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Troy

The Importance of the “Literary Chitlin' Circuit”

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@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, AALBC.com founder Troy Johnson, Brian W. Smith and author Clarence Nero at the Bayou Literary Festival around 2009
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.

 

Jerry Craft, Troy Johnson, and Walter Mosley
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. 

 

Kirkus AwardBack 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.

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2 hours ago, Troy said:

However the conversations would have made a fascinating article. 

 

@Troy If you have the talent - BUT if you don't have the time - send them to me! (can you just hire me already!)   I'd love to talk to them about their contributions.

I do know Kwame Alexander - and I'm just waiting to get in the same room with him again so I can borrow 15 minutes of his time. 

I met up with him when he visited Chicago back in 2012 (I think) to give a talk at convention his mother was hosting. This was before his recent success and the imprint. He brought me to tears with his passion.  If I can I find the little piece I wrote about his speech, I will share it. It was pure raw emotion. His talent was real and seriously there wasn't a dry eye when he finished speaking. Although my photos from the event were lousy , I will share them too. 

By the way, shame on them! Posting on social media will never compared to editorial content.  A journalist can trigger memories and emotions that just don't come through in a facebook post. smh

Also, I've always  love the chitlin circuit - but my mom hated when I used the term, so I stopped.  I guess the PC term now is "Black Famous" Root Journalist Michael Harriott  was just talking about black famous on twitter ... by the way, did you know Bobby Caldwell  (what you won't do for love) is a white man?  I didn't.  But Caldwell is black famous too! lol

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And @Troy Speaking of the Root's Michael Harriott - he allegedly landed a Seven-figure,  two-book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this past weekend.

 

That’s right: after an understandably competitive auction fielded and negotiated by Tanya McKinnon at McKinnon Literary, Michael Harriot has closed a two-book, seven-figure deal with publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—and as we celebrate the ascension of yet another of The Root’s shining lights into the publishing world, we are thrilled to be relaunching our It’s Lit! section with this incredible announcement.
 

 

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17 hours ago, Mel Hopkins said:

By the way, shame on them! Posting on social media will never compared to editorial content.

 

I blame their publishers more.  Too much responsibility is expected of the writer to self-promote on social media.  As the writers become "famous-famous" they probably should do less social media.

 

17 hours ago, Mel Hopkins said:

A journalist can trigger memories and emotions that just don't come through in a facebook post. smh

 

This is the great loss of our generation. Journalism as been replaced by tweets. No other community has been more impacted than the Black community.

 

17 hours ago, Mel Hopkins said:

I guess the PC term now is "Black Famous" Root Journalist Michael Harriott 

 

yes, one can becomes "Black Famous" on the Chitlin' Circuit.  I see someone mentioned Eric Jerome Dickey.  Eric is a cool Brother -- a staple on the chitlin circuit. In fact @Mel Hopkins The day I ran into Kim Coles (when I texted you the photo), I saw Eric too -- at the National Black Book Festival.  Eric has made a fine living as a writer.

 

However, the risk as a Black writer who is "Black Famous" is that the platforms supporting your work (events, bookstores, websites, magazines, newspapers, radio, etc) are drying up.  Without having the data I'm fairly confident in saying that collectively all the Black famous novelists are making less money today that a decade ago.  Amazon is largely the cause.  I think readers are beginning to see this.

 

Yes, I recall Caldwell be white -- it is a great song IMHO.

 

Literary agent Tanya Mckinnon is really doing her thing!  She has several 7 figure deals under her belt.

 

Yeah Kwame is Da Man now, he sponsored our Black Pack Party this year, which Jerry Craft attended 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On 12/17/2019 at 8:50 AM, Troy said:

In fact @Mel Hopkins The day I ran into Kim Coles (when I texted you the photo), I saw Eric too -- at the National Black Book Festival.  Eric has made a fine living as a writer.


@Troy Kim Coles is black famous too lol... and as you know she has published a few books - "I'm Free but it will cost you" and "Open Your G.I.F.T.S."

I love that you mentioned our alumna because it reminded me that  "Friends" was a rip off of the "black famous"  "Living Single".   Kelsey Grammer, "Frasier" had Kim in a reccuring role Self-help guru "Dr Mary"... I really wished that character would have spun off into its on show especially since life imitated art and Kim is also a Life Coach too.

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@Mel Hopkins Yeah Living Single was one of the last network sitcoms that I regularly watched. Kim was certainly Black Famous back when the show aired.  Do you think she is Black famous amongst millennials and younger? 

 

Eric Jerome Dickey is probably Black Famous amongst readers.  Do you think he is Black famous amongst the Black general public?

 

Do you think AALBC is Black famous within the the group of avid readers who are also active online?

 

Sometimes I'll run into a Black author who is promoting a book and says they are unfamiliar with my website and I'll joking say something like, "well you must not use the world wide web?"  Sometimes that is actually the case, usually with an older person. 

 

Other times it is a combination of how the person used the web and how they web actually works. People tend to gravitate to the biggest websites and everything on the web serves to elevate the biggest sites.  

 

You need the white co-sign to become famous.  Increasingly however -- especially on the web you need the white co-sign to become "Black famous."  The celebs of "Black Twitter" would, of course, not be possible without Twitter.  The same could reasonably be said for the start of Black Lives Matter.

 

Black Chitlin' Circuit events for books makes it possible for writers to become Black Famous. Without these events it would be very difficult for a writer to have a career based solely upon writing. 

 

These events help raise the profile of AALBC -- which is why I do these events.  That plus I love being around Black folk who have a passion for stories and knowledge.

 

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On 12/21/2019 at 11:18 AM, Troy said:

Do you think AALBC is Black famous within the the group of avid readers who are also active online?

I’m unsure. I think you and AALBC are literary famous.  Which is an even more exclusive club - The Literati.  

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Hey @Marion Hill here is a link to all the event on the "Circuit" that I'm aware of: https://aalbc.com/events/list.php/ The list also includes the festivals of many types around the world, but you have no problem identifying the event on the "Circuit." 😉

 

@Mel Hopkins I'm unsure too, but perhaps you are right. 

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On 12/29/2019 at 10:14 PM, Troy said:

I'm unsure too, but perhaps you are right. 

 

The more I think about it, @Troy - those writers you mentioned are "the literati" too.  I learned of them because they're admired  and often mentioned writers who happened to be black. 

You are my alumni but my love of reading caused me  to gravitate towards your project, AALBC, like it was cooked food.  When I see your name and aalbc turn up in my google alerts, I'm never surprised its in  connection to PWI  literary sites.  Further, It's not like PWIs gave you a "white" card. Instead. you're the standard and you're giving something most of us don't have access too.  - So, as the authority and go-to expert, you're just famous (period) for your knowledge and contribution to the literary field.  

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21 hours ago, Troy said:

Speaking of "authority" check out this book coming out next month:

 

@Troy  See, this is what I'm talking about! Congratulations and more for you in 2020!  

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On 12/29/2019 at 9:14 PM, Troy said:

Hey @Marion Hill here is a link to all the event on the "Circuit" that I'm aware of: https://aalbc.com/events/list.php/ The list also includes the festivals of many types around the world, but you have no problem identifying the event on the "Circuit." 😉

 

@Mel Hopkins I'm unsure too, but perhaps you are right. 

Thanks Troy!

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I long to join the "chitlin circuit". I'm like you, I don't like the term but it is what it is. 

 

My book(s) deal with topics that probably won't go over well with PWI institutes due to the subject matter but I know for a fact that the African American audience is resonating with them.

 

I'd rather stick with the circuit, that's my audience. "Mainstream" success would be cool, but I feel like there would be pressure to change what and how I write and that would alienate my original audience.

 

I found events through this website and I had my first event planned to sell some books for next week but this damn virus cancelled it haha.

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At @Walkman93 every event on my calendar, scheduled during the month of March, across the globe, was canceled or postponed. Events scheduled for April and May are falling like dominoes. Spring is one of the busiest times of the year for book events.

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I found this post really helpful. I'm based in the UK and wasn't aware of a lot of these events. I was planning to be in the US in December (2020) (depending on the state of the world) and looking forward to having some launch events to celebrate the US publication of Remembered while I was there. Even if I'm not there physically and with a lot of events moving to virtual ones, I can contact some of these about potential virtual events.

 

Thanks!

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