by Guest Contributor Belleisa, originally published at PostBourgie
There’s a game I like to play when I walk into a bookstore. Based on the the title, cover and store placement I can always interpret the marketing intention for a book meant for a black American audience. The best part of this game is that the books will, typically, fit into the following categories (they are, in no particular order):
1. Black Pathology or “What’s wrong with Black people?”
2. The literature of “sistah gurl”
3. Christian-oriented fiction/inspirational
4. Street-Lit or Hip-Hop fiction
5. The Slave Novel
6. The Civil Rights Book (This also includes Black Nationalism)
7. The extraordinary rise from street life/poverty/welfare into the middle class.
8. Poorly styled celebrity memoir, or well researched and documented hagiography
9. Black Queens and Kings
10. Hip-Hop analysis
12. The “Black” version of some mainstream topic (For example: “Black Girl’s Guide to Fashion; “Black Families’ Guide to Wealth;”) Guides will include slang, bright colors, and inevitably the phrase “the legacy of slavery.”
13. The Classics: Harlem Renaissance 101 and/or The Black Arts Movement. Toni Morrison.
14. Contemporary Classics or Literary Fiction (Mostly woman, mostly diaspora authors)
15. Non-black author writes really compelling story about black person(s); story gets awards accolades, lots of press and movie deal.
These topics produce wonderful books and poorly written books. They often represent a compendium of the black American experience, and just as often, they are simply a reflection of what publishing thinks black people read.
by Latoya Peterson
The best article I have read to date on street lit was published last month in Elle Magazine.
Author Bliss Broyard – who explored her family’s complicated racial past in her book One Drop – presents the story of Miasha, a force in her own right and the subject of envy by other street lit authors.
Miasha, a 28-year old novelist, is walking through the Los Angeles Convention Center, home to the 2008 BookExpo America, an annual publishing conference. Sporting large diamond hoop earrings, sequined Manolos, and a short, lime green dress with a keyhole neckline that reveals impressive cleavage for her tiny frame, Miasha, an African-American novelist who is one of the biggest names in urban fiction, looks as if she wandered by mistake into the crowd of predominantly middle aged white women clad in comfortable flats and faded lipstick. […]
Although Miasha has sold a respectable 200,000 books, she flies herself to the BookExpo and all the other literary and African-American festivals she attends. She prints (and pays for) T-shirts and tote bags she gives away. She maintains her website, produces a webcast featuring scenes from her life, and has begun staging “street plays” of her novels – all on her own dime. She foots the bill for lavish red-carpet release parties – complete with naked-models-in-body-paint re-creations of her book jackets – which sparked a trend among her urban fiction compatriots. “People in the game always commend me for that,” she says.
Boyard’s article fascinated me for a number of reasons. In addition the Miasha’s story, which is engaging in its own right, Broyard also adds her own history to the mix, draws a comparison to the work of Miasha and Kara Walker and sheds a light on the struggles of black authors working within the publishing industry. Continue reading