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