(I wrote this piece in 2007 for romance author Deirdre Savoy’s newsletter. At that time there was much controversy among both Black readers and writers about the quality of Black literature that was being produced. The impetus for the controversy was the onslaught of urban or street lit books that were being published by mainstream houses seemingly giving the stamp of approval that this was standard Black literature.)
Black Literature: What Else but Positive
When Dee asked me to contribute my positive viewpoints about Black literature as a reviewer, I could only think, what else is there but positive about our writing? I thought I would expound from my vantage point of not only as a reviewer but also, as a writer and genealogist/historian.
As the family griot, the appointed collector of stories, I am responsible for the family reunion yearbook and keeper of the archives. The Black Diaspora is rich with stories and I have read many books that prove this point. Most recently I read Red River by Lalita Tademy, who gives a historical fiction account of her paternal line in Post Reconstruction Louisiana. It was the thirst for knowledge of her ancestors’ past that led Tademy to research and write about the Colfax Massacre.
Though I am a Cali girl, my heart and my roots are deep-seated in the Southern traditions of the past. A perfect reading moment for me is a cup of Blackberry Sage tea, a comfy quilt and my favorite corner of the couch, reading a book about Southern characters. As a reader, I crave these courageous stories that inspire, encourage and qualify our place in the global universe. History is my passion, and I will take it in any form, mysteries, nonfiction, biographies, or romance.
As a reviewer, I certainly enjoy being entertained and taken away from the real world for a few hours by romantic tales. But on the same level, I like to be educated in my reading. I have been informed by the genre of romance where I learned from Doris Johnson about the political issues regarding organ transplants in the African American community; the intricacies of the wine industry from Janice Sims; and the foreshadowing of suspense from Deirdre Savoy. Of course, who can give Black history lessons better than Beverly Jenkins with her historical romances?
As a reviewer, I do not succumb to the negative prattle about certain genres because I believe in the power of our stories and the intrinsic value in all of them. Do I have my preferences? Of course, I do. But there is significance in the urban/street lit that informs about the hard-knock life, as well as stories about our folk who come from nuclear, traditional families, Cosby-like, and all in between. They are all valid. The beautiful thing is there is not just one Black experience, one way of living, loving, and learning, therefore there are hundreds of ways to tell our stories.
All any writer can do is to write the best book they can, from his or her soul, that hopefully will appeal to the audience intended and if fortunate, be embraced by others who are intrigued by a darn, good story. There is a lesson to take note of, accepting not any one writer can be all things to all people. Most importantly, as writers, we should write the stories we want to read, and readers will be led to find us.