Field Trips To Black Fiction

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I don’t consider myself to be a snob.

I come from humble beginnings (sounds classier than “broke”) so I’m not the type to look in the mirror every morning and whisper sweet nothings like, “Oh you fancy, huh?” to myself in celebration of a lavish lifestyle.

Plus, let’s be frank: If you read my blog then you’re well aware that my intelligence goes hand-in-hand with my ratchet taste.

At the same time, though, I am college educated (hand clap for Howard University), which suggests I can read, and more importantly, would be able to spot works penned by people who do actual very little reading.

Therein lies the problem. You don’t want to be a snob, but you’re instantly tested once you walk by the shelves of (lots of) simplicity commonly known as the African American fiction section.

I haven’t been inside of a bookstore in a good while. I mean, I did go see Helena Andrews at her book signing and I did actually buy the book at that same bookstore. Still, now more than ever do I purchase books online — a shift has afforded me the luxury of avoiding the sight of those “street lit” books.

That is, until recently when I found a coupon for Border’s that I just had to use. There I was met with a challenge – to not look down on the writers and those who support them – and I think I pretty much failed it.

I don’t mean to sound like a hoity toity jackass. In fact, years ago my friend forced me to reevaluate my criticism.

She used to read some book called Every Thug Needs A Lady. I peeked through it and I noticed the author noted that she was “holding it down in jail” in her acknowledgments.

I used to ask my friend why would she read such a thing. She found it entertaining and an escape – as I’m sure many others do. Of course, with thug culture, baby mama drama, and overt sexuality being constant themes in various black art forms I wasn’t exactly sure what she and anyone else was “escaping” from, but hey.

Either way, I felt she had a point so I shut up. Eh, kind of anyway. This is me, after all.

In July I read Sonia Sanchez’ interview with the Root where she defended “street lit” by declaring that she was just happy people were reading.

As she put it:

“I’m delighted that young people are writing. I’m delighted even about street literature. I believe we should write everything. Everybody else writes everything; why shouldn’t we? When I was growing up, I used to read what we called racy literature. I was at the library every bloody day, and racy literature kept me reading, and then one day I finally got to Pushkin. I think reading is better than watching the ‘idiot box’ because what it says is that the spirit of fire and the spirit of words resides in all of us, and we are going to express it in many ways.”

To her credit, her argument is valid and to be even fairer, we can’t all enjoy works like these:

I for one don’t see the appeal of it (respectfully).

And so, I thought I was becoming more open-minded about all of this until I visited that damn bookstore and came across works such as these:

Sigh.

Cringe.

Boo.

Of course, there were celebrity elements to some of these titles:

Yes, that dude from the LOX is an author. Each one, teach one.

And naturally, erotica’s cup runneth over:

I suppose it’s better to read about Chlamydia than be treated for it.

What made it worse for me was that you could clearly spot the downward spiral in depth with the titles next to works from celebrated black writers:

Maybe these books would be more tolerable if they can with a nice beat and club-friendly dance or something.

In theory, I really should celebrate the diversity of our writings but it’s difficult to because it’s two extremes being pushed. You’re either on Martha’s Vineyard or fresh out of jail. There is no in-between (I know I and others must create it, but I hope you get what I mean).

And worse, the simpler you are the more impressive it appears to some who think they have you and your kind pegged.

It was brought to my attention that Jezebel recently did a feature on a young adult author who goes by the pseudonym Nini Simone (her actual name is Tu-Shondra Whitaker).

Her book, entitled Shortie Like Mine, is celebrated for its authenticity.

She wrote: “You have to read some excerpts from Simone’s novels to really understand how well she takes on the authentic voice of a hip, urban teenager.”

Guess what color that reviewer and interviewer is?

Wait, read this first:

Sample: “If you gon’ slide down the pole with the hoochies at night, then you got to get up and catch the bus with the freaks in the morning… now get yo’ azz up and get ready for work fo’ I bust you upside the head.”

I bet you can guess now.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other books from black female writers that rival the quality of anyone else’s (whereas still seem shock when it does) and yet, they’re not given any attention on the site. Or in some cases, sites ran by those that look like them.

It’s exactly the type of shit that makes you want to grab a microphone and yell out obscenities outside of a CVS.

I’m well aware that this topic is settled. People who hate the books will continue to hate them, and those who love them – which outnumber the former – will buy them.

My rant is one of several and won’t change anyone’s view. I just wish we could all find a middle ground — on the shelves and in each of our own line of thinking. This is all heavy on the mind as I speak more about my own book project and actively work to making it a reality.

I just can’t help but wonder would it be much easier if I dropped the memoir idea, took a trip back to my 9th grade writing level and pen a novel about the Illuminati?

I could also reach out to Kat Stacks and tell her I could take the tales of her massacred vagina to the top of the New York Times best-seller list.

The answer to both is yes, which makes me want to roll my eyes and tilt my nose up high – even if I know it’s wrong to.

P.S. For the record, this is the book I purchased:

And yes, I realize this might not appeal to you either. Maybe one day I’ll stop acting so fancy and give this one a try:

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