Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Thoughts

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6593578.html A co worker pointed this article out to me today. Its written by Denene Millner co author of the new Young adult series Hotlanta
I thought I'd take the time to share my thoughts on it. I agree that African American fiction is on a serious decline. The section is filled with urban and street literature, I've shed tears in the past but now I've even up hope. I also agree that there must be something done about teenage girls reading their mother's Zane books.

"Very few prolific authors have enjoyed consistent, successful careers writing about black teen life, and only a handful of publishing houses have dedicated their resources to publishing black teen books."

I agree that there are not nearly enough black authors writing YA novels but it would've be nice if a few were acknowledged by name. Why not recognize some of the authors who paved the way for Hotlanta like Sharon G. Flake, Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon M. Draper, Walter Dean Myers and Julius Lester to name a few. Giving these authors credit does not diminish the fact that there are not enough books for black teens but rather reinforces that truth because the list is so small.

At the bookstore I work at I am constantly getting teachers, librarians and parents who are searching for YA novels starring or featuring black characters. Teachers or librarians unfamiliar with new black teen authors are always willing and open to learning about them. So I happily share a few names like Coe Booth, Tia Williams Tanita S. Davis, Okorafor-Mbachu; Nnedi, Chase-Hyman, Paula ,Deborah Gregory and M. Sindy Felin just to name a few. There are not enough publishing houses geared toward black teens but if asked I am quick to point out the Bluford High series published by Scholastic or Kimani Tru novels published by Kimani press. I wish book stores carried more black YA fiction but just because its not in stock doesn't mean I won't tell the customers about it. At that point its no longer about the sale but exposing black teens to characters and situations they can relate to and possibly find a piece of themselves in.

"Houses should be publishing more books about and for African-American teens, and not tomes about slavery, the ghetto and growing up in impossible conditions."

Tomes about slavery is a tad harsh, unnecessary and inaccurate. The sisters in Hotlanta are well to do and don't live in the ghetto anymore because this stepfather is a big man in the drug game. Living in a house with a man that would hurt you to keep his secret doesn't seem like the most ideal living conditions.

"At a book conference for teachers, librarians and booksellers, many attendees cast a dismissive eye on Hotlanta, with its pretty brown girls on the cover, wearing cute dresses and fresh makeup, posed against the Atlanta skyline. “This,” one teacher huffed, “is street fiction—like Zane, right?"

Hotlanta is nothing like Zane, however the cover does have a street lit look, and people at the conference probably dismissed it for this reason. Though Hotlanta is not my type of read, but its good that black teen girls have another option. Hotlanta might be the book that turns some into book lovers.

"I can't tell you how painful it is to have my books—particularly a teen book—dismissed as street fiction because the cover features black girls.

I am offended for all the teachers and librarians I interact with on a regular basis at the bookstore I work at or blogs I visit, that Millner believes Hotlanta is looked upon has street lit. because the cover features black girls. The cover artist should be blamed for people mistaking Hotlanta for street fiction.

If you want more black children's authors check out http://thebrownbookshelf.com/28-days-later/


Toni Campbell said...

i got your back if she figures out where we work!

Kelly said...

Great post, Doret!

Doret said...

Thank you Toni and Kelly

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking interest in the piece I wrote for Publisher's Weekly. It's precisely this kind of discourse that I was hoping for when I wrote it. I would like you to know that the original piece DID point out that Sharon Flake, Walter Dean Meyers, and Jacqueline Woodson, authors I admire, paved the way for my writing partner and I to write "Hotlanta." Indeed, the sentence you highlighted, which began with "Very few authors," was the opening to my shout outs to the ones who have been prolific and enjoyed great success. I also pointed out that some houses, like Kimani True and Scholastic, with its Buford High series, have made the commitment to put out books that speak specifically to this group. Unfortunately, I have no control over which pieces of my essay an editor of a magazine I don't own chooses to leave on the cutting room floor.

Re: the Hotlanta cover: I'm sorry that you think it looks like street fiction. The last time I checked, though, the covers of urban lit looked a lot like soft porn, with scantily-clad women pawing over half-naked men in provocative poses. I'd argue that the only thing the Hotlanta cover has in common with those covers is that the characters featured are African American. That's about it. Our girls are tastefully dressed, they're smiling, they're standing like ladies... I see no comparison. But we've become so conditioned to the provocative covers that we can no longer distinguish between normal and shameful. It's just all bad. And for that, I'm truly disappointed. Disgusted, really.

I thank you for acknowledging the overall point of my essay, which was to point out that it's extremely hard for African American writers trying to SAY SOMETHING with their work, who truly adore the written word, and who are writing for more than just a quick hustle of a buck or two, to be successful at what they're trying to do: bring quality fiction to black teens, who still have to wade through a massive amount of literature featuring white characters to find stories like those written by the fabulous authors you mentioned. Blogs like TheHappyNappyBookseller and TheBrownBookshelf do us a wonder of good, as do booksellers like you, who lead our children to the fountain and encourage them to drink. For this, I am grateful.

Oh, and "Toni": I would never come for you, baby. But I might just give you the stink eye! LOL!


Denene Millner
author, Hotlanta and If Only You Knew: A Hotlanta novel

Doret said...

First of all thank you for stopping by Denene Miller. I am happy to hear that mentioned some YA authors in your article.

The cover- Yes, to me Hotlanta has a street like look. I almost copped out, on giving a reason because I couldn't put my finger on it, but since you were kind enough by, I figured you deserved an answer. So I just browsed a bunch of street lit. covers on amazon ( that was so not fun). Halfway through it came to me, Its the posed photograph close up. A lot of street lit covers have their not so clothed models posed on the cover. The models on Hotlanta for beautifully dressed but they are posed. Street lit covers have ruined photographed posed cover close ups for me. Is it right probably not but its how I feel.

I am hoping librarians or teachers will comment on this post. Did you or didn't you purhcase Hotlanta and why. And what black teen fiction have you purchased recently. Only through continued discussion can we better understand each other and get a few more black children's authors on the shelves.

Oh, Toni says that now but she would probably ask for your autograph if you came into the store. Not for Hotlanta though, she doesn't do teen fiction. (I've tired) I couldn't even tempt Toni with a black teenage girl who wanted to become a vegetarian chef. Though she does love Knuffle Bunny