Troy Posted December 16, 2019 Report Share Posted December 16, 2019 @Mel Hopkins' post about the 1st African American, Kennedy Ryan, to win the Rita Award and how neither of us were previously aware of the author, who has previously published 16 books. It also got me thinking about the importance of the predominantly white institutions (PWI) relative to Black institutions and how they both relate to an author's notoriety and success. I did an event recently in which a panelist described knowing another author for years because they met on the "Chitlin' Circuit." I immediately knew what the Brother, author Brian Smith, was talking about because I've run into him on numerous stops on the "Circuit." The Chitlin' Circuit is the variety of Black run book events across the country that host Black authors. I don't particularly like the term because it marginalizes the events. It is also, I believe, why some Black authors don't participate in these events. Omar Tyree, Troy Johnson, Brian W. Smith, and Clarence Nero at the Bayou Soul Literary Conference around 2009 I doubt Ryan has done any events on the "Circuit," otherwise it would have been far more likely that I would have known who she was before she won the Rita Award. It is during "Circuit" events that I discover and connect with writers. Some very prominent authors, who have garnered acclaim by PWI's, fully embrace Chitlin' Circuit events. One author who immediately comes to mind is Walter Mosley. I give Mosley a lot of credit, because to this day he still does Black events; long after President Clinton told the world Mosley was his "favorite writer." Mosley still supports these events. In other words, Mosley no longer "needs" to do these events, but he recognizes by doing them he is benefiting the hosting organization, which is good for everyone. Kirkus Award winning author Jerry Craft, Troy Johnson, and Walter Mosley at the African American Literary Awards Show (2012) Most, if not all, of the Chitlin' Circuit events may be found on my events calendar. The Harlem Book Fair, in its prime a decade or more ago, was arguably the premier event on the circuit. Other events on the circuit include the National Black Book Festival in Houston, TX, the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta, GA, and the Leimert Park Book Festival in Los Angeles, CA. There are many many others. The one I attended most recently, featured author Brian Smith (mentioned above), was the Black Authors and Readers Rock event in Oxon Hill, MD. The calendar also contains events hosted by PWIs. I think it is important to do both types of events. Back in October Kirkus announced the winners of three $50,000 prizes (fiction, nonfiction, and childrens). All of the winners and more than half the finalists were Black. I thought this was astonishing. I also know several of this writers, personally -- from the "Circuit." The Kirkus Prize is relatively new and honestly I did not pay much attention to it. When it launched in 2014 only one Black writer was recognized a finalist, Dinaw Mengestu, an Ethiopian refugee living in Paris. PWIs, at that time, were really fixated with African writers. Interestingly, not one of the authors I know, who were recognized by Kirkus, told me about their honor. This is potentially life changing recognition. As a bookseller I'm actively seeking good books to share with readers. If I happen to actually know the writer I'm actually more excited to share the information with readers. I talked at length with a couple of these writers after learning about their honor. Initially I was told it was "on social media." However the conversations would have made a fascinating article. I wish I had the time and talent to write it. The issues were fascinating... but I digress. I guess all I'm trying to say to authors is that you can embrace Black events and platforms and still garner the acclaim of predominantly white institutions. It is not an either or proposition. You can and should do both types of events. When you do earn critical acclaim, please let us know directly; social media does not share everything equally and many of don't use it at all. 2 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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