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'Black characters are still revolutionary’: writers talk about the complexity of race
The Guardian: Friday 4 September 2015 08.00 EDT

Tracey M Lewis-Giggetts interviews; Tananarive Due, Bernice McFadden, and Jeffrey Renard Allen who answer the question: are non-white authors bound to the race narrative?

I grew up with African American literature. My parents hustled and jived to the poetry of Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni, and my grandparents were captivated by the astuteness of James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. I absorbed all of it.

These black literary giants drove the social commentary of their day, using their creative works as the vehicle. It’s not by accident that their writing is considered to be major work of American literature: their characters are trapped by the racist atmosphere in which they live, a context specific to the US.

Yet despite feeling empowered by these books, I often wonder if literature written by black authors, in order to be considered successful or even “good”, must address the social ills of the day. As black writers, are we bound to the race narrative? Many prominent thinkers in black literary criticism think so. (Read the full article)

Edited by Troy

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You know I find myself reading articles (online) from the Guardian than perhaps any other publication.  They write from a less parochial perspective.

I left this comment on the website: The subject reminds me of a poem Ben Okri wrote, "10 ½ Intonations" in it he explains the we must read outside our race, our culture and our class. Sure a good writer can, indeed must write in the same way.

Edited by Troy

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When I was in the MFA program, my white mentor/instructor told me that I didn't need to write with a chip on my shoulder. That I had no responsibility to anything except the story. I have never learned to do this. I have always written from the experiences I've had as a Black male in America and abroad. He told me I would eventually stop writing due to my insistence on worrying about how the writing will be received or accepted. Ultimately, I guess he was right. I haven't written a book of fiction or short stores... or poems, in years. I've resorted to business writing which is less about race and more about numbers. Does a Black writer have a responsibility to shape the text to and for Black people... I think it's hard not too. Hence the lack of a Harry Potter or big crossover novel by a Black author. Then again, the lack of crossover appeal happens in every artform except music.

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I've always followed the caveat to not write about what you don't know. It has never occurred to me to write a book about anything but black people.  I have no problem with inserting white characters into story lines because, for some reason, I feel like I know white people just from interacting with them all my life.  They are not burdened with the double consciousness of black people who, in a white controlled world,  have learned to skillfully adjust their behavior to mislead unsuspecting white people.  With white folk, what you see or discern and detect is pretty much what you get.  Of course, Blacks and Whites share human foibles and character traits up to a point - and then the race factors kicks in, at which time, Blacks become a dichotomy.  

I was around during the times when there were very few black writers to read, so I grew up reading both fiction and nonfiction by Whites. I never had a black teacher, and up until I was a teenager, all the movies I saw had all-white casts except for servants.To this day, I am still not sure how this influenced who I am.  I do know, that in my heart, I've  never wanted to be white. And all the  white people I like, are those who are hip and have soul, and all the black folks who get on my nerves are twits who try to "act white".  So, maybe I just like cool, well-informed people with good senses of humor whatever their color... 

Did I digress, - or what? :o

Edited by Cynique
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 I just re-read this,  and edited a misstatement I made.  i meant to say I never had a black teacher. I
 always mention this because I wonder if this also had a subliminal influence on me. 

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I understood this without the correction. We went to school a few years apart (wink, wink) and I didn't have any Black writing teachers either. I know for a fact this shaped me in a way that made me write with a greater emphasis on Black culture. I always felt I had to relay OUR story vs just A story.

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I went to segregated schools in the deep north; virtually all of my classmates where poor or working class Black and Puerto Ricans.  I did not attend class with a white student until high school, but that was a specialized high school which required an admission test.  My zoned high school (the default neighborhood school) would have been more same.

In all my years of schooling (including 8 years of college, I've had three Black teachers.  The first a 7th grade homeroom teacher the others were two undergraduate professors (both African American studies teachers).

Did this effect me?  Of course it did.

I think the most damaging was the class segregation, not having a clue of the possible professions, or knowing anyone in the professions that I was aware of (Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, etc).  

Reading helps me understand why we are in the situation were are in.  Who else will tell these stories?  This is perhaps why I work so hard to share these stories.

 

Edited by Troy

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That's funny how the narrative remains the same from Cynique, to Troy, to my story. Except in high school most of my teachers were Black. This is in Memphis though which was over 70% Black at the time. However in college I had four Black professors: 1 at the JUCO I attended and 3 at SDSU. Had I taken Black studies courses this would have been different, but I didn't. The reason I stayed in the education profession so long was because I thought it was important that I be there to represent US. I have finally come to realize that as much as I didn't learn, I could have taken it upon myself to learn more which is what I did. My thesis consisted of novels that I chose. We very rarely read anything Black authors in my MFA program outside of the traditional Hayden, Brooks, Wright, Baldwin and Hurston short stories and poems. It would have helped to have more narratives, but I eventually looked for books on my own. I guess with Black teachers this process is sped up and we gain knowledge of self much faster which also empowers us. Those are the systemic issues that Troy discusses as preventing us from being as great as we could be.

However, I was always aware of the various jobs and I actually saw the people in those professions because in the 70s the rich Black folks stayed in the same hood as the poor Black folks until they didn't anymore.

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