Are E. Lynn, Hardy, McMillan & Perry creating art? Do they have to?

by Guest Contributor J. Smith, originally published at jbrotherlove

E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy, Terry McMillan and Tyler Perry

Disclaimer: I’m not offering any real answers to “Do E. Lynn, Hardy, McMillan and Perry create art?” It’s a topic on my mind this morning. Robin Givhan at The Washington Post has a review of novel In My Father’s House, written by E. Lynn Harris before he died in 2009. It’s pretty brutal:

Let’s get this basic fact out of the way: This is not a well-written novel. E. Lynn Harris, who completed “In My Father’s House” before his death in 2009, does not have a poetic voice or even a particularly eloquent one. This is not a work of detail-oriented craftsmanship.

And that’s just the beginning.

The review goes on to call out Harris’ shallow character description and clumsy plot development. Frankly, these are things we’ve known for years. Like fellow black, gay writer James Earl Hardy and outspoken Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris spoke to a very specific reader. While the writing in these novels don’t challenge literary circles, they do speak to black female and gay communities longing for written representation.

Which is not to say I’m giving these types of work a “pass”. I was an early fan of E. Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy simply because nobody was publishing contemporary work about black gay life in the mid-90s. By each of their third novel, the novelty wore off for me. Maybe I’m crazy, but I like my artist to expand as they continue to create; and possible help me to expand with them.

This point of view could be applied to Tyler Perry, as well. While his lack of skill seems blatantly obvious to me, the demand for his work is staggering. However, when a 30-minute cartoon can lampoon and sum up Perry’s plot devices in 15 seconds, you have to question how hard Perry is even trying to elevate his craft. Perhaps one issue is how Perry tries to do everything: write, direct, produce, act, etc. We’ll see when he puts his spin on somebody else’s work; namely Ntozake Shange‘s classic For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

Yeah, I’m afraid.

However, I remember an interview with Questlove in which he said he doesn’t categorize music as good or bad anymore. The more important question is if the work is successful in meeting its intended goal/audience. I’ve started to allow that philosophy inform my own prejudices (if only to save my sanity). This is why my second question “Do they have to?” is as relevant to me as my first.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

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