Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Online Book Club

Over on Goodreads readers Wilhelmina and Rona moderate the Literary Fiction by People of Color Book Club. Rather than starting a new club here, I'm joining theirs and encouraging you to as well. This club reads more than black authors, so I will continue to spotlight books each month specifically by black authors as that's the mission of this blog. However, I am ALL FOR everybody reading everybody and love the idea of diversifying my own bookshelves! So I'm really looking forward to it.

In March we're reading The Gangster We Are All Looking For byLê Thi Diem Thúy. The discussion begins March 1.

E. Lynn Harris on labels

E. Lynn Harris appeared at the Tattered Cover here in Denver Monday eve to promote his new NY Times bestselling book Basketball Jones. One of the things he said struck me. Paraphrasing him, he said, While I'm proud of all the adjectives used to describe me, I don't want to be limited to any kind of story. I want to write whatever kind of story God puts in my heart.

Harris became famous writing about gay men on "the down low" and Basketball Jones has a gay protagonist. He said his plan is to write 2 books a year, 1 "gay" and 1 "straight."

Listless in Denver

With thanks to Claudia for the suggestion, I've turned to Flashlight Worthy Books for inspiration. It's a site that features book lists compiled by readers. Let's compile some lists over here of books written by black authors. I'll post them next week (or when it seems we've got a good list). Some topics that came to mind:

"Best endings I've ever read"
"Black to the future"
"Books that became movies"
"10 best books by black women"
"10 best books by black men"
"Books with gay/lesbian themes"
"Best black sleuths"
"Top 10 literary novels"
"Books that made me LOL"
"Black books Oprah likes"
"Stories of danger, intrigue and adventure"
"Romances that are well-written and hot"
"Books by black folks that aren't about race"
"Books about mental illness"
"Scariest books I've ever read"
"Books with happy endings"
"Books written by black celebrities"
"True life tales"
"Best heroes and villains"
"20 best adult novels of all times"
"20 best YA novels of all times"
"20 best children books of all times"
"Contemporaries that deserve to become classics"
"10 most memorable characters"
"Most inspirational (not necessarily Christian) novels I've ever read"

You can email me at carleen at carleenbrice dot com or leave your answers in the comments. What are some lists you'd like to see?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is a "black novel"?

Let's play the old Sesame Street game: "One of these things is not like the others."

Which of these books is labled as a black novel as opposed to just a novel? I’m guessing that the prolific Donna Hill’s Wicked Ways is the book that most would associate with a predominately black audience. My question is why?

When it comes to nonfiction, the answer is obvious: a book about doing black hair or addressing health issues in the black community, etc. should be targeted to black readers. That makes sense. But what about novels? What makes a novel a black book?

It’s written by a black writer?
It’s got “black subject matter” (slavery, buppies (black yuppies), Tuskegee Airmen, the black church, the Civil Rights Movement, ghetto life, hip hop, BAPs (black American Princesses))?
The characters are black?

By those definitions, On Beauty, A Mercy, Run, and James Patterson’s Alex Cross mysteries would be considered black books, which they aren't. So maybe it’s a combination of the above factors. Say, if the author is black, the characters are black and the story is about black life, then it’s a black book.

But if that was the case, The Joy Luck Club would be a Chinese book. The Kite Runner would be an Afghani book. But I don’t think anybody thinks of them that way. Jennifer Weiner’s books aren’t written for and read by only a Jewish audience. I’m sure The Dirty Girls Social Club was marketed to Latinas, but also was promoted to a wider audience.

So what makes a novel a black book? Are there novels only black people would want to read? Street lit or urban lit, maybe? Again, I reject that argument because first, I’m not a reader of street lit and I’m black. And second, certainly more than Italian-Americans dig The Godfather, the ultimate gangsta story.

The Godfather is considered by many as literary fiction, as are Zadie Smith’s and Toni Morrison’s books. So then does literary merit decide what audience the book is marketed to? If it’s literary, white people will like it too? If so, who’s reading all those “trashy” books by white authors?

I’m at a loss for how it’s determined which books will be promoted to a wide audience and which books will (at least at first) be marketed only to black readers. The only criteria I can figure is that a so-called black book is one that will be read primarily by black people. But who decides that? How does anybody know which books will even find a large black audience?

This is the definition of black literature I’m going with. It’s from AALBC.com:
“The Black voice is distinctive and powerful. African American books explore the place of Black people in society, in their families, in their faith, and in their own minds. Books by Black authors share the commonality of all human experience while also outlining the uniqueness of being a person of color.”

This definition doesn’t deny that there may be differences between books written by blacks and books written by other ethnic groups. And it acknowledges that black books are books that anyone can read and enjoy.

2009 NAACP Image Award winners

Congratulations to the following writers!

Outstanding Literary Work – Fiction
In the Night of the Heat: A Tennyson Hardwick Novel – Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes (Atria Books/ Simon & Schuster) Go here for Tananarive's roundup of the night, including what it's like for a writer to get to walk a red carpet!

Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction
Letter to My Daughter – Maya Angelou (Random House)

Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author
Barack, Race, and the Media: Drawing My Own Conclusion – David Glenn Brown (David G. Brown Studios

Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/Auto-Biography
The Legs Are The Last To Go – Diahann Carroll (Amistad)

Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry
Hip Hop Speaks To Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat – Nikki Giovanni (Source Books/Jabberwocky)

Outstanding Literary Work – Instructional
32 Ways To Be a Champion In Business – Earvin "Magic" Johnson (Crown Business)

Outstanding Literary Work – Children
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope – Nikki Grimes, (illustrator - Bryan Collier)

Outstanding Literary Work – Youth/Teens
Letters To a Young Sister: Define Your Destiny – Hill Harper (Gotham Books)

You may recall Bonnie Glover was a finalist for Going Down South. Chauncey Mabe, books editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (who happens to be white), has started an online book club. Going Down South is his first pick. You can chat online with Bonnie at his club's site on Feb. 24.

Literary Obama

Our writer-in-chief has spurred all kinds of discussion about how he will impact publishing and literature. (This week I was asked my opinion on the topic by a journalist in Sweden!) If you want to know the answer, follow the new blog Literary Obama. Qiana Whitted is tracking everything related to the literary side of our new president. She's writing about his books & poetry, books about him and books that have inspired him.

Larry Wilmore on Black History Month

Larry Wilmore is not a fan of BHM. At least not in his comedy routine. I cracked up when I saw his "I'd Rather We Got Casinos" bit on The Daily Show (he's the "senior black correspondent," which was even funnier when he was the only black correspondent). Now it's a book. Wilmore also writes for The Office and was the character of Mr. Brown during that show's hilarious "Diversity Day" episode.

He's irreverent about BHM, and uses humor to ask an important question: what does BHM really do for us, black people and the country?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Speaking of romance...

Life is Short But Wide, (due out March 24) the Essence Book Club pick for March, by 77-year-old J. California Cooper is a "love affair between old people." It's narrated by a 91-year-old! Now that's something we don't see enough of!
Essence points out while these characters are mostly "Black and either poor or working class, Cooper's message is universal." Says Cooper in the same issue, "There are no Black liars and White liars. If you're a liar, you're nothing but a liar. I think in Black, but these stories apply to the human race."

Black Romance Novels: Guest Blogger Dee Stewart

With Valentine's Day on the horizon, we're talking romance today. Guys, a juicy novel is a great way to let your sweetheart know how you feel. Smart Bitches Who Read Trashy Books will help you decide what she might like. Want more ideas for your sweetheart, your best friend or yourself? Check out APOOO's All About Love Virtual Tour for interviews with a variety of romance writers. And White Readers Meet Black Authors is also here to help!

Here's a great article about the genesis of black romance novels.

Some authors to try:
Donna Hill
Leslie Esdaile Banks
Brenda Jackson
Francis Ray
Rochelle Alers
Readers, what are your favorite romances?

And from Guest Blogger Dee Stewart comes her favorite overall romances (see, told you we read your books!) and her favorite black romance novels. Thanks Dee!
Everything below is from Dee:
I'm a big romance novel fool. So big I watch the Sound of Music weekly. I have Pride & Prejudice on my nightstand, a complete collection of Shakespeare and the brooding Thomas Hardy novels , and I have a huge, big crush on all things Chris Botti and Sade. I got it bad y'all. I can find romance in just about any good tale. But the novels below drip with heart-yearning love and are page turners. Enjoy!

1. Atonement, Ian McEwan. Tragic, heartwrenching love story. The title tells the tale, the plot kicks in the gut. heart break at its best.
2. Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Teen angst set during the Biafran war. Beautiful prose despite so much national confusion
3. Zora & Nicky- a modernized version of Romeo & Juliette set between two racially divided megachurches.
4. Shopgirl- Steve Martin is a comic icon, but I crave his romanctic novellas. Shopgirl is poignant, succint, and pitch perfect.
5. Twilight, Stephanie Meyer.You're never too young to fall in love with a vampire. Really. Edward's tortured love for Bella makes you fall for him so badly.
6. Nella Larsen, Quicksand and Passing. Both novellas are about African American women during the Harlem Renaissance who chose to pass for white for a better life. But the love story, that thing we women want so badly, kills them.
7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Schaffer. I'm a sucker for period pirces with love stories intertwined. This one is set in WWII with a twinge of humor to get through the hard parts.
8. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates. Skip the movie and read the book. Although I want to see Leonardo and Kate again. I urge you to relish the book soon after if you can't resist the cinema. What Yates does with a story is profound and the unraveling of a marriage/rebirth of a marriage is incredible. Your heart will tear apart reading this one.
9. Stardust, Neil Gaman. Oh, I love a good fairy tale. I love an adult one even better. This beauty is reminiscent of Princess Bride, but so much more. The idea of falling in love with a star reminds me of Stevie Wonder's hit "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Me." You'll love this fantasy.
10. Tess of the D'ubbervilles, Thomas Hardy. I love pastorals. I do. Mariette in Ectasy, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. But Thomas Hardy...ooh what it does with a simple cow milking scene takes my breath away.
A bonus, an unconventional love story is Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Forget Brad Pitt for a moment. What Chucky P does with the story frame is amazing. More importantly the premise of a disturbed man who believes the only way to a disturbed woman's hurt is to believe in his own reinvention of himself is what Crazy in Love has to mean. LOL.
Dee Stewart's Top 10 Black Romances
1. Zora & Nicky, Claudia Burney
2. Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
3. Kindred, Octavia Butler
4. Abraham's Well, Sharon Ewell Foster
5. Quicksand, Nella Larsen
6. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
7. Awakening Mercy, Angela Benson
8. Jewel, Beverly Jenkins
9. Too Beautiful to Die, Glenville Lovell
10. Love, Toni Morrison

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Black History Month Links

Got any Black History Month news or planning any special posts? Let me know in the comments and I'll add them to these links.

The Brownbookshelf.com is having a BHM program called "28 days later" featuring a different black author or illustrator each day this month. (Thanks to author and blogger Denene Millner for this info.)

I'm writing another op-ed calling on readers to buy at least one book by a black author this month. Author Bernice McFadden is asking the same.

Color Online "was founded in 2005. Our aim is to provide a platform for young women to express themselves creatively and to expose them to literature and other art forms that reflect their experiences and aspirations. Our community meets online for discussion and to share our writing." Features book reviews and reading discussions of books like The Awakening by L.A. Banks, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler and Body of Life by Elizabeth Alexander. And they're having a Black History Month Writing Contest-enter and you might win a free copy of November Blues by Sharon Draper.

WriteBlack has a review of One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love edited by Rebecca Walker.

The Savvy Reader (a blog by HarperCollins in Canada) recommends 10 Books for Black History Month.

Random House recommends these books for kids for February.

Harcourt Trade Publisher's list of suggested BHM children's books.

Blogger Wild Rose Reader suggests more kids books.

A handy list of kids' reads broken down by grade from Just Read Florida.

Check out the February issue of Mosaic Literary Magazine (and consider making a gift in support of the magazine.)

Barnes & Noble Current Events Book Club discusses Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough and other books for Black History Month.

For BHM, the Barnes & Noble Studio features videos, podcasts and interviews with Tavis Smiley, Kadir Nelson, Barbara Dianne Savage and other authors.

The Carl Brandon Society suggests a list of speculative fiction to celebrate BHM.

Great list of books (fiction and nonfiction) compiled by Prof. Susan Garrett, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

A list of novels by Fast Reader on Amazon.com.

"10 Great Novels by African Americans" offered at MSN Encarta.

BHM 2006 titles from Beacon Press.

Tayari Jones writes about being a black writer during February- we get suddenly popular! (The Believer Magazine 2008).

BHM list from Library Journal.

Diversity Rocks knows how you can win a free book from Powell's or Amazon!