JA Konrath is talking over at his site about segregation on the shelves. The conversation stems from another post by Bestselling Author about his/her own (sorry, not sure because the author is anonymous) experience as an African-American author. Sad to say, but it seems as if AA authors get shelved in the AA section whether they want to be there or not. I never thought of this before, which shames me. I assumed there was an AA section because folks wanted it. I never stopped to think which folks. Can it be possible that African-Americans weren’t clamoring for their own section in the bookstore? Is it merely a publishing/bookselling decision that leaves the people most affected out of the process? Why aren’t there Irish-American sections? Or Jewish-American sections? Or Catholic-American sections? Has white America become so sensitive to the issue of race that we think having a section devoted to black literature makes us enlightened and supportive? Are we afraid that if we don’t have it, we’ll be accused of being racist?
I’m just asking the questions. I have no answers. For myself, I believe everyone should be taken as an individual. I don’t want to be thought of as a racist because I’m white any more than a black person wants to be thought of as inferior because he or she is black. I am me, and I try my damndest to understand everyone. I know I have the privilege of race in my corner. On the other hand, I live in a state in which I am the minority. They call us haoles here. It means, basically, without breath. It also means I am white, not Hawaiian, not a local. This doesn’t mean that I suddenly know what it’s like to be a minority in a world where white images of power and beauty are still the norm (read THE BLUEST EYE for an idea what those images can do to someone who doesn’t have a prayer of possessing them).
So, it was with some interest I went to the bookstore today. I know that at least one of the Borders here segregates literature. Today, I happened to be in Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana (Honolulu). What I found pleasantly surprised me.
The AA section was one shelving unit, and it contained non-fiction and some classic autobiographical narratives like Harriet Jacobs’s INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. Then I went into the “Fiction/Literature” section. There, on the shelves with everyone else, were the AA authors. They BELONG there, just like any other book. I expected to find Toni Morrison there. I also expected Terry McMillan and Eric Jerome Dickey. But finding Kimberla Lawson Roby and Brenda Jackson was nice too. (See Brenda Jackson shelved under John Irving.)
How about Mary Monroe under Rohinton Mistry? The purple-spined book next to Mistry was AA too, but I can’t read it in the pic or remember the name.
A few other pics, just for the heck of it. I got some strange looks snapping these, but what the heck. 🙂 There were several Kayla Perrin books here….
And, finally, the queen of gorgeous language, Zora Neale Hurston shelved next to Stephen Hunter. We should all be so lucky as to write like Hurston.
I know it’s not a lot, but it’s a start. At least one store in one state has got it right. Now if we can just get the rest of them to shelve accordingly. I’ve never been afraid to shop the AA section for books, but it never occurred to me what I might be missing because those books weren’t marketed to me (ads, reviews, displays, etc). I’d have never known about Hurst
on if not for an AA Lit class. I’d have never branched out on my own without that class, which means I’d have never read Alice Walker’s POSSESSING THE SECRET OF JOY (should be required for all women–I even made my husband read it).
A good book is a good book, dammit. And it’s not just AA authors we should seek out. Leslie Marmon Silko and Yasunari Kawabata should not be missed either, for example. They are Native American and Japanese accordingly. Kawabata is a Nobel winner.
Okay, just my thoughts, such as they are. I’ll read anything that’s good, I’ll try any book (other than horror). Don’t segregate the literature for me. If you want to market AA authors to an AA audience, fine. But don’t leave the rest of us out of the loop once you’ve done so. A hundred years ago, it was women authors trying to make inroads into men’s stranglehold on serious literature. The fight now is no less important. A good book is a good book. So, got any recommendations for me? I have the TBR pile from hades, but I’m always buying more books (and sneaking them in too–oops. Honey, ignore that.) 🙂