I was writing this and that was something I really wanted to touch on in the book: female ambition. In 2009, there are so many women who are not comfortable being the boss, making a lot of money, or saying "I got where I am because I work hard and I'm good at what I do".

I think everyone loves Beyonce, this global superstar who literally has it all at 27, because she always takes the "I'm so blessed just to be here" road and shunts all of her aggression and ambition off on an ALTER EGO. I swear I could write a whole DISSERTATION on the meaning of Sasha Fierce which is at once totally brilliant and totally terrifying that you have to go to that extent to be wildly successful and still be liked if you are a woman. Meanwhile, her husband, the former drug dealer who once shot his brother, stabbed a record executive, brags endlessly, like all male rappers, about how much dough he makes, can let everyone know exactly who he is. The difference in what they each had to do to get and maintain their success is ASTOUNDING.

But I totally get why women do that. Because when you don't humble yourself and play the good girl, you become labeled a diva or a bitch or an ice queen. You become Anna Wintour or Hillary Clinton or J. Lo in the early years before she learned the Hollywood game and realized she needed to tone down her badass Bronx swagger to keep getting cast in romantic comedies. *sigh*

WRMBA: Sydney is a feisty character, but she's also damn funny. Where forms your sense of humor?

EK: I always go for the joke. Sometimes I wish I could not go for it but that's my natural instinct. And I think sometimes the worst things that happen to us are the funniest. But we can't see that while we're in it. What's that saying? Comedy is tragedy plus time. So when I'm writing a book or screenplay, sometimes I'll ask myself, "What is the worst possible thing that can happen to this character right now?" And that will yield something funny. But since I am not that character, I have the perspective to see the humor. And the worse it is for them, the funnier it is to us.

I also think Mitzi the matchmaker is really funny because she was inspired by a real-life matchmaker who is hysterical! But one of the things that makes this woman really funny is that she's a truth-teller. And that's how I think of Mitzi. She tells it like it is and never sugarcoats anything.

WRMBA: Feminista features an interracial love story and multiracial characters. Do you think of yourself as a "black writer"? Have any strong opinions about how so-called black books are promoted?

EK: Do I think of myself as a "black writer"? Wait, is that a trick question?! lol I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, I went to Sarah Lawrence which was a school filled with privileged white kids but where my core crew was black, I knew a lot of people in the hip-hop world who were very rich, self-made black people, I've dated men of different races. I've grown up in a very multicultural world, in all these different social milieus so that's the kind of world I depict in my books. Even with Bling where most of the characters were black because it was set in the hip-hop world, you had people from different social classes and backgrounds because that's interesting and creates conflict for the story.

But it's interesting that when I wrote this book about the hip-hop world, I got this big push from the publisher. But I didn't get that with FEMINISTA which has now been covered in Essence and Latina and Disgrasian because it's a story that all these different woman can relate to. I attribute that, in part, to how much the publishing industry has kamikazed itself in the last 5 years but also I think it has more to do with gender than race. It's fine for all these rich, powerful men in Bling to do the most scandalous things but it's not okay for a woman like Sydney to be aggressive and not know her place.

Most of the female editors who read the manuscript were afraid Sydney would be read as unlikable and you know what? Some people don't like her! Hell, I don't at times in the book. But that's that good girl complex I'm talking about. Who says everyone has to like her? Isn't the bitch often the most interesting character? Some people don't like Sydney and there are other people who totally identify with her or say "I know someone JUST like her." Even last night on Twitter this whole convo started about who should play Sydney in the movie. (It's being shopped right now.) And it was so interesting for me to hear everyone's different ideas of what she looked like and WHY they thought that.

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?

EK: I definitely want to entertain but you can always say something while being funny and that "something" will likely be received better. Even with Bling which was a campy satire, I still tried to address the power hip-hop music has on the culture. As absurd as the habits of that world can be, I also wanted to respect the influence it's had.

With FEMINISTA, there were some anonymous commenters on my blog early on who were sort of like, "How dare you talk about or trivialize feminism!" The best, now oft-repeated for laughs comment was "For are disgrace!" But why the hell shouldn't I talk about it?!

I think if you asked 5 different women to define "feminism" or "feminist" you'd get 5 different answers because it's something that is always evolving with the culture as it should. I'm part of that evolution, you're part of it, women who make movies or appear on magazine covers or run companies are part of it, women choosing to leave the workforce to raise families, Serena Williams nude on the cover of ESPN magazine, looking sexy and strong by revealing an awe-inspiring body made of muscle SHE built...

Feminism is not this highbrow subject only to be discussed by academia. I think it's all of our lives as we're living it.

WRMBA: We've had lots of discussions around here about whether or not putting people of color on the cover of a book harms the ability to sell the book to people of no color. The cover of Feminista seems to show only white people, and gives the impression the protagonist is white. Do you agree with that assessment? What do you think of the book cover?

EK: I had a big fight with Miramax Books over the Bling cover because they shot a giant necklace that said BLING on some model's sweaty chest. It looked pornographic! The cover we used was one of FIVE different options that I designed myself. So when I saw the FEMINISTA cover it didn't look so bad to me compared to that first Bling craziness.

The FEM cover was also just a black and white sketch at first so I thought of it as race-neutral. My main problem with it was that it seemed limp. It felt very chick lit and I wanted something stronger that telegraphed the edgier tone of the book. But oddly, I never really thought of it depicting a white woman until people started saying that to me! I just thought of it as a sketch. And in a weird way, I liked that the men in the window were different colors because that was a graphic way of showing the multicultural aspect of it. Or something. At this point, it is what it is.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

EK: I'm polishing the FEM screenplay and working on some others. Dealing with the publishing industry (both experiences) has really soured me on books. Publishers are so woefully out of step. I can't imagine writing another novel until I can publish myself on Amazon.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?

EK: Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs. That's his first novel that I don't think a lot of people know about. Not sure if he ever wrote another novel after that. But it's funny as shit!

WRMBA: Thanks Erica! Personally, I hope you keep writing novels, but I'd go see a movie written by you too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

They don't call it "Black Friday" for nothing, people!

Let the consuming begin! This weekend is the traditional kick-off to holiday shopping, and, as you might expect, I want to remind you to think black books this Black Friday. (But don't stop there! Ella Curry wants y'all to be thinking black books all weekend, as she's hosting an online Black Books Weekend Nov. 27-30.)

This Friday, this weekend, whenever, pick up a book by a black author for at least one person on your list (let me know it and you could win a t-shirt!). Some suggestions:

Know someone who's been laid-off and needs a lift? What Doesn't Kill You, a funny novel about a woman who loses her job and finds her way by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, will be perfect!

Got a friend who digs fantasy? Get Shadow Valley and Great Sky Woman by Steven Barnes. “[Barnes] combines imagination, anthropology and beautiful storytelling as he takes readers to the foot of the Great Mountain, today known as Mount Kilimanjaro.” —Durham Triangle Tribune. IndieBound has a great interview with Barnes about his book Lion's Blood.

Your sister love Lisa Scottoline's thrillers? Introduce her to Pamela Samuels Young. She'll thank you!

Need to buy for someone who likes smart, witty literary fiction or books that make them scratch their head, crack up laughing, cringe, and turn pages like crazy? May I suggest the "fiendishly imaginative" Big Machine by Victor LaValle? I'm halfway through the book. My quickie review: Stephen King meets Richard Pryor.

Those seeing "Precious" and reading Push might like the novella A Deep Dark Secret by Kimberly Lawson Roby.

Give your BFF Wildflowers by Lyah Beth LeFlore. My Twitter book-friends say this is a delightful story about women's friendships (It's on my list).

Mom like romance? She ought to know Beverly Jenkins and Frances Ray. Yes, black authors even write bodice rippers and give good man-titty!

Why should you buy books by black authors?

Because if you like to read, you should know about all the good books that are out there. I'm telling you: You like it, we write it! I'm not interested in doing any "favors" for authors who write bad books. This isn't about quotas or affirmative action or liberal guilt. This blog isn't about begging for attention from white people. My mission is to spread the word that there are plenty, PLENTY, of great books that not enough people are hearing about. That's my reason.

Author Chimamanda Adichie offers another compelling reason, which she calls "the danger of the single story."

In an open letter to Oprah Winfrey author Virginia DeBerry makes another case for why books by black authors need more attention.

Author Bernice McFadden takes on "seg-book-ga-tion."

Now, I know you don't need additional reasons to check out books by black authors. But for your less with-it friends, here's my top 10 list.

Finally, happily, I want to introduce you to a couple more blogs trying to spread the word:

Check out the "Multicultural Minute" feature at Shen's Books. Here is a video suggesting YA books with biracial characters.

Authors of Color is a new blog chatting about good books we should all be hearing more about. She's got Pearl Cleage news! Y'all go on over and say hi.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month is just around the corner! Which means...it's my blogiversary!

This public service announcement brought to you by White Readers Meet Black Authors is to remind you to pick up a book by a black author while you're doing your Chrismukkwanza shopping next month. The idea behind NBABBABAAGITSNBM is that we educate our paler (or equally pale) brethren who may not be hip to great books by black authors. However, it is perfectly cool to celebrate the holiday by buying books by black writers for people of color too.

As you can see, we've got thrillers, romance, chick lit, literary, paranormal, you name it. There's something for everybody. Over the next month I'll be posting more suggestions, and asking readers to chime in. Speaking of readers....

Leave me a note in the comments about what book(s) you're giving this year and/or leave me a note that you've blogged, tweeted or Facebooked this post and you'll be entered to win a free t-shirt of your choice! Also, 10 lucky winners will get a "I black authors" button.

If you like the music in my PSA ("Afro" by Dirk Dickson), you can download it here.

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary for this blog! One year of links, interviews, reviews, discussions and suggestions. Has anything changed? I don't know. I hear from readers asking for suggestions of books to read. Perhaps the subject of black authors and how our books are promoted gets a little more space on blogs, a little more consideration in the industry. But there is obviously more work to be done.

Want proof? Author Bernice McFadden revisits the whole will-Obama-change-publishing question, which was part of what led to the creation of this blog. And she ran a great essay titled What White Publishers Won't Print, which was sadly written by Zora Neale-Hurston in 1950. Gah!!!!!!!!!!!!

And not just with authors of color. Lots of bloggers are mad at Publisher's Weekly's for their list of the best books of 2009, which had no Uterine American writers.

But enough of that for now. Be assured: I and my fellow authors will continue to fight the good fight.

Here are interviews with two interesting authors:

So many people have tapped their foreheads and told me they have their stories "all up here." I have to say I haven't believed them. Edward P. Jones makes me think I should. (Thanks to the fab Melody Guy for the link.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Impressions of "Precious"

In a nutshell, the praise and the criticism are overblown, IMO.

Not as graphic as I feared
It seems strange to say of a movie about a girl physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally abused, but it wasn't as raw, graphic or intense as I feared it would be. Other than brief icky flashbacks of being raped by her father and a few fights with her mother (who smacks her and throws things at her), the abuse isn't shown. Thank God. Count that as a mark in Lee Daniels' favor.

Colorism? Check.
It's there. All but one of the "nice" people in the movie are light-skinned, biracial. However, not as much as I thought from the reviews. Most of the reviewers don't mention Sherri Shepherd, who is a brown-skinned, thick chick and she's not abusive or mean to Precious. The class at Precious' alternative school where she finally makes friends is filled with a rainbow coalition of girls. And the "mean girl" is very light-skinned with long glossy hair.

Lee Daniels...WTF?
He spoke before and after the movie. Before the movie, he invited "all you beautiful white people in the audience to laugh" saying his film was dark, but also funny. Which, surprise!, it was. But I squirmed like hell at the invitation to "the beautiful white people" to laugh. 1) All filmgoers probably needed permission to laugh at the dark humor, not just white people. 2) Were there no beautiful black people in the audience?

Afterward, in a Q&A with the Denver Post film critic, he made some leaps and bounds in logic that I just couldn't follow or agree with. For example, he said he thought the political climate, having Obama in office, made this movie more palatable to viewers. Really? Having a well-raised, Ivy-league-educated president and first lady made us more open to a film about illiteracy and abuse? I don't see how. I think he was trying to make the point that black folks could relax a little because with such role models in the White House, we wouldn't feel like all media images have to be squeaky clean. I think. But was black people's objection to a ghetto movie REALLY what kept this movie from getting made before? I doubt it.

Also, he made some generalizations about blacks that make me uncomfortable. In his defense, he was exhausted and probably talking half out of his head after giving so many interviews and doing so many film fest Q&A's. He talked about how "we" don't like seeing images of women like Precious because they remind "us" of Mammy, and said something like "but this is a real part of the black community." And he said, "we" try to project to be the Huxtables, as if we're all doctors and lawyers, when "we're" not. 1) He seemed to not have any idea about WHY some blacks would rather the media focus on doctors and lawyers than welfare mothers. 2) Does he not know that many of us did grow up more like the Huxtables than Precious? 3) Does he not know how many black women supported that book and are now supporting the movie?

For a man talking about the lack of love Hollywood wanted to give his film about an overweight, dark-skinned black woman, I really wasn't feeling much of that love coming from Daniels himself.

The performances
Mo'Nique will get an Oscar. If she plays the Hollywood game (start going to those functions, girl), she will be rewarded for allowing herself to look like a real human on camera, with pimples and cellulite. On top of that, she does give a very real performance. When she cries, she almost hyperventilates. And I have cried like that, but I don't recall ever seeing anyone on screen do it. She goes to a needy, evil, dark place in this movie and she deserves the Oscar.

Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe has something. She's got "it." Something that makes you on her side from jump. I don't know if it's Sidibe or the character as written or both, but even while Precious' mother is hitting her upside the head with a frying pan or (constantly) telling her she's worthless, she doesn't seem like a victim. Even though we see and hear her wish she had a "light-skinned boyfriend" and wish that she herself was blond and white, she seems like someone who has something in her core that will sustain her. Precious has a sense of humor, and even though she understandably checks out at every opportunity, it's clear somebody is home in there.

It'll be very interesting to see what kind of acting career Sidibe has after this. But after seeing her in this clip on Ellen, she seems like she will be just fine thank you very much no matter where life takes her.

Finally, am I Precious?
Yes. I wasn't raped by my father and my mother never laid a hand on me, but I could relate to Precious' teenage longing to be noticed. I could relate to her daydreams about a better life, even if her idea of a better life was being on BET. Precious could barely read and I kept my nose stuck in a book. She is dark, I am light. I wasn't obese in high school. But I was surprised at how much I related to this character.

Which brings me back to a common theme: empathy and the ability to relate to people who don't look like us or who come from a different place than us, because we are more alike than we are different.

In the end though I'm left squeamish about Oprah's and Daniels' calls for us to not ignore "Precious" the next time we see "her" in public. The Precious I saw in that movie doesn't need or want our sympathy. She needs decent schools, housing, work (there's a great scene where she breaks down the pitiful hourly wage one of her schoolmates is making). Parents who actually love her wouldn't hurt either. So, yes, look for the Precious in yourself and you might be surprised to find her. Consider the uneducated, homeless and poor when you cast your votes and make your donations. But please don't be looking around the streets for some sap to feel sorry for.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are we really all Precious?

UPDATE: ringShout has published a must-read Salon about Push & Erasure. Go here.

Wow, I haven't seen the internets this fired up about a movie in a long time. I'm talking about "Precious" of course. The movie based on the book Push, which has had readers fired up since it came out in the 90s.

Full disclosure: I haven't read the book, but I am planning to attend the premier of the movie at the Denver Film Festival Thursday. I didn't read the book because I don't do well with such intensely dark subject matter. It stays with me for too long, giving me nightmares and spiraling me into depression (For example, I haven't read The Lovely Bones or The Kite Runner, which have children raped in them. And if the movie proves too raw, I've got plans to duck out to the bar.). I also had a Percival Everett-type bias against the book. Why oh why lawd do the popular black books gotta be about slaves or girls getting raped or living in the ghetto, and why come they have to be in Ebonics? Or as Dave Chapelle might ask, Why are books about black people as slaves or living in the ghetto, strung out on drugs and having babies by their father so popular and so beloved by critics? Are white readers more comfortable with a depiction of black folks as pathologic losers? Do black victims provide catharsis for white guilt? I can't help remembering Eddie Murphy's skit on SNL about white folks applauding the prisoner-poet reciting his poem about murdering his landlord ("C-I-L-L/ kill my landlord/ kill my landlord").

But let's not forget how popular Push is with black readers, for sharing a story some feel they haven't seen nearly enough. As much as some of us feel insulted that anyone would assume that Precious is them, there are thousands of women out there who relate to Precious and feel validated by her presence in literature.

But still some people believe the movie is exploitation masked as reality. Some bloggers are concerned because all too often a movie like this comes to represent all black people's stories, which obviously it is not. (Quiet as it's kept, black people are just as bad about this as white people. I don't know how many black folks have exclaimed "There are black folks in Omaha?!" when they hear where I grew up. The number of times someone black has assumed something about me because of my blackness is equal to the number of times someone white has done it. Maybe we all need to learn that one character does not, cannot and should not represent all black people; we get to be individuals too.)

I'm not here to say that anyone should or should not read Push or see "Precious." I'm here to repeat what another blogger once said, Sometimes it's hard being an African American writer (and for this post, let's include African American filmmakers too). We're kind of damned if we do and damned if we don't.

There may be lots wrong symbolically with the movie (I've seen lots of tweets on Twitter upset because it seems the dark-skinned folks are saved by light-skinned folks). And there may be lots wrong with the book too, but for a story to generate this much interest and upset I suspect that there's something right about both too.

Here's a round-up of just some of the reviews, analysis and interviews about Push & "Precious." Would love to hear your thoughts.

Sapphire, author of Push, gives a 45-minute interview to Katie Couric.
A blogger takes on the politics of skin color in "Precious."
Author Paula L. Woods reviews the movie. (Echoing my feelings about "Slumdog Millionaire," which I only saw because it was promoted as being so "uplifting," but it didn't end with nearly enough uplift to make the pain I saw on screen worth it. I still question if this movie wasn't so popular because it helped exorcise some Western viewers' guilt about their comparative wealth.)
The Root questions if the breakout performances in "Precious" will mean breakout careers for the lead actresses.
Jezebel compares Push and "Precious" and finds hope in both (be sure to check out the "nice white lady video from Mad TV!)
Emerging Writer's Network reviews Everett's Erasure and other books.
Juan Williams includes "Precious" in a Wall Street Journal article about street lit, which I think many would argue with. From what I've heard, there's nothing in "Precious" or Push that glamorizes drugs or sex or street life as many of these books do.
Is "Precious" an "orgy of prurience" or "risky and remarkable"? (Could it be both?)
Either way..."Precious" opens big.

Finally, for all of us writers and artists who feel it's sometimes not easy being us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Meet: Pamela Samuels Young

My friend Ella Curry gave me permission to use this great interview she did with author Pamela Samuels Young. I know readers here raved about Murder on the Down Low. Now Young is back with Buying Time.

Intimate Conversation with Pamela Samuels Young

Pamela Samuels Young is the Essence bestselling author of the legal thrillers: Murder on the Down Low, In Firm Pursuit, Every Reasonable Doubt and the newly released Buying Time. The former journalist and Compton native is the fiction writing expert for BizyMoms.com and is on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Pamela served as legal consultant to the Showtime television series Soul Food. She is a frequent speaker on the topics of writing and self-empowerment.

Where are you from? What is your favorite book?
I grew up in Compton, California, which gave me a very grounded perspective on life. When I mention my hometown, people automatically assume that I dodged bullets on the way to school every day. But it was nothing like that. I had two strong, hard-working parents, who still live in Compton today. The foundation they laid – faith in God, hard work and education – is responsible for who I am and what I have achieved.

I'm an avid reader who enjoys reading both commercial and literary fiction. I enjoy a broad spectrum of writers, so it's impossible for me to pick a favorite book. But if there's one book that impacted me more than any other, it would have to be Claude Brown's
Manchild in the Promised Land. I can still remember stumbling across a copy of the book at my aunt's house when I was about twelve. It was the first book I remember reading that had African-American characters and I was thrilled to be reading about people who looked like me. It was also a very gritty and graphic coming of age story. I promptly "borrowed" the book without asking for permission for fear that my aunt would think I was too young to be reading such a sexually graphic book. After that, I developed an insatiable appetite for African-American fiction. That led me to James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison and many, many other great writers.

How did you feel when you saw your first book on the shelf?
I still have a very vivid memory of seeing
Every Reasonable Doubt on the shelf at the Barnes and Noble near my home in February 2006. I went to the store on the book's scheduled release date, not really expecting to find it. My stepson and I searched the shelves but couldn't find it. I was about to leave, but decided to, ask for it at the reception desk. To my delight, the clerk found it and led us to the book. I just stood there staring at it. So much blood, sweat and tears led me to this point. My stepson took out his cell phone and snapped a picture of me holding the book. And just as I started to started to tear up, he promptly warned me not to embarrass him by crying in the store.

What is your process for creating a novel? Do the characters speak to you?
I will spend any where from a few weeks to as long as three months outlining a book before I sit down to write. I also mull over my story a lot. I'm thinking about it in the shower, while I'm standing in line at the grocery story, during my 45-minute commute to work. I can almost see each chapter as if it were a scene in a movie. Only after I have a completed outline do I start writing. And when I write, I go from page one to the last page without doing much editing. For me, it's psychologically motivating to complete that first draft, even if it's so bad I'd never dare show it to anyone. Once I have a finished first draft, then the real writing starts. I revise, and revise and revise some more. That process can last six months or more.

How do you spend your free time?
Free time? What's that? Writing is how I spend my free time and I love every minute of it. I still work part-time as a lawyer and when I'm not at work, I'm usually someplace writing – be it at home, the library or the nearest Starbucks. Sometimes I write early in the morning before work, other times I'm up until one or two in the morning typing away on my laptop. My most productive writing time is when I can get away from home and lock myself in my timeshare in Palm Desert for a weekend. When I'm in that environment, the writing is non-stop. When I'm writing, I'm happy.

Share with us your latest news and book releases.
I’m extremely excited about the upcoming release of my fourth legal thriller and first stand-alone novel,
Buying Time, which goes on sale November 1st. In Buying Time, Waverly Sloan is a down-on-his-luck lawyer who comes to the aid of terminally ill people in desperate need of cash. Waverly finds investors eager to advance his dying clients thousands of dollars—including a hefty broker's fee for himself—in exchange for rights to their life insurance policies. Once the clients take their last breath, the investors reap a hefty return on their investment. When Waverly's clients start dying sooner than they should, both Waverly, and a high-powered lawyer who’s bucking to become the next U.S. Attorney General, are unwittingly drawn into a perilous web of greed, blackmail and murder.

You can read excerpts from all my books at my website:

To schedule a visit with Pamela, email her at

Buying Time by Pamela Samuels Young

ISBN-10: 098156271X | ISBN-13: 978-0981562711

Pick up a Copy Today at Amazon

Pick up a Copy Today at Barnes and Noble

Bookclubs, select one of Pamela’s novels for your book club meeting and she will join you in person, via webcam or via speaker phone. Read more book excerpts here: http://www.pamelasamuels-young.com/books/index.html

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meet: Ravi Howard, author of LIKE TREES, WALKING

I had the pleasure of meeting Ravi Howard in Houston last year at the Go On Girl Book Club Awards Weekend. Ravi received their "New Author of the Year Award" for LIKE TREES, WALKING. He's a good writer, a nice guy and a new father!

When the phone rang at the home of Paul and Roy Deacon in the early morning hours, it often meant that someone had died. The brothers’ family owned the Deacon Memorial Funeral Home and had buried the loved ones of Mobile’s black families for over 100 years. On the morning of March 21, 1981, the call was different. The body of nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was found hanging from a tree on Herndon Avenue. The murder shook the citizens of Mobile, Alabama, especially the Deacon brothers. They had called Michael Donald a friend.

As the brothers navigate their teen years, they face familiar rites of passage; prom night, graduation, college life, but the family business forces them to confront the rites death brings, passages from this world to the next. As Roy and Paul Deacon search for solace, their journeys take them from church sanctuaries to cemeteries, protest marches to courtrooms, from the tree-lined streets of Mobile to the dark beach roads on the Eastern Shore. Added to the grief of a murdered friend, the brothers and their hometown face the first lynching in over sixty years.

Mobile had been as peaceful as its tree-lined streets were beautiful, but the murder gave the city its own sad chapter in the Alabama racial history. Like Birmingham’s four little girls, Selma’s Bloody Sunday, and Tuskegee’s experiment, Mobile had the murder of Michael Donald. In this riveting debut, Like Trees, Walking explores a fictional aftermath of a true story that will both haunt and illuminate. The novel examines death, faith, truth, and justice, elements that often intersect and at times collide. An old tale set in modern times, Like Trees, Walking explores the complexities and the promises of America’s New South.

The Q&A
White Readers Meet Black Authors: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

Ravi Howard: I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and I learned about the history of the civil rights movement from books as well as personal narratives from folks who lived through that time. I always thought the personal stories were more interesting, even when the people telling those stories were not well known.

There was this vibrant chorus of folks who had small roles but big voices and I've tried to bring that street-level perspective to my work. I guess I consider myself a novelist that deals with grassroots histories.

WRMBA: What's your latest novel about?

RH: My novel,
Like Trees, Walking, fictionalized the story of an actual lynching that took place in Mobile, Alabama in 1981. Although the crime was central, I wanted to explore the ways that reactions to such a crime were different--or similiar-- to reactions to such crimes in the past. (You can listen to the NPR story about him doing research about the murder here.)

One of the questions I had to answer was whether this was a contemporary or a historical novel. In many ways it's both. Certainly, we have to rely on the historical record to revisit events that happened before our lifetimes. I wanted to look at how we react to things that are within our span of memory. How does the public record differ from the recollections we hear from friends and family. I looked at how those personal stories are in some ways op-eds to the historical record that sometimes misses the mark on racial violence and history.

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?

RH: I would like to say all of those things are part of the mix. I look at my work like a rendition on a jazz standard. I'm not the first to take on any of my subjects, but I hope that readers can appreciate the style and approach each writer takes to commonly told stories of black history.

As black writers and poets take on history, it shows that those moments are fluid and the light we shine on them can create a wide range of images. Once history is etched in stone, I think it becomes less interesting.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

RH: I'm working on a book inspired by the Alabama roots of Nat King Cole. It's a challenging and fascinating journey.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?

RH: William Henry Lewis has a great short story collection called
I Got Somebody in Staunton. (This is at least the 2nd time one of the profiled authors has recommended this book.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

News and links

Getting Ready for the Holidays
Have you noticed the countdown clock at the bottom of the page? It counts down to National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month. Just over a month before it's here! Poets & Writers has some suggestions. Readers, got tips on good books we should be giving folks this December? Let's get the buzz started.

Bernice McFadden is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of her novel Sugar! She has an interesting idea about how to celebrate. Sugar would also make a great NBABBABAAGITSNBM gift.

New or Upcoming Releases
Rebel Yell by Alice Randall. Shelf Awareness ran an interesting Q&A with her recently. Randall is part of an interesting and acclaimed group of writers called The Finish Party.

Feminista by Erica Kennedy, which I learned about on Twitter. I loved her novel Bling so I am very much looking forward to this one. Check out Publisher's Weekly rave review of this "bitch lit" book and ask yourselves WHY HAVEN'T WE HEARD ABOUT THIS BOOK? (Drives me batty!): "This crazed black romantic comedy from journalist and author Kennedy (Bling) charts the rocky course of Sydney Zamora, a very angry single. The Cachet magazine writer decides, at 33, that she's got to get married before her eggs sour. So her rich sister hires Mitzi Berman, a successful Manhattan matchmaker, to
find Sydney's Mr. Right. Mitzi's challenge, as she sees it, is transforming fierce feminista Sydney into a dress-wearing girly girl (says Mitzi: If you don't make some radical changes in your behavior, you will die alone). Catching Sydney's eye is the fabulous Max Cooper, the spoiled playboy heir of a department store fortune, but can her politics mix with his background? Truly, their path to connubial bliss is barbed with obstacles, charted with sarcastic glee by Kennedy, a pioneer of chick lit's naughty stepsister—bitc
h lit."

Wench by Dolen-Perkins Valdez due in January. Here's the Publisher's Weekly review: "In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history, chronicling the lives of four slave women—Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu—who are their masters’ mistresses. The women meet when their owners vacation at the same summer resort in Ohio. There, they see free blacks for the first time and hear rumors of abolition, sparking their own desires to be free. For everyone but Lizzie, that is, who believes she is really in love with her master, and he with her. An extended flashback in the middle of the novel delves into Lizzie’s life and vividly explores the complicated psychological dynamic between master and slave. Jumping back to the final summer in Ohio, the women all have a decision to make—will they run? Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez’s ability to bring the unfortunate past to life."

Attention Book Clubs
In the November issue of Essence a black book club is pictured reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. (I don't have any problems with them reading a white author, btw.) Anybody know of any white clubs reading a black author? If so, send me pictures! I will post them here.

And is there such a thing as interracial book clubs?

The Writer's Life
Junot Diaz talks about the moment he really became a writer (giving hope to every writer I know).

I recently experienced a dream that many writers have: seeing a book turned into a movie. I just got back from Vancouver where I visited the set of "Sins of the Mother" (based on Orange Mint and Honey), which will air on the Lifetime Movie Network, and met the cast (Jill Scott and Nicole Beharie) and crew. Pictures are here. I'll post a link to an essay I'm writing about my adventure soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Cybils: Children's bloggers literary awards

The Happy Nappy Bookseller reminds us to vote in the Cybils (The Children's and Young Bloggers Literary Awards.)

Author Elyse Singleton's guest post in defense of "real writers"

Bestseller on Arrival

Until recently I had never given much thought to the Mamas and the Papas. After seeing the first Oprah interview with Mackenzie Phillips, I told a friend, “Yeah, I’ve heard of them. They sang Sunday, Sunday.”

“No,” he said. Monday, Monday.”

“Oh,” I said. What I knew about the Mamas and the Papas was “Sunday, Sunday, da da da da da daor “la la la la la la,” and with that failed bit of expertise exhausted, I had not much else to say.

Phillips, the daughter of lead singer John, has led a less harmonious life even than my personal rendition of their famous song. Her High on Arrival─an autobiography that details child sex abuse, consensual adult incest, and the shenanigans of people who took illicit drugs Sunday, Monday, every other day of the week, and would have invented an eighth day to take yet more drugs were that possible—is making the electronic tongue of the TV and Internet media wag quite a bit.

But I should state I have not read Phillips’ new book and do not plan to in any situation devoid of someone coaxing me to with an assault rifle. That means for all I know, it could be Shakespearian in quality and wisdom and an experience no human being interested in literature and living a better life would want to miss. For argument’s sake, I am going to assume it is not.

What I do know about works like Phillips’ is that their easy access to huge media promotion is the bane of better but less publicized works. And I have a direct interest because I (and three or four of my friends) write less publicized but presumably better works. Of course I understand that in a free market society people take their wares to the open mart and the most effective, not necessarily the best person, wins. If Phillips had declined to mainline the media, as she has done, from a capitalist perspective, it would have been silly, like leaving money on the table. But what are the rest of us to do? I, and many of my peers, routinely grapple with ideas about self-promotion. When my novel came out in 2002, one fellow I know suggested that to draw more attention to myself I should go and find Osama Bin Laden. Also, there are savvy agents, consultants, and how-to guides that can provide instruction about low-cost ways to promote one’s book that do not require a grisly death in a mountain cave in Pakistan.

I am not proposing that writers comprise an elite magical club, nor that anyone in this life gets to choose the competition. But I wonder if it would be OK to make a special pitch for ourselves, to say, hey, folks we are real writers, who have worked and struggled years to strengthen our grasp of the art. We apologize if you are disappointed that we are not the mistress of the serial killer, not the prostitute who slept with the famous politician, not the celeb who snorted an avalanche of cocaine. We may not have solid credentials in crime, scandal, and self-degradation, but we know how to do a damn good job of telling a story, fiction or nonfiction.

And the thing is . . . absolutely any subject treated in the scandal texts has been covered by real writers, even great ones. A high-nourishment-yet-fantastically-entertaining work that, like Phillips’ bio, takes a look at the 60s-spawned drug scene, is Joan Didion’s (a great American author whose company I would never consider myself in) Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Many actual writers have weighed in on the excesses of the counter-culture, from Didion to Tom Wolfe to Sara Davidson. Unless works by such people were lost in some nuclear mishap, I cannot imagine turning to an ex-sitcom star for insight and information about a weighty social problem.

Still, good arguments exist in favor of high-profile books: They bring people into book stores, and the avid reader may make more purchases than planned. Also, as my dear friend Carleen Brice reminded me, many non-writers employ professional writers as ghosts, throwing a bit more income at our lot.

In interviews Phillips’ says she has opened a dialogue on incest. It is a subject “not talked about,” she claims. Not talked about where? In Saudi Arabia? Maybe I am suffering from false memories, but I cannot recall a time in the last thirty years when the subject was not a media hit in America.

And I do not think books are the best answer to people who rape and/or drug children. The most intelligent response is simply—prison.

What public action speaks more eloquently to child sex abuse is the recent move toward extradition of globe-trotting felon Roman Polanski. After more than 30 years, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office decided it had tired of playing patty cake with rich Mr. Short Eyes, who pleaded guilty to having relations with a 13-year-old girl.

I wish Phillips well. But I do not wish to see her book fare better that its betters. No kid deserves to experience sexual assault or to have a psychopath for a dad. In a saner world she would not have been victimized, but also she would not have a book out.

Elyse Singleton is author of This Side of the Sky and a winner of the Colorado Book Award for fiction.