Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Part II of Black Literature: Dead or Alive?

Back in August of 2009 I wrote this blog posting, posing the hypothetical question of whether or not African American Literature is still alive. By using the term “literature” rather than books/novels/fiction I hoped to draw a distinction between works of obvious literary merit and cases where brilliance isn’t quite so recognizable. Full disclosure: I was referring to books (self published as well as traditionally) that I snobbishly found by and large to be drivel. No reading of interior content or even much cover copy is required to make a quick analysis. A glance at the ridiculous titles accompanied by absurd cover imagery tells you all you need to know, basically, that these books are the publishing equivalent of coarse, low budgeted, misogynistic, violence glorifying hip hop videos. And when it comes to art that objectifies half the human race and prettifies the spilling of blood while setting back civil rights and social status equity strides by decades, I prefer the slick, well produced variety. Whether the protagonist is a pimp, whore, drug dealer or all of the above, bottom line is that you’ll probably have to go through A LOT of them to find decent writing. And yet A LOT OF THEM is precisely the number being published annually. The genre of urgan/gangsta/street books threatened to dominate the arena of “black books”, and in so doing, was causing damage that just may have been irrevocable.

I am therefore happy to report in September of 2012 as we prepare to kick off Banned Books Week that African American Literature is alive and kicking and thriving, delighting readers of fiction with melanin. As evidence I point to the titles listed below. Each of them was published in the 21st century (since 8/09 I’ve read several excellent novels by black authors [Kindred, Middle Passage, The Intuitionist, Tumbling, Things Fall Apart, etc.] that were published prior to 2000 as well) and reviewed after my concerned blog post. Those with asterisks next to them were published in 2009 or later. They collectively serve notice that great books by authors of color continue to be published in respectable numbers, meaning that we do indeed have balance, and that works just fine for me. I am not the swiftest reader, otherwise my line-up of evidence would be more plentiful. In addition to the books I’ve gotten around to, my TO BE READ cup runneth over. Apparently great novels are being written faster than I can read them, and this is the best possible news for the state of literature in any category.

My cynicism sometimes carries me away, and the speculation of others is often way off the mark. Turns out that radio didn’t kill the radio star, eReaders haven’t murdered the printed word, self publishing has not knocked off literary fiction, there's no reason to incarcerate book bloggers for the homicide of literary criticism, and ‘hood books have not stopped great works by African American authors and/or about everyday African American lives from entering the marketplace. They could certainly be promoted with more vigor, but the same can be said for literary prose in general. Twilight may have revived vampire stories (in glitzy teen fashion, anyway), but it is AA Lit that has risen from critical condition.

A Mercy – Toni Morrison

John Henry Days – Colson Whitehead

* Sag Harbor – Colson Whitehead

* Silver Sparrow – Tayari Jones

* Black Betty – Walter Mosley

* The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey – Walter Mosley

Hunting in Harlem – Mat Johnson

The Warmest December – Bernice McFadden

* Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward

The Intuitionist - Colson Whitehead

The Taste of Salt - Martha Southgate

Home - Toni Morrison

Freeman - Leonard Pitts Jr.

The Cutting Season - Attica Locke

Loving Day - Mat Johnson

Ruby - Cynthia Bond

The Star Side of Bird Hill - Naomi Jackson

Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi


R.I.P. Miranda Parker, known to many as @DeeGospel on Twitter, founder of the hashtag #BlackLitChat

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Open Mouth - Grab Foot - Insert

"My only concern is the poor, especially minorities, blacks in particular. The rest are set so can fend for themselves." – Invisible Obama

Even if that was how he feels (and it isn’t), the real live flesh and blood President Obama would never say such a foolish thing. Not during the heat of a campaign. Not in public. Not even behind doors he believed to be closed to the media. He learned his lesson about sounding even remotely condescending towards any group of people not serving in Congress the last go around. Yet there are plenty of people who believe my make believe quote to be an accurate summary of Obama’s point of view. Why? He’s a Democrat, ain’t he? He’s liberal, ain’t he? He’s Black, ain’t he? He’s not truly American regardless of where he was born, right? No matter what he says and does, there is a portion of the electorate that does not believe Obama gives priority to their interests. They require no evidence of this. That’s the beautiful thing about prejudice (not just talking race based prejudice either), it can’t be reasoned away because it’s incapable of recognizing things such as logic and common sense. Why believe their lying eyes when all that matters is what’s in their hearts?

Mitt Romney on the other hand did not need to carry the burden of appearing to care for only a select few. We didn’t assume that he’s only looking out for his select group of brethren from the start. After all, he has church service and a health care plan in Massachussets and even his “rescue mission” of the Olympic games to point to as evidence that he cares about ALL AMERICANS. Other selflish looking acts on Romney’s part may have given some people doubts about his character, but it would and should have been no great challenge for him to believably claim he’s running for President to help EVERYBODY. He’s a politician so of course he would have been viewed by the media and many voters with a degree of cynicism, even if he had a similar resume to that of Mother Teresa. Yet he should have been able to plausibly claim that he cares for that kid in the projects just as much as he does for that CEO who generously donated to his campaign. He merely needed to do a little acting. How difficult could that be? Romney has repeatedly shown he can appear to be convinced of one thing on Monday, and of the opposite being his belief by Friday. So surely he’d be able to make it to the end of a campaign without actually confessing that he could give a damn about nearly half the country. No way would he admit that he didn’t plan to preside on their behalf were we idiotic enough to elect him.

Guess again. The cat is out of the bag. It was a transparent bag so we could see the cat in there all along. But at least the feline was contained and therefore could do minimal damage. Now the critter is out and ready to race through all 9 of the Romney campaign’s lives. Mitt looks like a President, or so we’re supposed to believe. Appearances weren’t deceiving for long enough though. It didn’t take debating with the President to expose him. It didn’t take someone proving that he’s paid hardly any taxes over the years. It didn’t take making an absurdly dumb choice for vice president to be his undoing. Mitt Romney simply opened his mouth and told “his people” how he truly feels, because he didn’t think any of “the others” were listening in. There are a lot of others. I don’t know if the percentage is closer to 47% or 99% of the population, but it should be sufficient to make sure Mitt Romney never sees the inside of the White House unless he pays to take a tour.

"It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.” – Obama campaign

“Had he (he being Mitt's dad, who was born in Mexico for fascinating reasons) been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this.” - Mitt Romney

On a completely unrelated note, please check out my interview with the blogger behind Layered Pages.