Okay, let me just confess up front, that I've deliberately avoided sharing my views on this "hot topic" for reasons which, if you continue reading, will become readily apparent (smile).
Basically, I view the Black book store section as a marketing strategy that has long worked in favor of African American authors and readers of our work. As the story I shared in a previous post suggests (See Here), I enjoy both browsing in bookstores and reading the work of African American authors. The Black bookstore section makes it easier for me to find my favorites as well as discover work by authors with whom I'm less familiar.
While I can understand why some might feel this strategy has out-lived its usefulness, I'm not so sure shelving all of our books alongside the books of White & Other mainstream authors is necessarily the Best or the Only solution to what some folks in recent years have come to view as a Problem. Certainly, if there is a section in the bookstore set aside for mystery, then African American writers of mystery ought to be in that section. The same, I think, should be true of romance, sci-fi and other such well-defined genres.
But I have serious doubts about the notion of there being a financial benefit to all of our books being shelved in with the general population. I think for many African American authors, especially new and lesser known ones, the exact opposite would be true. Why do I say that? Well, for one, folks like me, who like to browse, would be doing a whole lot less of it. If you're a debut author and your book is shelved in among the millions of other books in the store, chances are, I'm not gonna stumble upon you.
As a debut author myself, what I want more than anything when it comes to bookstores is VISIBILITY. That means, number one, I want to be IN the bookstore, which can be a battle itself, even if one is traditionally published. (Believe me, I could tell you some interesting/horror stories, not just about the chains, but the smaller "Black" bookstores too). And number two, I want to be some place where folks, who are interested, or just might be, can readily find me.
And to those who might ask, "Well, don't you see the importance of courting a non-Black readership, too?" my response, "What makes you think I don't?" (smile). I value ALL of my readers and I'm open to sharing my work and discussing it with any and everyone. Just yesterday, a friend, who just so happens to be Indian (from India) called and told me how much fun she had discussing my book with a friend of hers. At my last bookstore signing, the only copies of After The Dance I sold were to White women. And get this, about a month or so ago, a predominately White bible study group read and discussed my work (LOL). Yes, there is quite a story behind that last example and no, my book isn't Christian fiction.
What I've discovered is that the people who truly want to read my book will . . . and oddly enough, they seem to know how and where to find it--whether in the bookstore or elsewhere (smile). Yes, I am being somewhat sarcastic, but that's only because I've begun to sense that underlying SOME of the current angst about the African American bookstore section is a desire to stamp certain forms of African American literature as "less than." For the record, I don't think my work will be tainted if it sits on a shelf next to the latest street lit author, any more than I believe it will be elevated somehow if it sits on the shelf alongside a book by Morrison or Atwood. Nor do I view the Black bookstore section, as so many others apparently do, as some sort of waste-land or rat and roach infested ghetto. Sorry, I just don't.
Yes, there is plenty of what I'd call garbage out there, not just in the Black book store section, hell, all over the dang bookstore. But that's the beauty of life and being able to make choices. As I've stated elsewhere in the Old School Mix, one person's 10 day old cabbage is quite often another's manna from heaven. So, no, I don't really have any problems with my work being shelved in the "Black" section of the bookstore.
Now, on the other hand, what I don't care for so much is all of our books being labeled, "urban." I'm sure for some, this is the same issue, but for me, it's a trickier matter of semantics. Not every book written by a Black author is necessarily "urban" in either tone or feel or subject matter. I have a friend who writes historical fiction, primarily from the Civil War period and recently while wandering through the bookstore, I saw a stack of his books on a table marked, "Urban fiction." Clearly, my friend's work is anything but "urban."
But you wanna know some even bigger pet peeves of mine? Bookstores owned by Black folks who offer little beyond street lit and erotica and mainstream publishers who have apparently decided that the aforementioned are ALL we read. Now, until some folks are willing to discuss those kinds of issues in an open, honest and zealous fashion, there's not a whole lot more I care to say about the buying, selling and marketing of books by African American authors . . .