?

Log in

No account? Create an account
New post about the African-American fiction section in bookstores - Zer Netmouse
May 27th, 2010
07:44 pm

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
New post about the African-American fiction section in bookstores
I was interested to read N.K. Jemisin's recent post, Don’t Put My Book in the African American Section, which she wrote in reaction to word from a fan that her debut fantasy novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has appeared in the African American section of her library.

This follows on a post by Alaya Dawn Johnson in March about how the recent paperback edition of her book Racing the Dark is being marketed to that section in Borders bookstores instead of the SF/Fantasy section.

It brings to mind a 2006 NY Times article by Nick Chiles, Their Eyes Were Reading Smut that I came across last year when I was processing my own horror about what composed the African American section (which I went to partly because I was participating in the 50 Books POC reading project and was seeking literature by African American writers). Basically, as Nora goes into in her post, those sections tend to be largely really trashy romance novels, incongruously set side-by-side with some of the best literature in the world. Including some top-notch SF that should really be shelved with the _rest_ of the science fiction and fantasy.

I would like to encourage fellow SF fans to visit African-American lit sections in your libraries and bookstores, and then to share comments with those places about the preferences of these authors (and you, if you concur) for where their books should be shelved.

While you're at it, you might consider picking up Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, after which Chiles took the title of his article. I read it last year and thought it was amazing. (And for those of you put off by such things, don't worry, it's mostly not about God. It is about very real-seeming people, and it's wonderfully written.) It will likely be in that section, and it makes more sense to put it there, since it is very much about the African-American experience.

Fantasy and science fiction set in completely different worlds or futures that happen to be by black authors or have dark-skinned characters on their covers? I agree with Nora - they should be shelved with the rest of the books in the genre.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:boywhocantsayno
Date:May 28th, 2010 02:59 am (UTC)
(Link)
I don't remember ever seeing a section of any bookstore here devoted to black authors. I know for a fact that Nalo Hopkinson, Steven Barnes, Samuel Delany are in the SF section of my local Chapters/Indigo. I'm not sure where they put Octavia Butler as I haven't seen anything by her on the shelves there recently, but it could simply be that they haven't had anything by her in stock.

Similarly, they seem to keep the LGBT SF (such as it is) with the rest of the SF. The only place I know of where it's separated is in the LGBT bookstores (and they have a pretty pitiful selection - the last time I was at Glad Day, I found that I already owned copies of everything they had).
[User Picture]
From:fledgist
Date:May 28th, 2010 11:37 am (UTC)
(Link)
Where I live (in Atlanta) it's quite normal to find a section of bookshops devoted to "African-American" books.
[User Picture]
From:supergee
Date:May 28th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'm ambivalent about Borders' African-American section in general. People looking specifically for that should be able to find it, but aren't Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison just plain literature?
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:May 28th, 2010 10:30 am (UTC)
(Link)
Well, and for that matter, isn't trashy romance that features African-Americans just trashy romance...

I can't stand how big the Romance sections of bookstores have gotten in general, but I feel those books should at least be confined to those sections so that people who wish to avoid looking at them _can_.

On the section in general, I've read arguments both ways. It would be nice if bookstores that want an African-American section would dual-shelve those books, both in that section and in standard lit, or whatever. But they don't.
[User Picture]
From:supergee
Date:May 28th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
(Link)
If I were an African-American fan of trashy romance, I would want the kind with characters I could idnetify with. I am old enough to remember when that option was not available.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:May 28th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
(Link)
sure. And I'm very glad a variety exists in every genre now, and is increasing. But I don't have a problem identifying with African-American characters because I'm a white person, and exposure to more of that literature helps me identify more. Isolating that literature in a ghetto of the stores and libraries lowers the odds that I will see them and that I and other people like me will demonstrate to publishers that there *is* an audience and market for books with African-American characters amid a non-african-american reading population. Until they start shelving those books with the rest of the genre, they have a self-fulfilling prophecy that books with African-Americans on the cover will not sell as well as otherwise, because they don't market them as widely. So those books are harder to sell to publishers. So there are fewer of them published than should be (and many book covers are white-washed). If there weren't pressure to white-wash covers, and there weren't this story that books with black people on the covers can only be marketed to fellow black people, more would be published and African-Americans would have an easier time finding books with characters they can most easily identify with as well. But, I believe, in a much more healthy way and context.
[User Picture]
From:supergee
Date:May 28th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
All I meant to say was that I'm glad that such books are now published. I am much less concerned with where the store puts them.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:May 28th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Another thought: should you consider the hypothetical preferences of another version of yourself as being a stronger argument than the stated preferences of these real, active african-american authors?
[User Picture]
From:beckybmw
Date:May 28th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
As someone who used to work for Borders, I can say that issues like this are a constant debate. The same goes for the biography section--should there be a biography section at all, or should those books be shelved in the respective sections of their subjects (history, politics, entertainment, etc.). Usually the argument falls back to where the customer would naturally look for the book, and enough people ask for the biography section or the African-American fiction section that those sections are still around. Dual shelving is less likely to ever happen because it then requires someone to look in two (or more) places to find a particular book, which not only elevates customer frustration, but also store labor (and thus, costs).

I don't know as much about how the decision is actually made for which section to shelve it in, however, but I would guess that takes place in the conversation between the publisher and the buyer for the store. If that is the case, suggestions for shelving placement should probably be directed to the publisher as well, perhaps more so than voicing requests within the store, which can sometimes lose their luster once they make it up the chain to the person who has the power to make that decision.
Netmouse on the web Powered by LiveJournal.com