What I want to know is where is the black authored literary fiction? Too few books too far between take up space on shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Apparently surveys were conducted and tests showed there is not a significant enough audience for such books. Once upon a time pretty much all black fiction was serious and literary in nature. Times were troubled and our literature reflected this. Writers like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude Mckay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen and Ralph Ellison had no shortage of material to work with during the hard times referred to as the black writer’s renaissance. Times are much better now, equality if not quite reached then come "close enough" to, with President Obama's existence being the prime example of this theory. So it has been concluded that there's no need for a 21st century Native Son or Invisible Man or The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, or etc. The civil rights struggle has been waged and won, so we can relax now and bring on the fluff. Such an attitude hurts all African American art, with literature the most adversely affected, although I suppose a very similar argument can be made for the plight of jazz. Walker, Morrison and a couple others have been designated as the official providers of serious African American literature, with no more room left at the table for additional voices. There is plenty of room of course, but it will not be freely offered, it needs to be taken by writers with something significant to say who find a way to grab the attention of an easily distracted audience. This mission is a worthy one, and a necessary one.
With African Americans being a minority group in this country, which makes AA lit a minority amongst genres if it absolutely must be considered a genre, I have no problem with any particular style or subject matter that is being written. Everyone should write in their own voices and about what they're passionate about. But since AA lit is a minority genre unto itself for the time being, it can only thrive through diversity and quality. There must be high brow to accompany middle brow and low brow. We can't allow ourselves to be represented as a group through the equivalent of the cartoon network without also showing consistent capability to both create and appreciate Masterpiece Theater. I'm fine with an outrageous BET reality show or lighthearted Tyler Perry production so long as balanced by substantive screenplays by Spike Lee. Books have a far more lasting impact than TV or movies. Classics of today will be taught in classrooms a century from now. So we must tell the full range of our stories in the widest range of techniques in order for AA lit to be amongst those classics. Neither genre nor subject matter is really an issue. A great literary novel can be written about the life of a drug dealing pimp (even one set in space in the 23rd century) same as a piece of drivel can be written on the same topic. I will always take quality over quantity, although quantity is critical too, not merely the amount of titles but the amount of perspectives being explored by the literary minds of our day. Darwin was right. Only the strongest will survive. This pertains to literature along with everything else. History will not judge the color of writers' skins, only the value of what they had to say and how well they were able to express it.
PART II to this story