Have you read Bernice McFadden’s great op-ed in The Washington Post? If not, get over there now! Here’s just a taste:
…a few select African American authors have “crossed over” into the mainstream — the work of many African Americans authors, myself included, has been lumped into one heap known as “African American literature.” This suggests that our literature is singular and anomalous, not universal. It is as if we American authors who happen to be of African descent are not a people but a genre much like mystery, romance or thriller.
Walk through your local chain bookstore and you will not see sections tagged British Literature, White American Literature, Korean Literature, Pakistani Literature and so on. None of these ethnicities are singled out or objectified the way African American writers are.
And while, yes, a vast majority of all writers, regardless of skin color, are struggling to stay afloat, and there are more African American writers being published today than at any other time in history, one must still take note of exactly what is being published.
Mainstream publishing houses contort themselves to acquire books that glorify wanton sex, drugs and crime. This fiction, known as street-lit or hip-hop fiction, most often reinforces the stereotypical trademarks African Americans have fought hard to overcome. And while we are all the descendants of those great literary pioneers who first gave a voice to the African American experience, and one certainly could not exist without the other, somewhere down the line the balance was thrown off and the scales tipped in favor of a genre that glorifies street life and denigrates a cultural institution that took hundreds of years to construct.
Now, I read this as a critique of the publishing industry’s practices regarding black authors—I don’t think McFadden’s trying to start a war with the authors (or fans) of street lit. She’s specifically talking about “the balance” between various stories and storytellers—no one kind of writing should dominate any other. There’s room for EVERYONE, yet the publishing industry shows a preference for stories that clearly don’t reflect all black people. And when the industry limits the range of stories being told, it reinforces the idea that there’s only one KIND of black person/reader/experience. And that is what a lot of us are fighting against…