Panel discussion entitled Their Eyes Were Reading Smut:

I attended a panel discussion entitled Their Eyes Were Reading Smut: The Impact of Ghetto Fiction on African American Literature which featured the following panelists (pictured above): Nick Chiles, author, and journalist, Nikki Turner, author of “Project Chick”, and “Riding Dirty on I 95” http://authors.aalbc.com/nikki_turner.htm, Benilde Little author of “Who Does She Think She Is?”, and Malaika Adero, senior editor of Atria Books

It was an interesting panel; probably far better attended and more interesting than any panel I’ve attended in the last 6 years, at the African American Book Sellers conference, held during BEA.

Generally during the Q&A after a panel discussion people, when left unrestricted, will launch into diatribes or extended commercials. This panel was no exception. However in rare cases this actually works to the audience’s benefit; as it did with this panel. In this case, the audience was full of industry professionals who had a lot to offer. One glaring example was the perspective of the bookseller. The panel would have been much better with a bookseller present. At least a couple of booksellers present made this point – including yours truly.

During the Q&A I mentioned the fact that the so called “Ghetto Fiction” author actually facilitates the sale of their books. The authors actually buy advertising, the publishers offer favorable terms, provide give-a-ways and barter services. I even mentioned that the sales of Nikki Turner’s books alone would make AALBC.com profitable. Zane is another example.

I mentioned that most literary publishers, in general, do none of the above. We already know that book sales for authors at the major houses are down – across the board. This is part of the reason. The so called “Ghetto Fiction” are crowding out other authors in both the physical space and cyberspace. I mentioned that I had a desire to promote more literary work but the publishers need to help me. My question was; “How do I get publishers to help me help them?” (admittedly, in the back of my mind I was thinking buying some advertising on AALBC.com would significantly help, but that is a topic of another post).

Another bookseller from Karibu, mentioned that I should review the materials sent to me from the publishing houses and look for these titles. This is a good idea if you are sufficiently motivated and have the time. When I started AALBC.com this is what I did, because books by Black authors were not nearly as plentiful as they are today. In the 90’s I mined the net, books stores, the pages of QBR, Mosaic and Essence, this discussion board, and reviews looking for literary titles to promote. However times have changed.

Malaika Adero in response to my question mentioned the author Eisa Nefertari Ulen the author of Crystelle Mourning A Novel http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743277589/aalbccom-20 Malaika then followed up and introduced me to this author the following day. I then ran into Eisa at book launch party for Lyah Beth Leflore, in Harlem, a few days later. So of course now I feel it was meant for me to spread the word about this author (though Adero’s reccomendation alone was sufficent).

Malaika has a tremendous amount of my respect and the respect of many others in the industry, so if she says this is an author you should read… trust me, check Eisa Ulen out. Eisa’s book will be released in August. Crystelle Mourning A Novel has been described to me as a quality literary work that is an urban tale. Hopefully Simon and Schuster will buy some advertising and help me promote this book. I also hope if you choose to buy the book you will use the link above.

Bottom line, if we want more literary work we have to buy literary work and publishers are going to have to be more agressive on the adverting and promotion front.

Peace, Troy

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About Troy

Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of AALBC.com, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, AALBC.com has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.
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  • Anonymous

    I also attended that panel discussion, and as a fellow bookseller, I felt that the panel was lacking a retailers perspective. Overall the panel was interesting, I thought that they all had their own agenda’s and at times wasn’t broad in their scope. I share your respect for Malaika, her vision is astonishing at times, but I must say that when she stated that she “sometimes feels inhibited by booksellers” I was offended. We all have a bottome line that we must hit, and a lot times we must set aside our personal interest (i.e. those literary books that don’t get the sales it deserves) to meet financial targets. She herself stated that some of the street or erotic titles allow her to publish Crystelle Mourning. (by the way… based on Malaika’s recommendation I started this book and cannot get into it, because it is written in second person) The aspect that I enjoyed the most, was the readers that were so passionate about why they read, and what books means to them. I was deeply moved by their experiences. I hope this discussion continues to take place.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

      I wish I knew who wrote this post. I would like to get their perspective in 2012 — 6 years later.

  • Ananda

    Troy, thank you for posting your reflections about the panel. Peace, Ananda