Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another blast in the culture war

The enemy's been lobbing howitzer rounds over the front line and right into our laps. Here's the latest in the slow destruction of black literature. Thong on Fire. Note what Publisher's Weekly says: Last seen during a short walk-on (or rather, incall) in Thug-a-Licious, Saucy Robinson returns with a vengeance in Noire's latest Harlem street tale, with Noire's most sophisticated plot to date. Born in Harlem to a black ex-G.I. father and a junkie Korean prostitute mother, Saucy (named Seung Cee by her mother and Sarita by her father) ends up in her uncle Swag's care by age eight, after her mother pimps her out to various men and her lesbian lover. Saucy's upstairs neighbor is a black girl named Tai, and the two are on-again, off-again frenemies for the rest of the book. Saucy, a total hottie, ends up attached to various drug dealers and working at a strip joint, the G-Spot. She breaks into doing rap videos, and ordinary-looking Tai, who is working for super-rapper Freedom Moore, hooks them up. Free wants Saucy to act straight, and if she can, her happiness might be assured. Beyond the sex, what drives the book is Saucy's vivid, trash-talking unreliability."

Now, whte authors can write a best seller about a mouse who dies and is reincarnated as a harried single mother cancer survivor's granddad, and they all live on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942. Oprah might even endorse the thing. If we deviate from the norm, however--thug books, church lady romance, softcore porn, melodramatic "thriller" soap operas/saucy romps--I doubt you'll see Publishers Weekly so kind. As if to say: "Stick with your own 'gritty, edgey' stuff. Leave the real fiction [ie plotlines as described above] to us." Even if we can break out the current mold, we HAVE to write about race. Gotta be. Gotta do it. And it's not Al Sharpton or Jesse or Young Jeezy or Russell Simmons shaming us into doing it. It's a incarnation of "Charlotte York" from "Sex & the City" who works for a major publisher who's calling those shots. Come on now...fans and fellow authors. You know I speak the truth, eh?

When I speak of the front line, I speak of those well-meaning'd, "deep-thinking, culture-plus New Yawk literatti" like Kevin Powell who have begun a "new movement," a new ethos. Hurray for them. Yet they either shrink away, apologize, rationalize or hazelnut latte-deep think-crunchy-granola-I live in Ft. Green theorize away the truly base, bling and utterly unredeeming creature hip hop and hip hop culture has become; part and parcel of a greater decay that includes black literature, nonfiction...hell, the whole milieu of social, economic, political life. I guess as a man in my now mid 40s, I've got a foot in the old world and toe in the new, and I wish I had fins instead of feet so I could dive away from both! My choice of the artillery imagery is apt. The rounds are arcing high over the heads of the stalwart folk like Powell and decimating the rear areas. Areas they themselvs depend on for logistical support. All this while they write scholarly pieces and debate pithily on talk shows on PBS and attend neo-Soul concerts. The first four or five Hip Hop Summits that such folk empanelled mave have touched--delicately--on matters of culture, but around the seventeenth or eighteenth, well, it's microwave tripe and treacle now. More of the "white man and old-libe Civil Rights era folks don't get us." In the meantime the enemy--and as the cartoon character Pogo expound, that is a piece of us. Their supporters are the greedy/clueless/unscrupulous/craven/paternalistic members of the majority in publishing/music/TV/film/sports ownership/sports management/academia. Street fiction authors basking in the glow, like rappers and running backs--have they uttered a word in support of the kids in Jena, Louisiana, or for Glenarlow Wilson? I dare say we do...

...I dare say so for "we" in genre fiction, we who attempt to entertain AND educate, we who drink Yeungling rather than Pinot or kefir, we who aren't living in Ft. Green or on the cusp in LA and who see the so-called future and young professionals yapping at a Buckhead, Atlanta happy hour not about Kevin Powell's razor analysis, or Martha Southgate's prose, or the turn of a muscial phrase in a Jazz composition or the architecture of one of Cedric Smith's photographs. No, we are among them, hear them loudly proclaim Thong on Fire as the new Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the cut of Jay-Z's new linen suit, and bounce of Beyonce's tits. Or we see baggy-troued andtight-dressed young black folks in the park and they shout "Whatchew writing next?" and you tell them, and they say they'll buy it and they don't because they ned to cash to detail their cars or get new rims or buy new stuff at Marshalls for their cousin's babymama's kids. And we also hear the true rumblings of the streets. Not the theoretical & mythological musigs and machinations, but the practical ugly effect of nihilism and tragic disregard for social norms, for decency, for an education. Oh we confront or speak to or mentor or avoid or endure or are mugged/robbed/raped abused by folk who have not a clue who Kevin Powell is, but appreciate that black folks like him say that their behavior is due to poverty and no male (or female) role models and a disconnect. And when they do, they laugh and destroy each other to a Slim Thug soundtrack and maybe they'll read another literary tour de force penned by C-Murder as they sit on the toilet or wait for the No. 27 bus...

The shrapnel and the concussion's ripping us to pieces. Kevin and those of your ilk with the one-word or Afrocentric names or noms de plume, put down those lattes and those rites of passage essays and those scripts for yet another summit. Put on your goddamn helmets. Let's start firing back! And let's do it with the same bloodlust as is visited on us...

For today let's pray from the UK and this wave of terrorism. 7/7 anniversary is coming up. Billions for law enforcement solutions and intelligent intelligence...not one more m-f'ing cent for an idiotic war started on lies and cynical politics, that did nothing and solved nothing and made things worse. Bring the National Guard units home from Iraq. NOW.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

HOLLA!

(but no way I'm going to reveal my i.d.-- you re a brave soul!)

with respect,

The Silent Majority of Folk Who Are Sick of this Ghetto Sh*t Too

"TSMFWASTGST"

Lisa said...

I saw two 18 year old girls reading this in Borders this past week. The fact that adults are reading it is even more crazy.

lance williams, sr said...

The Nick Chiles debate lives on, huh? But it seems no one wants to hear y'all's refrain anymore. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em I'd say. Look at what Omar Tyree is doing now. I can't see Chris Chambers writing sentimental tripe like his pal Mr. Eric Jerome Dickey or Mary Morrison mindless romances, but he better learn ROFLMAO. Heed, bruh. Now after my wife kicks my ass for saying this I'll tell you what I really think!

By the way do a post Captain America's death!

Chicama Vineyard said...

This looks like an "in the family" discussion (or fight?) but I do agree with you that white authors seem to able to get away with the freedom of more topics and more outlandish ones.

Are you saying that white people force African Americans to have parochial or pedestrian tastes? Do African Americans have more parochial and pedestrian tastes? I think it's up to each person to decide whether you are a bitter elitist, or among a growing number of prophets who readers should heed! I'm not in a position to comment, but I've always liked your work and your blog.

nabila J said...

Aw leave my Kevin Powell alone. I know what you're trying to say and you aren't atacking him but there's no need for your usual overstatements. I sincerely believe he'd agree with some of what you put in this post, and there's so much! LOL I LOVE Kevin Powell (since The Real World!)

I think your main points do require a lot of discussion. I think you should have added to the post with some of Martha Southgate's insights in an Essay published today in the New York Times. Trying to embed it:

nabila j said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/books/review/Southgate-t.html

Cut and paste for martha's essay

eisa said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog, Chris. (www.EisaUlen.com/blog)

I do think Martha's essay and Nick's op-ed piece will be on the required reading list for future generations, as I said on my "Martha Southgate in The Times" entry, but this rave you've blogged might need to be on future syllabi, too. :)

I think you articulate our frustration. We're all mad; now, what should we do? I try to develop a readership for literary fiction as a professor at Hunter College and some time substitute teacher here in Fort Greene. Meanwhile, I think the sales of street fiction are heading toward a decline soon. Just as Hip Hop sales are decreasing as fast as the art disappears from our music, I think readers will tire of the poorly written Sister Souljah derivatives out there. But we can't just wait for this street fiction thing to self-destruct, so what else do you think we should do? What's the plan, man?

Pebbles Flintstone said...

Amen, Eisa!

natural muze said...

i was having this debate with a friend the other day. we were in the book store and i seriously had to dig through the shelves to find something worth reading. i mean, i don't mind eric jerome dickey...i actually like his stuff. mary morrison is fine too. i just have a problem with titles like 'baby mama drama' and 'thong on fire' and 'a hustla's wife'. i mean, geesh. it's ridiculous. her thing was, well at least they're reading. but i honestly don't think you can benefit anything from reading 'a hustla's wife'. for real.

michael a. gonzales said...

as i wrote chris this morning
there are so many writers of color who are getting lost in the mix--it seems the only writers who are getting any press are the so-called hip-hop writers (i'm currently working on a manifesto of what i think a real Hip-Hop writer should represent) and the five blacks that are so-called literary writers. genre writers, including horror, comic books sci-fi and detective fiction are all but ignored.

not to come across as bitter, but the work my friend miles marshall lewis has put into the lit magazine "bronx biannual" (whose first two issues has published interesting fiction that is both Hip-Hop and literary) is as groundbreaking and important as the launch of "the paris review."

yet, so far no major articles in publishers weekly have appeared. i guess we're just not "niggerish" enuff or lit enough to matter.

Felicia Pride said...

Shout-out to Eisa. What's the plan? Publishers respond to bottom lines. Michael is right that tons of our writers are falling through the cracks. How can we better support our writers? What are our alternatives beyond PW and the NYTBR? Not to sound trite, but action speaks louder...

check out my post at thebacklist.blogspot.com.

Felicia

Christopher Chambers said...

TheBlackList and BIBR (which, I'm sorry to say, looks like it's shrinking and it seems like we see the issues once a blue moon) are doing their part, but...

...I don't see this as a "bottom-line" issue. I see this as a cultural issue that bottom-line implications, and I see a sad complictity with Mr. Charlie's and Missy Anne's insouciance/cluelessness/arrogance by certain black authors, just as insidious as what we're debating in hip hop and sports. Clearly that paradigm of "at least we're reading SOMETHING" is a fraud, as, other than a few folk getting older trying to approach more complex stories and themes, the vast majority of these new readers, coupled with the old folk who happy buy the same crap day after day, written by the same people--no, we aren't advancing, broadening, evolving. Think it's bad in fiction--look at non fiction, professional/scholarly monographs, and of course poetry. We're fat as hell yet dying of starvation.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

You stand your ground and fight for what you believe in. I like that.

Your arguement reaches further than you realize when it comes to black writers in the various genres.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh Dayyyyum, okay. I swear you are one bad mutha...shut yo mouth, I'm talkin bout, CC. I'm scared of you. Thou shall not speak out about our masters. Thou shall not look the great publishing house negrahs in the eye. These are black editors buying these great works. The bottom line is real and we all need to eat.

I've taken the time to read some of these books with the booty slappin covers and I have to say, they're not all that different from the mainstream books of some of our esteemed black authors. We're all being judged by our bookcovers, (which is why Martha Southgate's trade cover is now a little saucier that the original hardcover) But the words are the same. Imagery is nine tenth's of the law. Slap a big booty on your cover and you too will be "one of them" I will admit there is more sex than a little bit, but that's what sells. If there wasn't a butt romping scene in the Kite Runner he wouldn't have sold a million copies, believe dat. So sex sells to everybody, not just black folk. As far as our black youth reading these books, so what. I used to read Danielle Steele in my teens just for the neck kissing scenes. Now kids are reading these books for the equivalent, which these days include rug burns. Times have changed is all. Now I've got to get back to my next literary masterpiece. Massah's watching. Keep your head low and start writing. Can't start a revolution by just talking about it. Get-r-done.

Anonymous said...

Revelation: I am a white man married to a black woman. I am revealing this because I want people to know I am not trying to offend anyone. However, when I see the current state of Hip Hop (I'm 34 and have been a fan since 15) coupled with this "Tyler Perry" syndrome and the Street Lit and of course Zane (who my wife reads, very true), perhaps African American tastes simply haven't caught up with the variety of art now out there. Like the Harlem Renaissance, black writers who are not penning true vaudeville and burlesque flavored works had to depend on the patronage of white wealthy people. When Zora was published black people didn't rush out to buy the books. You might say it's because they didn't have the money. Many did. I think Nat Turner touched on a side-view of this when hesaid white writers can do a book about anything. I think the corollary of this is that we have a higher chunk of our population willing to support this. Black people do not. Perhaps 10% of the adult population are being called upon to support this form of art. Those are not good odds. Accordingly, I would say the future lay in developing younger readers and appealing to white audiences. Sorry to say that may be the only workable strategem. I haveno problem with adults reading "street lit" but African Americans need to rethink this for teens and kids, just as messages for them in Hip Hop etc must be frankly addressed.

Lola Gets said...

"...whte authors can write a best seller about a mouse who dies and is reincarnated as a harried single mother cancer survivor's granddad, and they all live on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942."

Too funny! And unfortunately, too true.

L

Lola Gets said...

I like the title "Thong Of Fire" better. Theres more to work with there, lol.
L

LaJane Galt said...

When I'm on the Metro I check out what "we" are reading. Usually nigglature like Thong on Fire (ouch)or Jesus help me.

If I see another Candy Licker poster I will tear it down. Is that ghetto or protest?