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Troy

Black VP at Random House Answers Questions

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Someone sent me this in a direct message, because they know I refuse to consume (or publish) content directly on Facebook.  But it looks interesting and since facebook allows you to embed content, I share this here.    Chris is a smart Brother who has done well for himself in corporate publishing.  I think you will find his perspective interesting.

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Interesting interview. His thoughts on the MFA as it relates to publishing I've heard before. I think the most telling thing he said was in regard to who the publishing house is publishing. Eddie Huang, Coates, Trevor Noah, etc. All established personas who bring immediate name recognition and potential sales. The industry is no longer made to create writers. The only way it exists is by publishing "sure" bets. Basically self-publishing is now the gateway drug to traditional publishing.

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i would disagree about Coates; remember Coates first book was pubbed by Spiegal and Grau back in 2008. The book was well received but did not exactly make him a household name.  Coates blew up as a result of the reaction to his Atlantic article on reparations.  What would become the wildly successful Between the World and Me was already completed (though the pub date was pushed up as a result of the popular Atlantic article).  Of course Coates had been writing many years before anyone ever heard of him.

Actually, Coates would be the poster child for a publisher nurturing a skilled writer until commercial success was achieved--the exact opposite of celebrities like Trevor Noah.   The celebrities will always get book deals.  I would argue that they are almost necessary to subsidize writers like Coates until they pop.

But Coates is an aberration, a success story that comes along rarely--even for white writers.  Of course Coates success is extremely rare for Black writers; because of the lack of opportunities--opportunities that the Black community, unfortunately, can not provide to our writers.  That is a condition that I would like to help change.

 

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I've always said that for a Black person to "crossover" or gain ground in publishing/entertainment they have to have a serious and consistent cosign. In regard to Coates it's his editor  for the early years of his career, David Carr. This is not a dig and doesn't demean the work that Coates put in as a writer and in building his career. A Black writer has to build their career in stages. It isn't luck, but his long term success is definitely predicated on the cosign of his long term editor. That cosign from a highly recognized national publication editor enabled his career to become steady enough to pursue writing. His talent was as well. I do agree that Coates is an unfortunate aberration. Black writers have to constantly shift and try a variety of things to capture attention and audience share. It's the same for all artists, but it's particularly hard for the Black writer/artist.

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Would you say that Coates is a token?  There's seems to be a tradition of a black writer who is singled out to become the darling of the white literati.  He's reminiscent of James Baldwin.  

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Sure Coates got white cosign up the wazoo.  As far as he being a token Cynique, that is a much tougher question to answer.  First I'd have to know more clearly what you mean by token.  Generally the term is used to describe how a entity treats someone, so I'd have to ask; Token for whom?  But I would say no.

 

 

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When I say "token" I mean a black person who has been selected and promoted by a particular white institution  to show case, and stave off any criticism about it being racist.  Next year's Oscars will probably have an overload of talented black actors who could be referred to as tokens because they represent an effort to rebut criticism of  Hollywood being racist.

I guess this is a term that is a throw back to civil rights days when integration was a big deal and every industry had its super negro to trot out,  lest it be accused of being prejudiced. 

 

 

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I don't think the book industry is important enough or is even worried about being considered racist. I don't think he is a token. I think he is fortunate that he has been able to create a career in writing. I think he wouldn't have had a chance without his work ethic, his father and an editor who patiently allowed him to hone his craft. His success is 15 years in the making, but it hasn't and won't open any doors no matter how successful he is because Black people aren't capable of "putting" the next great mind "on". I would have thought M.K. Asante would be the next breakthrough, but MK hasn't gotten that "white" cosign. He has the Black cosign of Talib Kweli, but that just isn't enough. To be honest we know Coates is, but if I stopped 10 random Black folks in Memphis and asked them who he is, I wouldn't get any response.

Maybe that is the issue. We tend to hide the powerful info that we have for fear than others will become smarter or just as smart as we are. We would then lose our intellectual edge. We love to be the smartest person in the room so (these are very general statements here) we hold on to information instead of sharing it. Especially when the information is more "academic".

Literature for Black folks is like every industry for Black folks. We only get one at a time in the door. Coates just happens to be this decades guy. Last decades guy was West. In film we had Spike, last decade was Tyler Perry and this decade it's Ava/Coogler. In business this generation we have Daymond John, last decade it was Bob Johnson. There are always those lurking and just under the surface doing great work, it just isn't promoted in the mainstream which takes us once again back to Troy's primary discussion media. We simply don't control our narrative.

Back to the video, I watched the whole thing and I still say it's par for the course. He doesn't say anything revolutionary and that's because he isn't able to do anything revolutionary. He can simply keep the door open as best as he can.

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"He doesn't say anything revolutionary and that's because he isn't able to do anything revolutionary."

Man that is it in a nutshell!  I hate to say it, but you don't get very far in mainstream corporate America, as a Black man, doing anything revolutionary.  White people have the luxury of being revolutionary.  

OK Cynique, you mean token in the traditional sense.  I know the term very well--i lived it.  It is the experience of being the only one, or one of a few, in the room, who were hired simply because we had to be hired, sure we were qualified, but we were also there to fill a quota.  

Of course this quota stuff led to all the handwringing about qualified white people who were not hired to make room for supposedly under qualified Black people. As far as I know the days of quotas are over, so white institutions (schools, corporations, etc), like to tout their diversity, to come across as not racist.  But "diversity" has not served American born Black people very well.  

"Diversity" has served white women far better than Black people.  Consider the photo of the HuffPost editorial board, that room could be considered very diverse, you have a range of ages, probably a couple of lesbians, people from Asia, maybe transgender people, who knows what else... HuffPost, I'm sure is celebrating their "diversity," because on paper they are.

Because Coates has been embraced by so many different white, and Black institutions, I would not consider him a token.  But I'm sure Coates was embraced by a few of these institutions as a token. He is the default Black guy white institutions to reach out to when they need a Black person.  

Chris, a few weeks ago, I was walking down St. Nicholas ave, on my way from Staples to the supermarket, when I walked past a church and saw a flyer for a lecture (that started 30 minutes earlier); the speaker was M.K. Asante. There were maybe 10 people in the audience. It just reminded me again of how hard popular and successful people work to get to where they are.  

It also reminded me of how many talented people work even harder and are destined to remain relatively obscure, because they will never get the increasingly elusive white cosign.  But many of these Black folks are not looking for, or feel they need, the white cosign these tend to be the most admirable Black people I know. 

 

 

 

 

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