How is African American Literature Doing?

For those in the business of Black books here in America, this is a common question; “How is African American Literature Doing?”  Some find the question difficult to answer.  I don’t, because the answer is simple; African American Literature doing very well!

National Book Award Medals2017, 2016, and 2015 were terrific years for African American books.  The National Book Awards and The Pulitzer Prize honored more African American writers than any three year period before—and 2017 isn’t over yet.

Despite the lack of coverage by mainstream media, the Institutions that have historically honored African American writers have not let up; the Carter G. Woodson Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Phillis Wheatley Book Award, NAACP Image Award, and Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence are a few of the more popular awards that recognize great Black literature.

Some of the largest and most active book clubs do a tremendous job recognizing Black literary talent that might otherwise go unnoticed.  For example, for over a quarter of a century, the Go on Girl! book club has chosen excellent books for their reading list which is enjoyed by the hundreds of readers that make up their national book club. Even smaller clubs have a meaningful impact on helping to promote and raise awareness of Black writers.

Relatively newer entities like the African Americans on the Move Book Club and the African American Literary Awards Show are having a keen impact on Black Books by increasing the level of excitement surrounding Black books with their national award shows which recognize not just Black books, but publishing professionals as well.

Yahdon Israel’s #literaryswag and Glory Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl (#WRBGchat) are just of couple of folks introducing a younger crop of readers to Black books using social media as a primary tool.

There are scores of independent bookstores and online booksellers who continue to do the work of connecting readers with the books they will enjoy.

I have just introduced a new section on AALBC.com which highlights The Most Critically Acclaimed Books. This section of the site aggregates all of the books published that have earned multiple honors.  The books are listed across all genres, by year, and represent the best of the best.

The screen shot below shows below an example of one of the most critically acclaimed books of 2015, Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Among many accolades, Between The World And Me won a 2015 National Book Award, won an NAACP Image Award, was a finalist for a 2016 Pulitzer Prize, is a 7 time AALBC.com bestselling book, and was selected for 2 prominent Book Club’s reading lists, making it one of the most of the most acclaimed books published in the 21st century.

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I hope readers are able to use this growing list of books to discover some terrific reads they may have missed.

Of course, with the near monopoly of Amazon and the lack of platforms who highlight African American literature, the business of Black book’s is struggling, but the literature itself is doing quite well.

It is reasonable to argue that African American literature would be doing even better if the businesses that supported the literature were thriving.  Indeed, this is an argument that I make on a daily basis.  Good, potentially great, writers aren’t being published.  The excellent books which are are being published are failing to reach their audience.

With more and stronger independent booksellers, readers would have less difficulty discovering the great reads.  With more and stronger periodicals and websites writing critical reviews of African American books, readers would have less difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff.

To compound matters, the booksellers and publications that survive and want to support Black literature are not utilized or supported sufficiently to be as effective as they can be.

As a result, it is not unusual for an avid reader to say, “there are simply not enough good books being published.”  Again, this speaks not to a dearth quality literature, but inefficiencies in the Black book ecosystem.

It is AALBC.com’s mission to celebrate Black literature and to address the weaknesses in the black book ecosystem.  Will you help me?

June 2017 eNewsletter: The Best New Books, Author Info, and More

This Month’s Newsletter is Made Possible by Support From AmistadThis Month’s Newsletter is Made Possible by Support From Amistad


Authors You Should Know

Tracy K. SmithTracy K. Smith

The Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, recently named poet Tracy K. Smith as the U.S. Poet Laureate for 2017-2018. Smith has published three collections of poetry. Her collection Life on Mars won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

The other Black U.S. Poet Laureates were Rita Dove (1993–1995 & 1999–2000), Natasha Trethewey (2012–2014), Gwendolyn Brooks (1985–1986), and Robert Hayden (1976–1978).


Robert Deane PharrRobert Deane Pharr

Pharr (July 5, 1916 – April 1, 1992) wrote in the vein of Iceberg Slim, Claude Brown, and Donald Goines. The urban fiction authors of today are the progenitors of Robert Deane Pharr, but Pharr’s name is often overlooked when discussing the legacy of urban fiction.

While working at Columbia University Faculty Club, Pharr showed his manuscript to a professor in the English Department who helped get it published by Doubleday. That first novel, was The Book of Numbers .


Penny MickelburyPenny Mickelbury

Penny Mickelbury is a playwright, journalist, and novelist. She was actually one of the first authors profiled on AALBC.com. Her novel, Keeping Secrets was the first of a series featuring Gianna Maglione, a lesbian chief of a hate-crimes unit based in Washington D.C. and her lover Mimi Patterson, a journalist.

Her second series features Carol Ann Gibson, a Washington D.C attorney who is widowed in the first book and subsequently runs an investigation agency with Jake Graham, the detective who investigated her husband’s death.


Recently Reviewed Books

Granddaddy by Cavis Adams - Reviewed by Carol TaylorGranddaddy by Cavis Adams – Reviewed by Carol Taylor

Granddaddy is a poignant literary novel, told mostly in a stream of conscious narrative, that traces a family’s emotional journey through their memories of the brutal lynching era in the South.

Facing his final days, Jeremiah contemplates his daughter Lilly May and twelve-year-old Curtis, the grandson he’s never met. He regrets the memories he didn’t make with them because he lacked the courage to leave the countryside. Sensing her father is coming to the end of his days, Lilly sends Curtis south from Minnesota to Alabama to meet his grandfather, for what may be Jeremiah’s last summer. As Curtis connects to his granddaddy, Lilly and her husband Howard’s marriage deteriorates.


Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama by David J. Garrow - Reviewed by Kam WilliamsRising Star: The Making of Barack Obama by David J. Garrow – Reviewed by Kam Williams

Pulitzer Prize-winner, David J. Garrow, has published an epic opus of 1,472 pages on the life of Barack Obama, focusing on the years prior to the presidency. And it’s a safe bet that Garrow just might eventually write a sequel about POTUS 44’s time in the White House, too.

Any Obama fan is likely to find this in-depth portrait fascinating, as it is filled with plenty of little-known factoids and anecdotes about him. For example, it chronicles a childhood spent mostly on Hawaii where he was basically raised by his maternal grandparents in the absence of both his mother and father.


When Minorities Lead in America: A Black Theologian’s Political Journey by Herman J. Fountain Jr. - Reviewed by Alexis E. JacksonWhen Minorities Lead in America: A Black Theologian’s Political Journey by Herman J. Fountain Jr. – Reviewed by Alexis E. Jackson

A worthwhile read, When Minorities Lead in America by Dr. Herman J. Fountain Jr. is one man’s theologically-influenced “political journey” to understanding the new America. Woven with Fountain’s upbringing and (sometimes) heartbreaking stories, we learn that a minority-led America, the “new majority,” is not too far off, and how this shift in power would impact wealth distribution, power, employment, and education (to name a few).

While this is hard to grasp, that a time will be reached with Latinos, African Americans, and immigrants running the system, Fountain makes very convincing claims regarding this societal transformation.


Recommended Reads

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal WilkinsonThe Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson

Winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

From the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street comes an astonishing new novel. A lyrical exploration of love and loss, The Birds of Opulence centers on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness.

Crystal Wilkinson offers up Opulence and its people in lush, poetic detail. It is a world of magic, conjuring, signs, and spells, but also of harsh realities that only love—and love that’s handed down—can conquer. At once tragic and hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own.


New Books Coming Out July 2017

Period Pain by Kopano MatlwaPeriod Pain by Kopano Matlwa

Period Pain captures the heartache and confusion of so many South Africans who feel defeated by the litany of headline horrors; xenophobia, corrective rape, corruption and crime and for many the death sentence that is the public health nightmare. Where are we going, what have we become? Period Pain helps us navigate our South Africa. We meet Masechaba, and through her story we are able to reflect, to question and to rediscover our humanity.


Seeking Sarah: A Novel by ReShonda Tate BillingsleySeeking Sarah: A Novel by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

From the time Brooke Green was seven years old, she has lived with the pain of losing her mother. Her father has done the best job he could in raising her, but a piece of her always felt empty. On the day of her father’s funeral, her grandmother breaks the shocking news: her mother, Sarah, is very much alive. She abandoned her family because she claimed she wasn’t fit for motherhood. After doing some research, Brooke discovers her mother is living in Atlanta, enjoying a great career and a brand new family. Stunned, Brooke doesn’t know if she wants answers or revenge against the mother who abandoned her. When she meets Sarah’s husband, Tony, Brooke sees the perfect way to make her mother pay.


What Is Africa to Me?: Fragments of a True-to-Life Autobiography by Maryse CondeWhat Is Africa to Me?: Fragments of a True-to-Life Autobiography by Maryse Conde

Maryse Condé is one of the best-known and most beloved French Caribbean literary voices. The author of more than twenty novels, she was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2015 and has long been recognized as a giant of black feminist literature. While Condé has previously published an autobiography of her childhood, What Is Africa to Me? tells for the first time the story of her early adult years in Africa—years formative not only for her, but also for African colonies appealing for their own independence.


Miles Morales (A Marvel YA Novel) by Jason ReynoldsMiles Morales (A Marvel YA Novel) by Jason Reynolds

“Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you’re on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins.”

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.


New Videos: Sampling of Book Events Across the CountryNew Videos: Sampling of Book Events Across the Country

I’ve had the privilege of being able to attend several terrific events this past month and recorded some wonderful material from across the country. Here is just a sample:

▪ Teri Woods embraces “Urban Fiction” during speech at the AAMBC Awards
▪ The Mantel’s Shaun Randol, NYC Based Publisher of African Writers
▪ Davita Mckelvey of Griots Republic Magazine talks about #BlackTravel: The Anthology.
▪ Marcus Books of Oakland, CA one of the nation’s premier indie bookstores
▪ Deborah Day Ashay by the Bay Bookstore at the Sacramento Black Book Festival

To learn when new videos are published and to discover hundreds of others subscribe to our YouTube channel.


Vote for Your Favorite Black Author of the 21st CenturyVote for Your Favorite Black Author of the 21st Century

Authors who have received the most votes so far include Bernice L. McFadden, Chimamanda Ngozi, Colson Whitehead, Edwidge Danticat, and Eric Jerome Dickey. Let your voice be heard by casting your vote.


Discover Over 140 Book Fairs, Festivals, and Conferences


Join the Conversation

Click any of the links below and let us know what you think.

Would you spend a little more, or wait a little longer, to support a owned bookstore?
▪ Is man made climate change fact or fiction?
Do white American men need a quota to play in the NBA?


2 for 1 Summer Book Promotion Special2 for 1 Summer Book Promotion Special

I’m offering the deal that gets your book onto our Home Page and our Book’s Main Page for 80 days, instead of the normal 40 days, for only $79. That is less than $1 per day to promote your book to thousands of readers. You may also run two different books for 40 days each.

I’d advise you to act now; these positions will go quickly and this deal will not be repeated this year.


Dear Reader,

Troy Johnson, honored on June 10, 2017, with the Literary Activist AwardI was honored on June 10, 2017, with the Literary Activist of the Year Award by the African Americans on the Move Book Club! The award was presented during a wonderful event held in Atlanta Georgia.

My hat goes off to Tamika Newhouse and her team for hosting such a tremendous event. I thank everyone who voted for me to receive this award. Finally, I thank my family who also sacrifice to make AALBC.com possible.

Troy, as always please know that AALBC.com continues to grow because of your support. Spread the word about our site, post your comments on our pages, and please consider purchasing your newsletter subscription.

Thanks for reading and celebrating Black culture.
Peace & Love,
Troy Johnson
Troy Johnson,
Founder & Webmaster, AALBC.com


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AALBC.com eNewsletter – June 29, 2017 – Issue #246

2 Ways Google is Killing Online Booksellers & How You Can Help

(1) Google Uses its Dominance in Search to Hijack Traffic from Websites

Google does this by placing content, it has collected from other websites, ahead of their search engine results, to sell its own products and services.  Google engages in this practice in a wide variety of areas from restaurant ratings to travel directions.

However, Google has had a particularly devastating impact on online booksellers—Google has literally embedded its own online bookstore prominently in their search engine results.  Rather than directing visitors to other websites, which should be the purpose of a search engine, Google is abusing their virtual monopoly in search by standing in bookseller’s virtual doorways and grabbing visitors before they can enter.

I’ve been tracking, and participating in, online book sales for 20 years.  My niche is Black literature and the impact on this group of sites has been particularly devastating.

Despite websites being less expensive and easier to create than ever before, there are far fewer websites dedicated to black literature today than there were 10 years ago. Those that remain are struggling to grow because they are unable to attract enough visitors to generate the revenue needed to maintain their websites.

The video below demonstrates how Google does this:

 

(2) Google’s Virtual Monopoly in Search Allows Them to Control Which Sites are Visited

I would argue that Google’s search engine is one of the the most significant developments on the web.  In fact, I use Google’s search engine on this site, because it is an excellent service (Google is discontinuing this service in 2018).

Unfortunately, Google does make mistakes, and these mistakes and be very costly if not catastrophic for the affected business.  Consider the following graph from Semrush’s website, which shows their estimate of this site’s traffic.

Graph of AALBC.com Traffic hit

While Semrush’s data is not prefect, they estimate a site’s traffic based upon how frequently it shows up in Google’s search results (big data stuff), they did correctly identify a significant drop in traffic to AALBC.com, back in 2011.  The drop in traffic was a direct result in a reduction of traffic from organic search from Google.

Now Google never provided, or even made themselves available for, an explanation of this dramatic, overnight, drop in traffic from search.  Many, less sophisticated, web site owners never knew what hit them. The drop in our traffic was apparently the result of a change in the code Google used to rank websites. Affected businesses were left to speculate on the specific underlying reasons for their site being penalized in search engine results.

This lack of transparency from Google has fostered a industry of people touting services to help you understand and improve (or game) your site’s search engine rankings.

This has also fostered a level of paranoia, which has led to an unwillingness of websites to link to each other for fear they could hurt their own site’s ranking in search. This behavior actually puts more power into Google’s hands, as websites are no longer a good way to discover other sites.  AALBC.com has never stopped linking to other good sites. Part of the value the site our site provides is helping visitors discover other websites they will enjoy.

From my experience, the best way to address Google’s search engine rankings is to follow all of Google’s recommendations and guidelines.  No matter how you feel about it, if you want your site to rank on the only search engine that matters, you must follow Google’s rules.

AALBC.com’s traffic has completely recovered 2011. 2017 is on track to be a record year for page views. Visitor quality is also better; visitors look at more pages and stay on the site longer.

AALBC.com is a higher quality site because of my adherence to Google’s mandates, but I invest a significant portion of my time addressing “Google Issues.”  This time and energy comes at the expense of creating valuable content for the site.

The environment created by Google also discourages the creation of new sites because it is not enough to produce quality content, you must also be well versed in Google search engine optimization.

Google Makes the World Wide Web a Less Rich Place

Because of these practices and more, Google makes the World Wide Web a much less rich place.  We are rapidly reaching a point where only the most massive corporate sites have a chance at survival.

Google has argued that they are trying to create the best possible experience for their visitors. In reality, what they have done is help make the web less accommodating to diversity and creativity, by making it an environment hostile to independence and where only the wealthiest companies have a chance to maintain a profitable platform.

Many who would have operated their own website, just 5 years ago, are now using Facebook as their primary web presence, because they believe their chances for discovery and survival are better on Facebook. As a result, visitors need a Facebook account to engage with this content. Once on Facebook visitors are treated to the same cookie cutter style and presentation. This situation contributes to concentrating of wealth into the hands of a few massive corporations. The rich get richer and wealth inequality continues to rises…

What Can You Do?

Support independent bookseller websites by;

  • Visiting their websites (here are more than 50);
  • Purchasing the products they sell;
  • Sharing their content by utilizing word of mouth, social media, anyway that makes sense;
  • Linking to bookseller websites from your website or blog;
  • Engaging with their content by leaving comments and participating in their discussion forums; and
  • Buying advertising on their platforms if available;

Sure, buying from an indie bookseller, might cost you a bit more on the price and you may need to wait a little longer to receive the product, but will we be better if the only place we can buy a book is from Google and Amazon?

Join our conversation about the importance of independent booksellers (both online and physical stores).

Support Independent websites, including this one, especially if you want them to thrive rather than merely survive.