Monday, February 28, 2011

Nikki Finney reads from HEAD OFF & SPLIT

Thanks to Honorée Fanonne Jeffers for letting me know about the lovely videos of Nikki Finney reading from her soon-to-be-published collection of poetry Head Off & Split. Book trailers are getting so sophisticated these days with hired actors, special effects, soundtracks, etc. But sometimes simply hearing the author read a bit of her work and tell readers a little of the history behind it is the most powerful way, IMHO, to interest someone in the work.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Get your free ebook of Wading Home!

The good news: Agate Bolden is allowing free downloads of Rosalyn Story's Wading Home. You can go here until the end of February to get yours.

The bad news: It's because the publisher is so discouraged with the lack of attention the book has received. Publisher Doug Seibold writes on Agate's blog:

Please note that I’m stressing the “attention” Wading Home attracted, as opposed to “praise”; while I certainly believe it praiseworthy, my first-order concern is the dismaying lack of exposure the book got upon release--even from places that had singled out Rosalyn’s earlier work for very high praise indeed. In fact, to its publisher’s embarrassment, Wading Home has gotten hardly any attention at all--despite the hundreds of advance reader’s copies we distributed months before it was published, despite the efforts of PGW’s excellent sales force, despite the author’s appearance at BEA, despite how the book’s publication coincided with the fifth anniversary of Katrina. And despite the fact that I’ve had a hard time finding any other such novels from trade presses--novels by black writers addressing this event, which had such a huge impact on how both black people and others think about the lives of black people in this country today. Next to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Katrina and its aftermath may have been the most consequential event of the last decade. You wouldn’t know it by the response of the book publishing industry***....

I was put in mind of this issue earlier this month when I noted all the attention devoted to the statistics assembled by VIDA about women’s representation in major magazines. Ha, I thought to myself. Wait til they look at African-American people’s representation in those places. Then I thought some more: Don’t hold your breath. Black writers and editors talk about this problem all the time, but that doesn’t appear to be having much impact on the gatekeepers at the major review media, or at the major book publishers and retailers. This is an even older story, unfortunately, than the fall-off in reviewing. What’s the effect? Less good work is published, and fewer people find out about the good work that does get out there. Even for a writer like Rosalyn ... whose first book seemed like such a solid start career-wise, in terms of both reviews and sales--this diminished attention can make it impossible to build on that initial success and reach new readers, or even the readers who loved her first book.

I said of Wading Home in my mini-review about books about Katrina:

I just finished reading Wading Home by Rosalyn Story. It's a novel about a young jazz musician who has left New Orleans seeking fame and fortune and goes back in search of his father after the hurricane. An accessible, uplifting story about family set against the backdrop of New Orleans immediately after the storm. It comes out September 1st. It's published by Agate Bolden and reminds me a bit of their novel Before I Forget.
But whether or not I liked the book or not is beside the point. The real issue is how much more "worthy" of media coverage (reviews, articles) does a book's subject have to be before the so-called mainstream media pick up on it? A book that takes place during Katrina released on the 5th anniversary of Katrina seems like a no-brainer. Why wasn't it? Read Seibold's entire blog post and draw your own conclusions. Then download the ebook and then go over to Amazon and leave a review. Post a review on your own blog. Tell your book club members. Maybe the buzz will help sales starting next month.

Hat tip to Agate Bolden for attempting a re-launch of one of their books. Most publishers would have sadly moved on and cut the author loose. Let's hope like that saying "it's never too late to have a happy childhood" that it's never to late to launch a book!

***Jewell Parker Rhodes' novel Hurricane is coming out in April and is available for pre-order now.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What will we do without Borders?

By now you've heard the news about Borders closing many of its stores. I'm always sad to hear a bookstore is closing and to hear a chain of bookstores is closing 200 of its stores is really sad. (Even my local indie Tattered Cover tweeted yesterday that they were concerned by the news, saying "The closing of any bricks and mortar store is a loss.")

For some black writers, this could deliver a devastating blow to their sales. A colleague says 33% of her sales came from Borders!

I'm happy to report that my friends at the Atlanta Buckhead Borders are still open for business. If you're in Atlanta, go over and buy some books from them! Several of the booksellers there are hand-selling titles by African American authors and we need them!

My colleague read in an industry article that half of the sales that would have happened at those stores are probably lost! Dear God, Borders shoppers, is that true?! Without a Borders to go, will you simply stop purchasing books?

I hope that's not true. If you live in a city that no longer has an indie or a Borders, I will you will support Barnes and Noble. And remember you can always support indie stores by purchasing books online at IndieBound. You can even buy e-books through indies now!

And, in addition to Amazon, you can buy books online through these bookstores and others. Also, there's a new online bookstore for African American books called For every book purchased through their site, they will give one away to a child in need around the world.

Many people are convinced that the African American fiction section of the bookstore is problematic for selling books by black authors. And yet Borders' AfAm section was popular enough that several black writer friends are afraid that the developments with Borders could mean a loss of as much as a third of their sales. And yet Borders is bankrupt. This raises some interesting questions about that book-selling model and about America. Is there such a thing as a novel that's meant only for a black audience? How would you begin to define such a novel? Does seg-book-ga-tion harm some authors and help others?

The Rejectionist recently raised these questions and more getting right to the heart of the matter: race and racism.

"Racism is fucking messy, and painful, and hard to deal with. It hurts. There aren't right answers. There is no one in charge, to solve the problem. But nothing's ever going to change until we go to that hard and honest place of really and truly engaging with one another (memo to white folks: "engaging" involves "listening" which involves "not talking"). Creating genuine community in an era of terminal-stage capitalism is no easy task, but we're gonna go out on a limb and say it is the most important task of all. You think it's just books? It's not just books, it's the whole world. This stuff matters."

As always, if you take a situation like trying to make money off of art, which is already complicated, and add in race, things get "fucking messy."

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. Anybody got any brilliant ideas? What does the bankruptcy of Borders mean to you?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

African American Read In-YA

Update: Zetta Elliott, author of A Wish After Midnight, posted a link to this essay by Neesha Meminger, author of Shine Coconut Moon and Jazz in Love, and it fits so well with this blog post that I have to add it. Please read it.

On Sunday, February 20th, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, Reading in Color and Crazy Quilts will be hosting an online read-in of Dia Reeves' novel Bleeding Violet.

It sounds great! Here's what Booklist had to say about the book:
"After her father’s death, 16-year-old Hanna hitchhikes to Portero, Texas, the home of her mother, Rosalee, who abandoned her. Hanna is desperate for Rosalee to love and accept her, and Rosalee reluctantly makes a bargain: Hanna has two weeks to make friends and fit in at her school or she won't be allowed to stay. Hanna has never fit in anywhere, though. Struggling with manic depression, she hears voices and hallucinates, wears only purple dresses, and has a history of violence. Portero is no ordinary town, though, and Hanna learns that it is haunted by doors to other dimensions and plagued by dangerous creatures from those realms. Wyatt, a powerful young initiate in the Mortmaine, a demon-hunting organization, recruits Hanna, and together they struggle to deal with an ancient evil that threatens the town and Hanna’s future. With plenty of sex and violence, this is a book for mature teens, who will find Portero to be an intriguing world and biracial Hanna a startlingly unusual heroine with a poignant, memorable voice. Grades 10-12"

And while you're at it, check out this essay about diversity in YA fiction, or the lack thereof, or the perceived lack thereof, on Kirkus Reviews' YA blog.

Nnedi Okorafor, author of The Shadow Speaker (of which Ursula K. Le Guin said, "There's more vivid imagination in a page of The Shadow Speaker than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics.")
and the forthcoming Akata Witch, responded on Twitter saying, amongst other things: "i bristle when i hear that question of "Where are the people of color in popular YA literature?"... i don't write only for people of color... i am a Nigerian American writer who writes stories from her perspective and imagination for all readers...otherwise, great article. this stuff needs to be highlighted and discussed."

For those looking for African American YA books, here's a list published by the Winter Park Public Library. Here's Publisher's Weekly's list of African American children's and YA books published last fall and to be published this spring. And here's Color Online's list of "great YA by and about women of color."

Pick out a few and join the 2011 POC (people of color) Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'm baaack and on LitChat!

Today and Friday at 4 pm ET if you're on Twitter join the LitChat discussion about African American books. I'm guest-moderating and on Friday my guest author will be Rosalyn McMillan, who's new novel is WE AIN'T THE BRONTES--about two sisters who are writers. Sounds interesting, doesn't it?

Go here for instructions on how to follow the #LitChat hashtag on Twitter and Tweet Chat.

In other book news, while I was on blog hiatus the Black Caucus of the American Library Association announced 2011 literary award winners and the NAACP announced nominees for literary categories for the 2011 Image Awards. Congratulations to all!

The movie version of my novel Orange Mint and Honey--Sins of the Mother--received two NAACP Image Award nominations. One for outstanding TV movie and one for outstanding actress in a TV movie for Jill Scott.

If you're a member of the NAACP, you can vote for winners. Supposedly, there will be a place online for members to cast their votes soon.