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Thursday, February 8, 2007

African American Fiction - A Cesspool at the Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago I walked into a Borders bookstore on 34th and Broadway. I was looking for DVDs, but I wound up taking a look at the African-American Fiction section to see what the market was currently producing. What I saw on the shelf turned my stomach. I had to look out the window to make sure I was still in Borders and not a Times Square sex shop.

The entire African-American section was nothing but “Erotica”, and “Gangsta” titles with overtly sexual themes. Most of the cover art featured half-naked and naked people in sexually titillating poses. As I flipped through some titles I became even more disappointed about how poorly written they were. Poor grammar, poor sentence structure, typos, and no semblance of a plot. It just was one graphic sex scene after another. Characters had no personalities or distinguishable traits. It was just one graphic sex scene after another.

I wouldn’t have felt too bad if these titles were self-published or Print-On-Demand; I know from experience there isn’t much one person working alone can do about quality. However big name publishers like Three Rivers Press (A subsidiary of Random House) and Kensington books have the staff to produce a professional quality book for their readers. I wondered if there was any copyediting or proofreading done at all on these titles. I also wondered if their editors had any sense of taste or style when it came to buying manuscripts for African-American audiences. The Black community is in SERIOUS trouble if these are the best manuscripts literary agents are submitting to publishers.

I left the store buying nothing and asking myself more questions: What happened to the broad pool of talented authors of the 90’s. People like Connie Briscoe, Bebe Campbell Moore (Lord rest her soul) Terry McMillan, and Sista Soulja? What happened to plots in Black fiction? What happened to themes in Black fiction? What happened to storytelling in Black Fiction? What happened to grammar in Black fiction? What happened to Vocabulary in Black fiction? What happened to the writers who wanted to give readers a unique perspective about the Black experience? What happened to the diversity on the Black fiction shelf? How did African-American Fiction turn from general reading audiences into XXX adults only? Why is every Black fiction title lately so sexually explicit?

I can’t give money to authors and publishers who are doing harm to my community. What publishers are currently producing as African-American fiction is unacceptable from a creative, educational and a professional standpoint. When publishers clean up the cesspool in the African-American Fiction section, I’ll start buying Black books again.

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