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African-American Booksellers Look For a Turnaround

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African-American Booksellers Look For a Turnaround 
By Judith Rosen Feb 14, 2014

 

The number of black bookstores has declined precipitously since 2002, when the American Booksellers Association counted 300 members. Today there are fewer than 100, according to Troy Johnson, president of the African American Literary Book Club (AALBC.com), who maintains a list by state. But with the opening of Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center in Ypsilanti, Mich., in November, the projected opening of Ancestry Books in Minneapolis in June, and MahoganyBooks.com looking to open a physical bookstore by 2016, it’s possible that things are changing.  Read the rest of the article.
 

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Chris thanks. I updated the post.  The query is actually a list of articles PW has written that covered or included AALBC.com over the years.  I was interviewed a couple of weeks back and used that query to find the article. 

 

I was surprised to see the coverage over the years including an article going back to 1999.  There are many players mentioned still in publishing working for themselves and no longer working for major publishers.  Other have passed away, far too young, like the 1st editor of Black Expressions Book Club, Monica Harris and literary agent Manie Baron.

 

The scene, back in 1999, was far more optimistic that the 2014 article I referenced above.  I told Judith in my interview that while I have hope and am working for things to turn around.  I can not point to single indicator to suggest that it will do so.

 

The ABA who suggests that the number of indie bookstores is on the rise, is simply counting them differently, including stores they would have has included in the past.

 

that I was unaware of when I was interviewed, is something that gives me hope. 

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The only thing that will change the trend is a book that is a commercial success and crosses over. Something in the genre of Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. Black writers are going to have to step outside of the comfort zone to write a book like The DaVinci Code. While I know we have classic mystery authors like Mosely, there isn't a contemporary author who has forced readers to really be taken away with the word. I know that I fall victim to the big names in literature and my decision to read a lot of non-fiction fails to help the matter, and also that there may be books out there, but they simply aren't catching fire (pun intended).

 

When Kwan is your flag bearer in Black literature (no disrespect), readers are not going to break their necks to dive into reading; and you know like I do, it's the people who are new who walk into a bookstore that helps a store meet overhead. You can't survive on the regulars.

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Chris there are Black writers writing as well as Dan Brown, certainly was well as EL James...

 

I don't think expanding our range is the issue.  I think WE, Black people, have to stop looking to white institutions for validation.  These corporate entities have demonstrated, time and time again that they do not care about us.  Indeed, they don't even care about other white people. 

 

If we constantly look to others, Amazon, social media, whatever to change things to our benefit we will continue to be very disappointed.

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A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed a book entitled the "Savion Sequence by D. Amari Jackson.  It was a novel based on a premise similar to that of the DaVinci Code.  Its author is black and the book is Afro-centric.

 

Anyway, IMO, the elephant sitting in the room is not the black books stores closing or the big publishing monopolies.  It is the ongoing distraction that continues to be tailor made for people who are genetically wired to prefer their entertainment to be visual rather than written.  That would be television and all its hand-held, touch-screen electronic spin-offs. Reading  cell phone texts, checking out FaceBook posts or Twitter hash tags is the closest many black people come to engaging with the printed word. Black folks would rather go to the gym and get a physical work out than pick up a book and exercise their minds. For the majority of them, it's just easier to click on TV channels to get the fixes that entertain and educate. And with a program roster that has something for everyone, who can blame them?  Who needs books - or establishments that sell them??

 

There's a huge audience for the volatile reality shows, the situation comedies, the chick flick sex drenched dramas, the crime scene investigations of both the true and fiction variety, the pop culture tabloid shows, and musical talent hunts that fill our waking hours, and these genres all have black counterparts on Indie channels,  The Science, History, Discovery and National Geographic stations fill in the gap for those Blacks who have alternate interests.  And of course, there's Public TV with its series and specials that focus on race issues. The point is that in Society at large books, as we know them, are becoming obsolete and increasingly irrelevant in the 21st century.  Needless to say, if this is bad for Whites, it's worse for Blacks. And awful for bookstores.

 

Yes, there is a faithful little hard core community of black book readers, and it is important that independent black book stores stay afloat, and that young black people be encouraged to acquire an appreciation for literacy.  But the electronic age has the millenial generation in its thrall. Too bad there isn't a way to turn reading books into a trendy fad that will go viral and, in the hoopla,  give book stores a shot in the arm.

 

An unfortunate state of affairs, indeed. Very discouraging. It's enough to make you get up off your recliner - and go see A MOVIE!

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Interesting that you should mention Amari Cynique.  He is another conscious writer and one of the people I work with to try to elevate all of us. 

 

Again, I don't believe our reading community is too small to support at least one full service Black owned independent bookstore in each city that has a large Black population and at least a few websites dedicated to promoting Black authors. 

 

But given the current situation Cynique, you may be right. 

 

However, looking around I doubt going to the gym is a significant distraction keep us from reading ;)

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Actually, when my wife and I go to the gym, she takes her Kindle and reads while on the elliptical, so the gym is a great place for reading a book. I think Cynique is speaking towards where I was headed with my discussion on writing a book that crosses over. I am not saying that black writers have to cater to whites, but that the book has to be engaging enough that it "could" crossover, which would mean that the content is something a lot more universal. It's the idea that the Parable series by Butler, should have been made into a Hunger Games styled film... but it has yet to be done (which may have more to do with the religious overtones/perception of the books) while The Road which is a poorly written novel, to me, has been turned into a film. They are similar in concept, but our people in a position to make films based on books, which actually strengthens literature and the purchase of books, rarely make it happen.

 

I do think there is a fix in this discussion. White screenwriters mine White novels, both obscure and popular, for films. This in turn leads to reprints of out of print novels and increased purchase of novels in print. I honestly can't remember when I've seen a Black film that was based on a novel outside of The Butler and 12 Years, which interestingly enough proves my point about how a books sales increase and brings more people to stores. Zane realizes this and it has made her a very wealthy writer. I remember Tanarive Due was working on a series featuring Blair Underwood as David from the Living Blood series, but it never came to fruition. Had it even made it straight to DVD it would improve the chances of other sci-fi writers getting read.

 

I guess what I'm saying is, Cynique is right. We are in the digital age and content is readily accessible and distractions are everywhere, but people who don't read are going to bookstores and buying Game of Thrones because it is on television. People stop and read after they see it in film now. Is this the way it should be? Of course not, but it may be that screenwriters need to mine Black literature and work in more of a collaborative effort to help Black art overall.  Will this happen? I'm skeptical because with such small budgets screenwriters would rather make up something than to share the money with a writer which is the crabs in a barrel mentality that prevents Black literature from reaching a larger audience.

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I have witness the demise of black book stores andindependent bookstores in general for years. In addition I have also witnessed the decline of book events for black authors. I used to participate in the Read-In in Dallas that took place in the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas for years and hundreds of black children would attend, get free books and black authors got the chance to tell everyone about their book on stage to thousands of attendees. The read in was sponsored by the Dallas County Community College District and ended amid political infighting and budget troubles during the recession. Now without any full fledged black bookstores in a city the size of Dallas, where do new black readers come for. I have virtually abandoned doing print books because of the cost and lack of avenues to move the product.

 

I write a lot and know what sells in my catalogue, but I don't like to write one type of material so I venture out and write in a variety of genres. The difference between what my black readers buy and what seems to appeal to a mass audience is like night and day. How may ways can someone write about outrageous sex, drama and violence. It can seem that your are writing in a circle, but that is what sells. I had a black bookstore owner that closed the last fullblack  bookstore in Dallas, the the urban books was basically all that was selling and then that dropped off.

 

If I only wrote urban I would sell more, but I actually feel my better material gets bypassed because it is not just full of crazy sex filled situations. Somewhere along the line something has gone off the rails in the black reading community and I think it has to do with what is being accepted as entertainment. Some reader simply want titilation in a written form and the era of reading for an enlightening, thought provoking experience is fading with many black readers that want it fast, crazy and raw.

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I understand your sentiments hen81. I do feel that this is the case as well, but in true Troy fashion, I'm browsing the site and what do I discover: http://aalbc.com/authors/jason-mott.html

An article about a Black author who has recently had his work optioned.  I'm excited and like I said up above, because I see that this is a shoe, I will probably buy the books.

 

This is the thing though and it shouldn't matter, look at who optioned the book. A white actor... Is this a bad thing? No, not at all, but it once again shows that it always seems that they find more value in us, than us, or is it just they have access that we don't have?

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Hey Chris, glad to see you exploring the website.  Jason's book was not just optioned it is now a TV Series -- I believe it may be on now.  His book only had one Black character which is played by Omar Epps on the the series.

 

Chris is you wife can read and workout at the same time -- I suspect she need to up the intensity a bit ;)

 

Hen81, I typically forget to mention the reduction in the number, and the quality, of Black book event is a big issue too.  I've been trying to help promote these as well: http://aalbc.com/events/

 

As far as Black choices for entertainment goes It all points back to literacy.  As reading rates decline so to do does the scope and depth of what we read.  Our ability to understand and navigate the world is adversely impacted as well. :(

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LOL! I'm telling her you said that, because it sounds very familiar! Yes the show is named resurrection and it begins next week. I'm actually looking forward to the show and I'm glad Omar is back on television. I haven't seen him since House. I think Jason's book is exactly what I was saying earlier. It is a book that has the ability to crossover. I don't think a book has to cater to white people for it to succeed, but unfortunately for a major network to pick up the narrative, it has to feature white people.

 

What I want though is for the Black networks and film producers (Ava Duvernay, etc.) to begin mining Black literature because the movies/television shows will stimulate interest in literature. I think this is just the world we live in.

 

I honestly hate that I'm not a teacher anymore. My final class that I taught, I hosted discussions and updates on my blog. More importantly I was able to introduce a ton of writers to my students and they began to develop a deep appreciation of literature as they learned how to analyze it an academic setting. Here is a link to those articles. It was my intent to begin teaching all of my classes this way, but this was the last time I accepted any classes.

 

Reading appreciation comes from an actively engaged teacher and I was able to get students at every level engaged at the "worst" schools, with the "worst" students. Here is the link:

http://www.cbpublish.com/?s=African+American+Literature

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