African American authors Best Sellers
As we near the end of the 2013, we enter the season when major newspapers and magazines release their “Best of [enter year] lists”. So naturally we were curious about the level of representation of authors of color in last year’s New York Times Top 10 Bestsellers list. We chose to look at their most general bestsellers list, Combined Print & E-Book Fiction (adult), and looked at the top ten books for all 52 weeks of 2012. The results were staggering, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Academy Awards, The Tony Awards, The Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films, US politics, and Silicon Valley where we analyzed yearly/multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity.
A few noteworthy facts we discovered while conducting the study:
- Only three out of the 124 authors who appeared on the list during 2012 are people of color
- No African American authors made the Top 10 Bestsellers list that we looked at in 2012
- Of the three books/book series by authors of color that made the list, only one contains a main character of color (Eva Tramell of the Crossfire series is part Latina)
An interview with author Charles Yu (below) helps give a glimpse of life as a living and working author of color in today’s marketplace.
Charles Yu is the author of three books, including Science Fictional Universe, which was a New York Times Notable Book and named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. His latest is Sorry Please Thank You, which was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle. Charles can be found on Twitter @charles_yu
Do the statistics for The New York Times Top 10 Bestsellers list surprise you?
Charles Yu: A little bit—maybe because in the spheres of my interest, there’s a fair amount of diversity of authors’ backgrounds. The NYT list, especially the top 10 or top 15, is really rarefied territory, though. Even books that are quite “big” can be far off from even being in the vicinity of the bottom of that list. It just takes an immense amount of distribution and exposure to get on the list.
Did your parents encourage you to pursue a career in the arts?
CY: They encourage my writing, but not necessarily as a career, and I think in some ways that is just realistic of them. They overcame a lot, sacrificed a lot, to give me opportunities here, and the odds are just so heavily against having enough success in the arts to make it viable as a livelihood, that I really understand. I would imagine I was not the only one.
Do you think part of the problem of why there is a lack of diversity among authors of adult fiction is because immigrant families tend to steer their children away from jobs in entertainment and toward stable jobs such as doctors and lawyers?
CY: I have Asian American friends and acquaintances in a wide range of fields who have or have not made certain kinds of choices, have or have not pursued careers in arts, entertainment, or other creative fields, who are currently in all different kinds of situations professionally, and their parents and circumstances and decisions have varied all over the map. But one common theme (at least for those roughly my age) is that they felt a gravitational effect, or funneling or some pressure, to go to grad school or professional school, to choose certain kinds of safe/lucrative/stable professions. Some of that’s part of the immigrant generational curve. The first wave comes (in my parents’ case, as part of a big influx of engineering/medical/science students from Taiwan starting in 1965), and they plant a foothold, socio-economically and culturally. They find good neighborhoods, companies, and school districts. And they want their kids to consolidate that socio-economic progress. But the success they have had, my parents and their cohort, that is the stability and the opportunity that allows someone like me to take more chances and to feel comfortable enough, in a lot of ways, including in a sense of being part of the culture, of the mainstream, to think I might be able to write a novel. So I would say that things are a lot different now, even just a generation later. For my kids and their kids, the amount of opportunity will just continue to improve.