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Chrishayden

Why is Black Literary Fiction Languishing?

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1) It stinks

2) It is written in a code--like that of Modern Poetry--that afficinadoes of literary fiction or intellectuals understand but nobody else does. For instace, I was rading a piece called "Homesick Blues" in Terry McMillains groundbreaking 1990 anthology, BREAKING ICE that was my Bible back in the day.

The story refers to H. L. Mencken. I know who Mencken is, and knew who he was then, because I was in the lit fiction game. But the average person does not know who James Baldwin was, much less H. L. Mencken.

(You think I am overstating the case. I spoke to a very well educated Black woman the other day who was puzzled about the hostility between the U.S. and North Korea. "Well, that was that little War we fought with them from 195-1953," I answered. She as unaware of it.

Most people read fiction for pleasure. They do not have nice cushy jobs at a college. They work awful boring jobs and do REAL work and don't want to come home, tired and have to work some more looking up every other word in a story.

I don't have to. I read and study widely. Chances are I'll come across the name of Mencken by accident.

Hemningway didn't go to no college. Shakespeare didn't go to no college. James Baldwin didn't go to no college.

They all produced work that is studied in college.

Today's college trained, college employed writer cannot produce work that can be appreciated by people who are not in a library 10 hours a day.

In other words,in the immortal words of Emil Zola when literary types wonder why nobody reads their dull, derivative works I shout out J'ACCUSE!

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H.L. Mencken endeared himself to me years ago when I read his quote about "nobody ever going broke, betting against the intelligence of the American public".

Just as historians once wrote about Europe's "age of enlightenment", a hundred years from now, those who still have control over their minds, will provide an account of America's "age of dumbing down".

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Let's face it--America is all about Da Benjamins, and nobody will pay you for knowing about H.L. Mencken but a school or a literary magazine--and if you don't know you can google it.

I don't think it's so much dumbing down as a change of media--America has gone audio visual, and everybody who is not audiovisual is out.

These people are not dumb--they are ignorant--but reading print for pleasure cannot compete with viewing movies--you can do three four movies in the time it takes to read the shortest book--you can be with friends sharing the experience, eating, drinking, make it into a social event.

Reading takes place alone.

Reading is also passive. People want interactive now. Press a button and move the arrow and do something.

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Guest SandrineT

I think it's because there is a declining appreciation for the quiet craft of writing among black writers. Not to pick of writers of Urban Literature, but their target audience doesn't demand anything above their writing style, and as with most aspiring writers, the budding black writers of the next generation are more likely to read Urban Lit and aspire to that writing style, than to learn the craft by studying a wide variety of black authors, from classic black literature to science-fiction to mystery to romance to Urban Lit.

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Hello All,

There are several reasons why Black Literature is languishing

1.) Education - Let's keep it real or keep it moving; it has turned out that the education that a black person could get back in the day, not accounting for the deplorable school systems down South, was a lot better. Today with all of these fancy new teaching methods and technology, we have a few generations that are a few notches above illiterate. Don't believe me. Sit down with a couple of our children and ask them to read you a story. 3/4 of them, after reading to you out loud, will put fear into you concerning the future. I don't see nothing wrong with looking up words in a dictionary. It's called vocabulary building. But, then I was educated in another age and not the current one.

2.) I don't care how post Obama some industries claim to be, many in the publishing industries are still racist. Let's face it, we, the black audience reinforced their prejudice. That big book boom we had, we destroyed. Because we didn't "spread" the love and stayed stuck on the You-Go-Girl books, and then the thug books, the higher ups in the industry, kept pumping them out. Because in their eyes, these were the only books they could make a profit off of. We didn't try reading those other books because they were "too hard" (this also links back to my first point). And because the publishers were marketing those books just to black women, they figured there's no need to have any quality control or even to make sure the author could actually write and read English at a high school senior level (again, reference back to point 1), we got a lot of books thrown at us that was pure de sh_t!! What was bound to happen next, did happen; these same black women that was so pumped up reading that trash, got tired of reading the same story over and over and over again. This in turned the publishers profits to sh_t, which in turn lead them to the decision that there's not need publishing black authors (because they have all been lumped into the same category now) because there's no money in it. Now this falls under the category of "be careful what you wish for, you might get it".

3.) Not all Black Literature is languishing, it depends on where you look. If you have been following me this year, I have shown my love for the books from a small independent publisher, Akashic Books. This year they've published Jesus Boy by Preston Allan and Glorious by Bernice McFadden. They are still a small, small few still at the big publishing houses like Eric Jerome Dickey. For the most part, the books are out here, you just have to look for them. This is not new for a lot of us who are use to looking for black fiction and black history books. For instance, right now I'm reading The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker by Alice Walker. I am learning, to my great shame, that Alice Walker has a vast literary legacy. There is more to her literary output than just The Color Purple, or the two novels by her that I have read. I did not know Walker had written so much poetry, essays, or short stories. I also did not know that at one time she belonged to a group of black female writers who called themselves The Sisterhood. Walker and Toni Morrison are the only two members of that group whose works are still in print today.

We need to do better than this people. We have got to learn to support our new authors as well as elders. There's really no reason for us not doing our part, because we still have to go that extra mile or extra step to get to where we ought to be, need to be, should be.

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Hello All,

There are several reasons why Black Literature is languishing

1.) Education - Let's keep it real or keep it moving; it has turned out that the education that a black person could get back in the day, not accounting for the deplorable school systems down South, was a lot better. Today with all of these fancy new teaching methods and technology, we have a few generations that are a few notches above illiterate. Don't believe me. Sit down with a couple of our children and ask them to read you a story. 3/4 of them, after reading to you out loud, will put fear into you concerning the future. I don't see nothing wrong with looking up words in a dictionary. It's called vocabulary building. But, then I was educated in another age and not the current one.

2.) I don't care how post Obama some industries claim to be, many in the publishing industries are still racist. Let's face it, we, the black audience reinforced their prejudice. That big book boom we had, we destroyed. Because we didn't "spread" the love and stayed stuck on the You-Go-Girl books, and then the thug books, the higher ups in the industry, kept pumping them out. Because in their eyes, these were the only books they could make a profit off of. We didn't try reading those other books because they were "too hard" (this also links back to my first point). And because the publishers were marketing those books just to black women, they figured there's no need to have any quality control or even to make sure the author could actually write and read English at a high school senior level (again, reference back to point 1), we got a lot of books thrown at us that was pure de sh_t!! What was bound to happen next, did happen; these same black women that was so pumped up reading that trash, got tired of reading the same story over and over and over again. This in turned the publishers profits to sh_t, which in turn lead them to the decision that there's not need publishing black authors (because they have all been lumped into the same category now) because there's no money in it. Now this falls under the category of "be careful what you wish for, you might get it".

3.) Not all Black Literature is languishing, it depends on where you look. If you have been following me this year, I have shown my love for the books from a small independent publisher, Akashic Books. This year they've published Jesus Boy by Preston Allan and Glorious by Bernice McFadden. They are still a small, small few still at the big publishing houses like Eric Jerome Dickey. For the most part, the books are out here, you just have to look for them. This is not new for a lot of us who are use to looking for black fiction and black history books. For instance, right now I'm reading The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker by Alice Walker. I am learning, to my great shame, that Alice Walker has a vast literary legacy. There is more to her literary output than just The Color Purple, or the two novels by her that I have read. I did not know Walker had written so much poetry, essays, or short stories. I also did not know that at one time she belonged to a group of black female writers who called themselves The Sisterhood. Walker and Toni Morrison are the only two members of that group whose works are still in print today.

We need to do better than this people. We have got to learn to support our new authors as well as elders. There's really no reason for us not doing our part, because we still have to go that extra mile or extra step to get to where we ought to be, need to be, should be.

And there you have it !

Linda

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it has turned out that the education that a black person could get back in the day, not accounting for the deplorable school systems down South, was a lot better.

(You don't actually believe this, do you? Do you believe that black people were better educated "back in the day"? When they were using textbooks that were ten twenty years old? When their school days were shortened so that they could work in the fields?

This was not in 1850--this was in 1950. At the grade school I went to we got recent arrivals from the south who were 13 and 14 years old who had to go into the third grade--and it wasn't because they were dumb or not trying but they had been deliberately undereducated.

Black people are better educated today than ever.

How many black people back in the day could have worked a personal computer?)

I don't see nothing wrong with looking up words in a dictionary. It's called vocabulary building. But, then I was educated in another age and not the current one.

(Nowadays they go online to do that. They don't need a dictionary. Get with the program)

We didn't try reading those other books because they were "too hard"

(I have said this before. The average person is leading a life of such boredom and tedium you can't even believe. They don't want to sit down and work over some thick literary book--they want to relax.

I have said this before--today it's all about getting paid. Who the hell cares if you are reading Proust or Maya Angelou if you are not a teacher or a literary critic.

How can you sit here and denigrate black people for not reading when the average white adult does not read a book in a year not even one.

They seem to be doing pretty good, don't they?

George Bush didn't read books. He did pretty good, didn't he?)

I have shown my love for the books from a small independent publisher, Akashic Books. T

(

Ain't nobody but you reading them books. The number of people reading them books is statistically insignificant.

Literary Fiction is dead. Couldn't have happened soon enough in my book. All it provided was a means for some slackers and slugs to stand around who couldn't tie their own shoes to go to parties and act like they were better than somebody else.)

We need to do better than this people. We have got to learn to support our new authors as well as elders. There's really no reason for us not doing our part, because we still have to go that extra mile or extra step to get to where we ought to be, need to be, should be.

(All hell is breaking loose. Law and order is breaking down, the economy is in the doldrums, the nation is under attack from terrorists, we are going broke and all you can do is take a pinch of snuff from your silver snuff box, arch your brow, sneer and say how the unwashed masses are not reading Alice Walker.

Wonder what you are going to do if you need to use those wonderful volumes to start a fire to keep warm?)

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the budding black writers of the next generation are more likely to read Urban Lit and aspire to that writing style, than to learn the craft by studying a wide variety of black authors

(The budding black writers of the next generation--like the budding black writers of the present one--are being produced in schools and universities and writing programs where they are exposed to the canon--Urban lit ain't on it. You think they teach Sistah Souljah at the Iowa Writer's Workshop? You think all that's what all the Fine Arts departments of all these white universities where most of these people are educated are teaching them that?

This ain't 1850 with the Negroes learning how to read and write underneath a blanket at night. Where do Negroes get this stuff? I don't even recongize the world they seem to be describing. Negroes is undereducated not like dey wuz back w'en I was a chile in de ole one room school house an at Tuskeegee wit Booker T.

Seriously, folks!

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Hello All,

I'm breaking my own promise to myself not to talk to you Chris, it's usually an exercise in futility.

Chris: You wrote "Ain't nobody but you reading them books" in reference to the Akashic portion of my post.

And there in lies the problem! Frankly, I'm never heard in history past of a civilization, or a people, destroying themselves because the people READ too much! Your argument is ridiculous and nonsensical.

Chris: Oh and this one is just priceless "Literary Fiction is dead. Couldn't have happened soon enough in my book. All it provided was a means for some slackers and slugs to stand around who couldn't tie their own shoes to go to parties and act like they were better than somebody else"

Really, Chris, Really? My how soon we forget. I seem to remember a novel titled, "A VAMPYRE BLUES: THE PASSION OF VARNADO" Would you like to tell the people who wrote that book, or should I? *eyebrow raised* Oh, that's OK, let me do it. The, now how did Chris put it, the person who wrote the novel A Vampyre Blues: The Passion of Varnado is none other than our very own CHRIS HAYDEN! The he-can't-tie-his-own-damn-shoes, lazy slacker, with an (and I simply can't stress this enough, with no amount of exaggeration) extremely over inflated ego. Well, you know what Chris, if this is how you see yourself, I couldn't agree with you more! You know I'm with you when you're right! *LMAO*

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Come on, Chrishayden! Thumper qualified his statement about black people being better educated back in the day by saying "except in the South". The example you gave to refute his claim was descriptive of how things were in the South. Your experience as a school boy in St. Louis were not comparable to your southern counterparts. And although you could've benefitted from some anger management counselling, you apparently received a good education. - back in the 50s. You continue to use the south as a microcosm when assessing the 1950s, refusing to acknowledge that the North was not the domain of Jim Crow.

I agree with Thumper when he says that Blacks were better-educated back in the day than they are now - when it comes to the products of public schools. I agree with you when you say the priorities are different today. It has, however, been my observation that for the most part, members of the current generation with all of their visual and audio skills and instant access to information, are shallow self-absorbed people, not well-rounded or well-informed. Knowledge is power; something these intellectually-challenged mopes have yet to discover.

Time brings change. Reading and writing must be preserved. Somebody has to write about how things were before the change, and others have to be able to read about this so that lessons of the past can be applied to the present. Yes, literary fiction is on its last legs, but access to its archives should always be available for those who opt for the written word to stimulate their minds.

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Intersting conversation. The death of "Black Literary Fiction" is but symptom of a much larger societal problem.

Of course Black folks are the canaries in the mine.

Black literary fiction, literary magazines, intelligent film, serious television, music, websites, you name it, will be increasingly difficult to make commercially viable going forward.

The only ones who will try to produce this stuff, including Black Literary Fiction, will be; subsidized by the government (not for profit), or be on a mission. Either way they will not be interested in getting rich or even making very much money...

We don't have very many people in our community willing to invest in this type of thing. Oprah will seemingly support Tyler Perry before Spike Lee. If makes business sense. Besides we make Tyler box office king. I watched 30 minutes of Soike Lee's Do the Right thing the other nigth, that 30 minutes was better than all of Perry movies combined.

I have to sign off as my flight is landing....

@aalbc

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Your experience as a school boy in St. Louis were not comparable to your southern counterparts.

(St. Louisans especially try to deny this but St. Louis is in the SOUTH!

They owned slaves in this state. It almost went for the Confederacy. The DRED SCOTT decision was rendered here.

Come on, now! Get with the program!)

The example you gave to refute his claim was descriptive of how things were in the South.

(Furthermore, up until the Great Migration of the 1920's to 1950's most blacks lived in the South. How many people my age can go back more than two generations in the North? I know I can't. You guys are living in a Wish factory)

I agree with Thumper when he says that Blacks were better-educated back in the day than they are now - when it comes to the products of public schools.

(Maybe SOME of those Blacks from SOME of those schools were. Even in the north the education was substandard for most)

Yes, literary fiction is on its last legs, but access to its archives should always be available for those who opt for the written word to stimulate their minds.

(At this, I have to go Asian on ya. I was at a party for the launch of a literary magazine and there was this Asian professor of philosophy there. He was bemoaning the fact that nobody was interested in philosophy (this was in the 90's) I asked why. He explained that nobody wanted to think about that until things went absolutely wrong. Socrates came forth after Athens had lost the Peloponesian War.

Things are to the point now, nobody WANTS to stimulate their minds. Look at the screwball comedies of the 1930s)

Black literary fiction, literary magazines, intelligent film, serious television, music, websites, you name it, will be increasingly difficult to make commercially viable going forward.

(There it is. If literary fiction was so hip, the literary writers would write some stuff that would knock the urban lit people right out of the box. Of course, by definition and practice, literary fiction will not do it because it does not appeal to the masses.

Lit people have lost the will and desire to entertain. Poe, Dickens, Hemingway, all these cats couldalso entertain. Of course, they had lives. They moved among real people. They were not cocooned in the ivory tower all the time.

It is interesting that the lit writers so often quoted wrote before the 90s--Baldwin, Hughes, Wright, Morrison, Walker, et al.

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I mean, is we really wth it on this site, or is we ain't?

Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker--yeah, they cool--but they was hot 20-30 years ago.

Who is hot now?

Do folks on this site read PARIS REVIEW? or CALALOO? Do they look at POETS and WRITERS?

Who here has read Best American Short Stories 2009?

I see all this criticism of Urban Literature but at least they are publishing and pushing stuff.

These Litcritturs wanna lay back in the cut (up in the library) and nibble on roots and berries and sip Perrier water and wait for somebody to come to them.

Doesn't the Literary Fiction Community bear responsibility for this state of affairs by being dull torpid and irrelevant?

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Hello All,

Chris: You know what, let's be clear on a couple of things. First, there is a difference between literary fiction and fiction. In all seriousness, somehow the two got confused with eachh other, or the labeling got changed or something. Correct me if I'm wrong, but what I would call urban fiction today would have been called pulp fiction back in the day. Hemingway, Baldwin, Fitzgerald and others were under the fiction banner. The literary fiction banner did not come about until...when? I don't know, you tell me. From my understanding, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, all of their work were labeled pulp fiction, correct? So, there's no need in getting your panties in a bunch about somebody looking down their noses at urban lit. When it's all said and done, Raymond Chandler, James Cain and the others still knew how to put a damn sentence together. The same CAN NOT be said about many of our urban lit writers.

Second, literary fiction, whether the author was white or black, had hell to pay. Their books were not always or automatically on the bestsellers list. Their books were the ones high school and college professors made you read, while during the school break I would come out with the latest Sidney Sheldon or Jackie Collins book. Literary fiction, to me, always had an underground feel to it, simply because it wasn't mainstream. Unless Hollywood made a movie on it, a non BORING movie version, I didn't hear of the book. I can't speak for anyone else, but this was how I first got into black literary fiction was from the MOVIE The Color Purple. I read Walker's book AFTERWARD. I heard of Toni Morrison AFTER she won the Nobel Prize! Only with the invention of the internet and Waiting to Exhale (now I'm not saying that Waiting to Exhale was literature, it ain't) did black literary fiction get any kind of exposure. But, black literary fiction always depended on white readers for its survival, and not the black reading audience. But, when it came to the black reading audience to embrace and support black literature, it did not because of the reasons I stated before. So, I'm saying that black literary fiction isn't just languishing today, it has been languishing since I first met it over 30 years ago. The sad part is that when it came to us, the collective black reading audience, to hold it up and celebrate it, we dropped it in the mud, like trash we didn't want to properly dispose. So, yeah, you can accuse me of being the only one reading it. I would disagree, there are a few that reads it. The question is, why aren't YOU reading it, supporting it?!

Quiet as its kept, white literature aint doin't that much bang up business either. Don't belive me? Go into any of the big book stores, go into their clearance section and you'll see all kinds of fiction titles written by white authors that DID NOT SELL! The only difference between them and their black counterparts is that the publishing houses will still publish them, at a loss, and not take the same risk on black authors.

I will loudly admit that I have not read Best American Short Stories 2009, or Paris Review, or Poets, or Writers? I'm too busy reading books that according to you, are written for nobody but me, since I'm the only one who reads them. Chris, did you read Ellison's Three Days Before the Shooting? No? But you will, right? *eyebrow raised* Really, how many of these literary fiction books have YOU read lately that are, as you say "dull torpid and irrelevant"? Don't be stingy with the titles, man, spill gut! We'll wait. *eyebrow raised again*

I'm going to keep it short, mainly because I'm at work and have to go on a call, the author, in my opinion, to watch for is Chris Abani. He's off the hook!

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Chris Hayden another author named Chris posted the following on my facebook page. (I used the facebook icon to share it on my facebook page. I've done this with a few conversation from this board snce the upgrade, but folks post responses on facebook...)

Christopher Alan Chambers
[http://aalbc.com/authors/christopher_chambers.htm] "Very good piece. I've found that Lit. fiction written by folk who started in (or pass back and forth b/w) genre fiction is much better b/c the training is on characters, storytelling and not abstract code. hahaha it.

BUT let's be frank. An...other reason is (1) major publishers won't buy it unless it is weird and is written in code and (2), strangely related, clearly black folks don't want to read it. Most folk are NOT Yale or Stanford alumni or poets, so some stuff isn't going to be the cup of tea for a community college gradwho's a single mom trying to read something simple and steamy on the No. 45 bus. I'm not being facetious--I'm being objective. Now, should people be more aspirational? Sure. But that's something that's evident in majority society too. It's just that there's more white folks than black folks in this country, and more opportunities for them to have access to literature, and higher proportion of them who enjoy lit. fiction. Ironically, doesn't it seem they support black lit. fiction more than most black readers?"

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Guest Gwen

I think some people are confusing "literary fiction" with what I would call mainstream AA fiction. I'm not talking about high brow stuff that would potentially be assigned in a college course. I'm talking about fiction that has some degree of depth to it beyond relationship drama and gangsta tales of drug dealing and shootouts. Surely, there are more stories that can be told and published from an AA point of view. They don't have to be "boring" at all. But this other stuff is the same story over and over again and it becomes very tiresome for people like me who actually read books regularly.

I'm not sure if the people who read urban fiction are actually "readers" or if they simply like the urban lit genre exclusively. I don't know whether they ever venture outside of this narrow world to see what else is published or if they just want to read the metaphorical equivalent of a 6-car fatal accident on a freeway. Plus, to me, urban lit is like stripping. Once you've started removing your clothes, the observer needs more and more clothes taken off until the stripper is nude. Then what?

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Here is another comment from a popular author:

Tayari Jones [http://aalbc.com/authors/tayarijones.htm] commented on your link:

"It was hard to respond to the link because there were no examples given. I mean, don't you think it would have been helpful to define the term "literary fiction". And even some evidence of this "languishing." So, how to respond? I mean, Colson Whitehead [http://aalbc.com/authors/colsonwhitehead.htm] is languishing all the way to the bank."

There were also a bunch of responses to this on AALBC.com's facebook fan page: http://runt.it/aalbcfb

Seems people are interested and will read the posts here, but prefer to comment on Facebook. This is interesting....

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I agree with Gwen when it comes to confusing "literary" fiction with "mainstream" fiction. Just because a book isn't of the urban or romance or mystery genre, doesn't auomatically mean that it should be categorized as literary.

To me, literary fiction exemplifies literature; its style being as impressive as its subject, its narrative making imaginative use of language, its story adhering to the tradition of a novel illustrating how events transform people.

Literary fiction stands the test of time and its characters and plots endure because they are engaging. Literary fiction is, in a word, "classic".

Black readers seem to prefer a lot of drama, and characters they can identify with. They like their books to in the soap opera mode. So much for literary fiction.

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To me, literary fiction exemplifies literature; its style being as impressive as its subject, its narrative making imaginative use of language, its story adhering to the tradition of a novel illustrating how events transform people.

(Literary fiction is what the Literary Establishment SAYS it is--and that which it has been promoting for almost 20 years stinks.)

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You are simply expressing your personal opinion when you say what currently passes for literature "stinks", Chrishayden. In the annals of literature, 20 years is a short period,

and - Time is what will tell.

Furthermore, fiction doesn't have to be flawless to be classified as "literature. Its prose and its approach to a story is what determines this.

To me, Toni Morrison produces literate works, whereas Terry McMillan produces commercial fiction ala Danielle Steele. Terry is a competent formulaic writer whose target audiences are women and their complicated relationships with men. Toni Morrison captivates her readers with her creative use of language and her unique characters who are resolute in confronting their dilemmas. You have to have patience to get through a Toni Morrison book, but that is as it should be. Literature is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who love words and how they are used to weave stories. Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright wrote about street life but it was their command of the language that elevated their books to a literate level.

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Chris: Oh and this one is just priceless "Literary Fiction is dead. Couldn't have happened soon enough in my book. All it provided was a means for some slackers and slugs to stand around who couldn't tie their own shoes to go to parties and act like they were better than somebody else"

Really, Chris, Really? My how soon we forget. I seem to remember a novel titled, "A VAMPYRE BLUES: THE PASSION OF VARNADO" Would you like to tell the people who wrote that book, or should I? *eyebrow raised* Oh, that's OK, let me do it. The, now how did Chris put it, the person who wrote the novel A Vampyre Blues: The Passion of Varnado is none other than our very own CHRIS HAYDEN! The he-can't-tie-his-own-damn-shoes, lazy slacker, with an (and I simply can't stress this enough, with no amount of exaggeration) extremely over inflated ego. Well, you know what Chris, if this is how you see yourself, I couldn't agree with you more! You know I'm with you when you're right! *LMAO*

(Thank you for all the wonderful compliments. When I form my network of fanclubs, you got a lock on President of the Naptown chapter.

Knowing all this, ye know then that I know of which I spake)

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Guest Angela

WHY--because we get what we get when we don't DEMAND better. The same holds true for the music or should I say the noise on the airwaves. We must make the noise: go to book stores and request good reads by awesome Black writers; go to libraries and have them order the same; provide our children with the same. instead of the electronic play toys you give them all the time. that means downloading excellent books on their devices and requiring them to read.

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Guest evenmoney

Knowledge is power; something these intellectually-challenged mopes have yet to discover.

This sentence moved me to create an account and stop lurking for a long time.

The reason we have successful writers such as Wright, Baldwin, Walker, Morrison, etc...is because people were more intellectually curious, educated (not just by degrees), and overall knowledgeable. Nowadays most readers just want to read "drama" and linear plots.

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I have several young adults coming to the store requesting the Urban Lit and / or the erotica fiction. NONE of them have ever requested the likes of McFadden or J. California Cooper or Ellison or Yerby. Isn't because these authors are not talented or relevant, but because the drama. The baby-mama drama, but not stories of espionage or secret spies; the under cover / down low preacher, but not the story by an expatriate of Judas and Jesus having similarities. The covers are enticing and the drama is exhilarating. These books are a rush similar to reality television!

What we have to pay attention to isn't simply the context, but our behavior toward reading. Some customers will be introduced to a book and immediately say, "I will wait until the movie arrives." Really?!?! You would rather forgo a damn good story to wait for production? Patterson (although not black fiction) writes his chapters like 20 second scenes from a television show. People prays him for that style, but his characters show no growth and are very predictable - yet he is a great writer. It's fiction for goodness sake. . . .

Again, look at our reading behavior. In an age of INSTANT plots, summaries, and marginalized character growth, maybe our literature is languishing because we are wanting our story lines solved NOW. If Tyler Perry stories were in print would they fly off of the shelf? In comparison, would Spike Lee's stories do the same or better? Are we tired of reading the black experience? OR are we not expanding the black experience in our literature to go beyond what is being currently printed (sex, booties, hood, threesomes, drama, down low)?

I do agree with Angela when she stated that we must DEMAND better in our literature. But when we discuss what we read, bring the writer's talents to light. Bring out what captivated the reader so quickly or what it was lacking. DISCUSS the book, not just the context of the drama.

Oh yeah . . . Cynique, excellent post regarding the distinction in fiction types. Thank you.

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I have several young adults coming to the store requesting the Urban Lit and / or the erotica fiction. NONE of them have ever requested the likes of McFadden or J. California Cooper or Ellison or Yerby. Isn't because these authors are not talented or relevant, but because the drama. The baby-mama drama, but not stories of espionage or secret spies; the under cover / down low preacher, but not the story by an expatriate of Judas and Jesus having similarities. The covers are enticing and the drama is exhilarating. These books are a rush similar to reality television!

What we have to pay attention to isn't simply the context, but our behavior toward reading. Some customers will be introduced to a book and immediately say, "I will wait until the movie arrives." Really?!?! You would rather forgo a damn good story to wait for production? Patterson (although not black fiction) writes his chapters like 20 second scenes from a television show. People prays him for that style, but his characters show no growth and are very predictable - yet he is a great writer. It's fiction for goodness sake. . . .

Again, look at our reading behavior. In an age of INSTANT plots, summaries, and marginalized character growth, maybe our literature is languishing because we are wanting our story lines solved NOW. If Tyler Perry stories were in print would they fly off of the shelf? In comparison, would Spike Lee's stories do the same or better? Are we tired of reading the black experience? OR are we not expanding the black experience in our literature to go beyond what is being currently printed (sex, booties, hood, threesomes, drama, down low)?

I do agree with Angela when she stated that we must DEMAND better in our literature. But when we discuss what we read, bring the writer's talents to light. Bring out what captivated the reader so quickly or what it was lacking. DISCUSS the book, not just the context of the drama.

Oh yeah . . . Cynique, excellent post regarding the distinction in fiction types. Thank you.

have several young adults coming to the store requesting the Urban Lit and / or the erotica fiction. NONE of them have ever requested the likes of McFadden or J. California Cooper or Ellison or Yerby.

"They start getting these in High School English. The American Education Establishment has--yielding to the portion of our society that sees everything as a sadomasochistic excercise--rendered even great authors of the canon dull. When you hear the very name of Ellison, Morrison, Walker or Homer, Shakespeare or Byron your mind immediately says dull and if you don't need some facts about them to pass a test which you can get from Cliffs Notes or Classics Illustrated Comics, you forget them.

Imagine how, years AFTER I had received a graduate degree--I found that Moby Dick, the Iliad, and Portrait of the Artist as a young man were damn wonderful books.

Let me ask you a question. Do you just rent documentaries at the movie rental, hmmm?

"I will wait until the movie arrives." Really?!?! You would rather forgo a damn good story to wait for production?

"Frankenstein" is drudgery, "Dracula" is dross, and "Forrest Gump" was a dump next to the film versions. A movie is different than a book--most likely you can get the idea in two hours or less. American gives his life blowing up a bridge behind facist lines during the Spanish Civil War--"For Whom the Bell Tolls".

All ficition books save those that deliver a jolt a page are in danger"

I do agree with Angela when she stated that we must DEMAND better in our literature.

"Demand all you want. It is a business. Now that people are forsaking print media the booksellers have no patience for anything that is not making money. Print has a notoriously thin profit margin. Mostly it has to be subsidized by advertisers.

Think. In a magazine, a magazine with just paragraphs for ariticles and page after page of pictures and picture stories, you got may 70% advertising.

The newspapers are almost reduced to advertising circulars.

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Chris why don't you provide a few examples of literary novels that were pubblished in the few years, and promoted by the white literary establishment that "stunk".

Here are a few literary novels promoted, by the white establishment, that were also good books:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun

Heidi W. Durrow' s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Caryl Phillips' In The Falling Snow

To name a few.

As a side note: none of the publishers of these book purchased advertisements on AALBC.com. While we might know who these authors are many Black readers do not, the titles would have benefited from some additional promotion directed at the Black community.

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We are not talking about magazines and advertisements. We are discussing the languishing black fiction. It sells when the story being told is GOOD! It sells when Americans (black or otherwise) find it entertaining to read.

Our Black Urban Literature is quite jolting and it is in danger, just as much as classic historical literature. I KNOW it is a business and I know that selling literature has a thin profit margin. What I also know is that a basic appreciation for reading and literature has to be sustained for books to be valuable. There are parts of the black experience in literature that do not pertain to different races and classes of people. My children enjoy reading, but do not want to read about a young man, young woman in the ghetto. It doesn't pertain to them, and the story to them is a series of depressing events. Sex sells and those books will too, but I would like to think our literature is far beyond drugs, hip - hop, and sex. If our literature is to express the black experience, then our experience has to be more than slavery, church, and hip hop.

Yes. I rent documentaries. I read what I want to read. I also advise others to read because of what I discover in the story. Not the simple plot. Take for instance "I am Not Sidney Poitier" by Everette; was not overwhelmed by the book, but loved parts of it. When I sold that book, I told my customers nothing of the plot, but much of the nuances: Ted Turner's funny voice, the association to each movie, the arrogance of the author to place himself in the book like M. Knight Shyamalan.

This is what we need to express to the next reader to regain the appreciation for a great story. It goes far beyond the ability to read and the necessity of being a fundamental skill.

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Chris why don't you provide a few examples of literary novels that were pubblished in the few years, and promoted by the white literary establishment that "stunk".

Here are a few literary novels promoted, by the white establishment, that were also good books:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun

Heidi W. Durrow' s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Caryl Phillips' In The Falling Snow

To name a few.

As a side note: none of the publishers of these book purchased advertisements on AALBC.com. While we might know who these authors are many Black readers do not, the titles would have benefited from some additional promotion directed at the Black community.

Excellent point. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky was a beautiful book. Still sitting on the shelf at the store because no one coming in is interested in that story line. Sad, but true.

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phlough, no one wil buy The Girl Who Fell from the Sky because no one can devine from the cover or the title what the book is about. Plus no one knows the author.

I'm sure AALBC.com will generate some attention and sales on the strength of the review.

How did you discover The Girl Who Fell from the Sky?

Thumper even with the entire world wide web at his disposal Chris could not come up with any titles.

Chris you might find some annunition to bolster your argument here.

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Hello All,

Chris: You can't give an example because you aint read sh_t. Keep it real or keep it moving.

(You must can't read. Probably a result of that substandard segregated schooling you got coming up over in them Indiana cornfields.

"It Stinks" does not mean "It Stinks" except for some unnamed books I either forgot to list or will provide upon further prodding. "It Stinks" means "It Stinks" without exception.

Your position is weak. Lick up your doctrine.

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Excellent point. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky was a beautiful book. Still sitting on the shelf at the store because no one coming in is interested in that story line. Sad, but true.

(Just cuz YOU say they were good books don't mean nothing. They Stink.

Why?

Here we are in the midst of unprecedented developments. Before, when you had unprecedented developments, you had writers come forward to write about them. "For Whom the Bell Tolls". "The Grapes of Wrath". "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

Today, when you had two disputed presidential elections, the invasion of a country by fraud, a U.S. city wiped out by a natural disaster, economic collapse, the election of the first African American President, a terrorist attack on US soil that killed thousands all these clowns are still writing about their intrapersonal relationships and how they feel a little pain and "loss", like it's 1975 or something. They make me want to puke.

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... four years later thing has gotten much worse.  As I look back on the literary author i recommended (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Heidi W. Durrow, Caryl Phillips), Two are not American and one (Heidi) is the daughter of White Danish immigrant.

 

I realized recently that we have not had an Black American novelist on the NY Times Bestsellers list in months (last I checked).

 

I helped create the Power List to make of for what is not showing up on the Times List, and the end of Essence's Bestsellers List, but gaining traction has been slow.  I'll persist but it is hard work.  

 

I've recently increased my emphasis on promoting works by classic authors who are great writers but are obscure today.  Interestingly writers like Ernest Gaines and Jamaica Kincaid (who is still writing) fall into that category.  Others like Carolyn Rodgers or Drusilla Dunjee Houston are seemingly completely unknown.

 

Even worse creating content and expending energy promoting these authors will not likely generate any revenue, zilch.  Indeed promoting these authors saps limited time, energy and money. This is why so few people are doing it today.  It is hard and there is no financial reward.

 

The same is true for fiction written by contemporary writers.  There is simply no infrastructure to support them.  Everyone stands on their own, doing what they can with social media. But that is inefficient and ineffective. 

 

These conditions create an environment where our authors are simply not discussed.  Conversations on this forum, about Black literature, is virtually gone.  None of the websites I've tracked over the 15 years are doing any better.  

 

Book clubs are considered a great resources for boosting word of mouth, but there are simply not enough clubs, to make a big difference, besides they are not organized in a way in which any influence they have could be exploited.

 

There may be some action on Goodreads, but I don't use that site, I like to support our own business--or at least entities interested in working with me. 

 

The attitude of supporting our our businesses, seems anachronistic, relic of a bygone era.   

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What an interesting blast from the past, that was!  Certainly brought to mind how much I miss the participation of Chris Hayden and Thumper on this forum.   Chris Hayden's wit is priceless. 

 

 Oddly enough, 4 years later I now find myself more in agreement with him than I was then.  Maybe it's because my book will soon be made available and it can definitely be classified as urban chick lit, certainly not a great literary work.  In writing this book, I deferred to my Muse, and  my rationale is that the "black dude/white broad /black gurl" paradigm is not just something to appeal to bored  sistas looking for something they can relate to, but that it is what I like to refer to as a "concise slice of black life", an existence wherein the conflict between black men and women is a "uniquely" ongoing one.  I tell myself that a white person or a foreigner or an alien from Mars would learn something from reading "The Only One".  OK, so much for plugging this book soon to be available on line as both an E-Book as well as a-print-on-demand one.

 

I further agree with Chris about how nowadays people are more "educated" than "informed", not conversant on a broad scope of knowledge, just familiar with their narrow field of expertise.  I also agree with Thumper's lament about how ill-prepared and unmotivated young black kids today are when it comes to reading. 

 

I also think Chris made some valid points about "The Literati".  A couple of years after the above thread,  I read something by Thomas Sowell, the black conservative columnist, who said that smug intellectuals and literary lions feel no oligation to justify their views and critiques - that they are arrogant, self-appointed authorities brandishing their academic crendentials, dictating to others what they should believe or read.  Nobody calls them on this because they are purveyors of ideas not facts, so they don't have to prove anything.   Consequently readers are often told what they should like and why they should like it, when it comes to literature.  Nevermind if these vaunted works don't captivate your interest.   "The Great Gatsby" has been called the greatest American novel ever written.  I wasn't particularly impressed with it.  Proust?  Well, if you like  books where a single sentence goes on for page after page, he will certainly challenge your ability to concentrate.  Hemingway?  Just the opposite; a minimalist with a staccato style that lacks flow, whose stories  were more esoteric than compelling to me because they entailed times and places that didn't inspire me to want to know more about.  Whatever. I do like Toni Morrison because her books are character-driven, and are about people who hold your interest because you've never met anyone like them.  I've read Stephen Carter's looong-ass books just to prove to myself that I can comprehend what he is saying in his convoluted writing style. Books of the horror or fantasy genre can still command my attention, also.

 

Troy is on point in his final assessment of the current state of black literature.  I regret to say that I am not familiar with any new black novelists of the literary world.  Their books don't call me.  I don't know why this is. For some reason I am drawn mostly to non fiction, memoirs or books about the American black experience during certain historical eras.  Long drawn-out books, or ones about foreign countries don't excite my interest.  I also confess to being more amenable to movies, and  documentaries and TV sagas as opposed to books that I, in my old age, have begun to forsake. 

 

Considering that I am a black novelist, myself, hyping a novel that could be criticized for its literary merit, - a someone who admires well informed people yet harbors no enthusiasm for books about foreign countries, what does that make me???  Ambiguous.  tsk-tsk.

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