Novels by Black authors
When it comes to nonfiction, the answer is obvious: a book about doing black hair or addressing health issues in the black community, etc. should be targeted to black readers. That makes sense. But what about novels? What makes a novel a black book?
It’s written by a black writer?
It’s got “black subject matter” (slavery, buppies (black yuppies), Tuskegee Airmen, the black church, the Civil Rights Movement, ghetto life, hip hop, BAPs (black American Princesses))?
The characters are black?
By those definitions, On Beauty, A Mercy, Run, and James Patterson’s Alex Cross mysteries would be considered black books, which they aren't. So maybe it’s a combination of the above factors. Say, if the author is black, the characters are black and the story is about black life, then it’s a black book.
But if that was the case, The Joy Luck Club would be a Chinese book. The Kite Runner would be an Afghani book. But I don’t think anybody thinks of them that way. Jennifer Weiner’s books aren’t written for and read by only a Jewish audience. I’m sure The Dirty Girls Social Club was marketed to Latinas, but also was promoted to a wider audience.
So what makes a novel a black book? Are there novels only black people would want to read? Street lit or urban lit, maybe? Again, I reject that argument because first, I’m not a reader of street lit and I’m black. And second, certainly more than Italian-Americans dig The Godfather, the ultimate gangsta story.
The Godfather is considered by many as literary fiction, as are Zadie Smith’s and Toni Morrison’s books. So then does literary merit decide what audience the book is marketed to? If it’s literary, white people will like it too? If so, who’s reading all those “trashy” books by white authors?
I’m at a loss for how it’s determined which books will be promoted to a wide audience and which books will (at least at first) be marketed only to black readers. The only criteria I can figure is that a so-called black book is one that will be read primarily by black people. But who decides that? How does anybody know which books will even find a large black audience?
This is the definition of black literature I’m going with. It’s from AALBC.com:
“The Black voice is distinctive and powerful. African American books explore the place of Black people in society, in their families, in their faith, and in their own minds. Books by Black authors share the commonality of all human experience while also outlining the uniqueness of being a person of color.”
This definition doesn’t deny that there may be differences between books written by blacks and books written by other ethnic groups. And it acknowledges that black books are books that anyone can read and enjoy.