sue monk kidd's best-selling novel, the secret life of bees, was published by penguin books. the story was set in the south with african-american characters. kidd's novel garnered fame, fortune & recognition, in addition to being utilized on screen in a film of the same name starring queen latifah, jurnee smollet & alicia keys.
kathryn stockett's novel, the help, also published by a penguin books imprint, sold one million books w/in a year of publication. her accolades & awards include the prestigious south african boeke prize. the help is being adapted for the screen under the production of academy-award winning director steven spielberg.
both authors have realized their dreams. yet they are not the first white women to pen stories of the black american south & achieve success. in 1928, julia peterkin wrote a novel, scarlet sister mary, for which she received the pulitzer prize in fiction. kidd's & stockett's novels explore racism while celebrating the power of friendship & acceptance. the covers of both novels did not reveal the race of the characters, yet they were both marketed to black & white audiences.
bernice l. mcfadden's debut novel, sugar, was recently published by a penguin books imprint. set in the 1950s south, the story - akin to kidd & stockett - deals with racism & celebrates the power of friendship & acceptance. the original cover depicted a beautiful black woman standing behind a screen door. sugar was marketed solely to african-american readers. this type of marginalization is uniquely known among african-american writers as seg-book-gation.
the practice of seg-book-gation is culturally biased, financially impotent & historically demonizing. literature about the oppressed written by the oppressor has a long tradition. the disturbing trend can be traced to colonialism, a movement not only physical but textual, the evidence of which can be found in the diaries, journals & letters of colonists, plantation slave owners & settlers.
representation of african-americans by white folk in texts records a his-tory of inferiority. based on these perceptions, as well as institutional, legal & societal oppression, african-americans have endured enslavement, genocide, medical apartheid & segregation. inferiority is a fundamental tool to ethnic distancing in society. today, this tool is used with great precision in the mainstream publishing industry.
although the distancing may not be total, as a few african-american authors have enjoyed mainstream success, the brilliant work of many african-american authors is racialized in bookstores as african-american literature. this type of marketing implies our literature is anomalous & singular, but not universal. african-descended authors' works, then, are not viewed as people, rather, as a genre, much like mysteries, romances or thrillers.
if you walk through any local bookstore in america, or major bookstore abroad, you will not see sections of books labeled with the following categories: british literature, korean literature, pakistani literature and/or white american literature. none of these ethnicities are objectified or singled out the way african-american writers are.
mainstream publishing houses contort themselves to acquire books glorifying crime, drugs & illicit sex. known as hip hop fiction or street-lit, these novels often reinforce stereotypical images african-americans fought hard to overcome. we are the descendants of great literary pioneers who first gave voice to the african-american experience, yet somewhere we lost our way; today folks embrace, by default, a genre denigrating a cultural institution which took hundreds of years to construct.
2010 is arguably the 90th anniversary of the birth of the harlem renaissance. 50 years ago we honored the transition of zora neale hurston, a fiercely independent, yet misunderstood cultural icon during the renaissance. in 1950, hurston's poignant essay, what white publishers won't print, published in the negro digest, addressed current challenges faced by african-american authors seeking the american dream.
hurston wrote, "for various reasons, the average, struggling, non-morbid negro is the best-kept secret in america. his revelation to the public is the thing needed to do away with that feeling of difference which inspires fear, and which ever expresses itself in dislike." the sistah speaks truth to power!
...but is anybody listening?
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.