This book on the left is one of my favorites of all time.
Erasure, by Percival Everett, is a novel that chronicles a fiction writer, who happens to be black, and his struggle with the state of black books. If you're a writer, or an avid reader, I strongly recommend you read this novel. It is funny. It is sad. It says a lot about where and how readers and some say the industry views fiction by writers who happen to be black. I wrote a blog entry about Percival Everett back in October 2005.
With that in mind...
Over the holidays, I visited a number of bookstores to buy books, sign books, and see what's new on the shelves.
I noticed that every "Black" or "African American" fiction section (which is another commentary in itself -- black fiction section and everybody else's fiction section, i.e. general fiction) is quite colorful. Especially the covers that are facing outward. The sections are filled with salacious covers, scantily clad models, some guns, some shiny cars, street elements, etc... Much more colorful than the other parts of the bookstores I visited over holiday. Talked with a few bookstore employees on their thoughts, just to see what's selling and what's up, and the consensus is: The titles are selling... BIG TIME!
In today's New York Times, author Nick Chiles, shares an opinion piece on the whole "Street Lit"/"Black Lit" dichotomy in fiction today. It's very interesting reading. Good for discussion. Found it while browsing during lunchtime.
Other writers have discussed the influences of hip-hop, or so-called street culture, on literature. Many do it silently, though, and among tightly-lipped circles where you know your trust/confidence/opinions won't be broken. It's a sensitive subject among writers.
On one hand, many say the fact that these books are extremely popular means a new segment of folks are reading... maybe folks who wouldn't normally pick up a book for fun.
On the other hand, many say these books aren't holding up the strong tradition of writing and literature that we come from. They say these books wouldn't fly during the Harlem Renaissance.
Either way, there are strong opinions. What do you think? Have our books become, like our parents and elders often say, like music... where it's not like they used to make? Or is just like any other area of consumer goods -- some good, some not-so-good, and you sort through what you like or don't like?
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