Black New Yorkers: Booklover hopes to profit from his passion
by Tanangachi Mfuni, Amsterdam News Staff
Originally Published Vol. 97 No. 40 September 28-October 4, 2006 © 2006, Amsterdam News
When Harlemite Troy Johnson launched a website dedicated to Black books nearly eight years ago, it came out of “a passion for Black people,” he said.
Today, Johnson’s African American Literary Book Club (aalbc.com) is a virtual watering hole for Black booklovers and has been called the most popular website dedicated to African-American literature.
“It’s probably a statement of fact,” the 44-year-old originator of the site that reviews books, hosts discussions, profiles authors and promotes book events, in addition to other services for the Black literary world said casually.
Sitting down with the AmNews in his study, Johnson is surrounded by walls lined with books—most of which he said he hasn’t read.
Johnson, who holds two degrees in engineering and an MBA, launched the book club website in the wake of juggernauts like Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com. But unlike those mega book websites, aalbc.com draws a particular type of reader, mostly educated women, Johnson said.
“They can [be] reach[ed] with laser-light precision, this audience,” said Johnson, who’s currently in the process of soliciting advertisers. Though holding down a comfortable day job with a global investment firm, Johnson still wants to do more.
“It’s lucrative, but I do it at this point because I have to,” the webmaster explained, reflecting on his day gig. “One of the things they don’t teach you in majority [white] schools is to be entrepreneur. They teach you to go out and get a job,” Johnson said.
The 44-year-old, who grew up in Harlem’s Johnson Houses, returned to the neighborhood years later and purchased an abandoned shell of a house blocks away from where he grew up. He’s renovated it into the chic brownstone where he currently resides with his wife and two daughters.
For a kid growing up in the projects, Johnson’s success, compared with that of his peers, is impressive, but not impossible.
“We see struggle as a bad thing,” said Johnson. But the graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, who went on to pursue electrical engineering at Syracuse University then complete several masters degrees from Polytechnic University and New York University’s Stern School of Business, sees struggle as survival.
“If we’re not struggling, we’re not going to get to another level or state,” said Johnson.
Clearly, he’s looking to take AALBC.com
to the next level. As he branches out, Johnson is encouraged by the growth he has seen in the field of Black literature. When the website began, the number of Black books available to the public was minimal. However with many authors self publishing and using the web as a marketing tool to sell their literature, the field has exploded, making it harder to catalogue all the blossoming Black writers and books on the website.