Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Separate but Equal: African American Authors in Today's Bookstores

C. A. Webb host of Conversations LIVE recently broadcast an important two-part conversation with authors about their thoughts about the African American section of the bookstore. Authors Bernice McFadden, Gloria Mallette and Margaret Johnson Hodge gave their opinions in the first conversation.

Authors Evie Rhodes, Roy Glenn, Tony Lindsay and I, and blogger Joey Pinkney participated in part two of the discussion.

I encourage you to listen to them online (you'll need an hour for each program). I learned of a few authors I was unfamiliar with, and was referred to this 2006 article called "Why book industry still sees world as split by race" that y'all should read.

In the 2nd conversation Webb wondered if creating subsections for romance, mystery, literary, urban lit, religious, etc. would help encourage readers into the section? What do you think? Black readers who are turned off by street lit, would it help if you could go to a literary AA section? White readers, would it make you feel more welcome if there were genre subsections? Latino, Native American and Asian readers, what say you?

Of course, not all book stores are shelved this way. But for stores that are, in 2009 race still matters.


Read in Colour said...

I would love a subsection exactly for the reason you mentioned. It's hard to find the decent black lit because I have to sift through all of the urban lit that seems to fill the bookshelves these days. Bookstores in general are broken down by genres. I don't see why the African American section can't be broken down as well.

Carleen Brice said...

I figured there are plenty of black readers who would like the convenience. Wonder if it would make a difference to others?

Lisa said...

It still seems weird to me that there's a separate section. It occurred to me that the "main" fiction sections could/should have a sign saying "for more thrillers, check the African American section" -- but that just seems to shine a spotlight on how odd it is that all books of a kind aren't together. I mean, I get the advantage to readers who are specifically looking for books by black authors, but the disadvantage to the reader who doesn't know she's not seeing all the books (not to mention the authors) just seems far greater. This also means that if I recommend your book to a friend who's headed to the bookstore, I know have to make an issue of telling her she may have to ask for the book up front. I'm certain this puts black authors at a disadvantage with readers who don't realize that all the novels by writers of all ethnicities and nationalities are shelved together == except those by African American authors.

BlackLiterature said...

I understand both points of view even though I like having a AA section. I'm not such a fan of the subsection theory as I have yet to see it done correctly.


I was shopping at a Joseph Beth book store. For those who don't know, it's a chi-chi, small chain bookstore. This location labeled the AA section as Urban Fiction. OK... I don't do urban/street fiction, but I figured I was close to the AA special interest section.

Located in URBAN fiction, next to a ton of the Street Life Volumes 1-4 genre was Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Walter Mosley and VC Murray. Basically any Black author was shelved next to True to the Game type novels.

Prehaps I was irritated that the number of street genre titles outnumbered everthing else in the section. But it really distubed me that a everyone Black was grouped under Urban. Mosley, Walker, Morrison, and Murrary don't write street fiction. Their works are completely different. It was insulting to me as a reader and I let them know.

OK... my mini rant is over. Maybe I'm not as big a fan of the special interest section as I thought. Or maybe I am hoping that people can see that there is diversity of voice within the larger group.

Carleen Brice said...

Oh that is shameful! I think that's lots of people's objection to the AA lit section in the first place. But if it were done correctly, I think it could work. I have no objection to people reading urban lit, but it's not my thing so I'd appreciate the subsections to highlight other genres.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

I would appreciate more organization in the African American section. It would help me find more of the books that I enjoy...and help me to skip right over the urban fiction section.

Or/and have the African American books also located in the other, um, mainstream sections as well like it was suggested on the blogcast.

Kate said...

Genre subsections would be *very* helpful to me! I like to browse by genre on days when I don't have a particular author in mind, and I hate having to guess or pick up every book just to find the mysteries.

Alan said...

"A Community's Bricks and Mortar: Karibu Books" Read it at http://alanwking.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/a-communitys-bricks-and-mortar-karibu/

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MG said...

This topic is one that is still relevant even as the new breed of author is coming along. Continue your good work.