Where These Conversations Are

“Fiction by Black Writers: Who Are the Readers?” was held on February 21st by the Brooklyn Historical Society. Eventbrite publicizes the event as–

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Colson Whitehead, Yaa Gyasi…some of today’s biggest names in fiction are black writers, and yet a predominantly white publishing industry maintains the assumption that black literature lacks marketability. Join writer and distinguished academic Dr. Elizabeth Nunez for a panel discussion challenging this assumption, with Essence Magazine book editor Patrik Henry Bass, Vice President, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of Random House’s One World Chris Jackson, President of the Authors’ Guild Roxana Robinson, and editorial director at Akashic Books Ibrahim Ahmad.

My friend sent me the Eventbrite link to check out some of the authors whose names got dropped in this description. After about a ten-year drought because I was sick to death of white-dominated narratives and formulaic genre crap getting shoved under my nose, I am ready to indulge my love of reading again and pick a new book and a new author to devote some of my time to. Preferably, a Black author who writes Black main characters that I haven’t yet discovered.

But when I clicked on the link in my friend’s e-mail and read the description, I was more interested in attending the even itself to hear to from the speakers. Black FICTION writers? BLACK? People actually talking about the predominantly white publishing industry (read: admitting that the publishing industry is predominantly white)? And likely talking about its assumption that Black fiction writers do not exist or “lack marketability”?

Awww shoot! DANG, I gotta hear this, is what I thought. Tell me the state of the things! For my own validation/affirmation as a Black writer if nothing else. More times than not, this truth about publishing and television is an unspoken truth. It just goes without saying to those People of Color who see it for what it is.

I really, really wanted to hear what other people have to say about this topic. But I’m not just broke, man. No matter how badly I wanted to fly across the country and attend this event, I couldn’t go on February 21st and I still can’t go even if they held the event in New York again.

My head isn’t filled with academic articles from credible sources and published intellectuals on what other people have to say about the topic of Black writers and their marketability (or lack thereof) to white publishers. Nor is my knowledge condensed into a perfectly pitch-able nonfiction volume you can pick up at the bookstore or sample from in your undergrad and masters courses. But I know what I observe when I watch television. What I see when I go into a store and look at their paperbacks. What I’ve read since I first discovered of my love of words and books. I know what I experienced as a little Black girl who grew up on welfare in the U.S. The situation surrounding the marketability and visibility of Black authors deeper than just the publishing industry. The problem is rooted in the core of what readers are exposed to, beginning arguably even as early as the womb. The problem lies in what readers choose to believe and the writers, histories, and narratives they choose to exclude from their bookshelves and consciousness.

As tired as I am of “politics” and navigating a STILL white-dominated media, I feel like conversations like “Fiction by Black Authors” put on by organizations like BSU and the Brooklyn Historical regarding Black and of Color authors specifically aren’t happening as often as they should. Maybe its because I now live in a near-dead, somewhat backwards city. Can’t really say for sure.

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