Remember that song and game from Sesame Street? Well, before class tonight at Hoya-town and watching these interesting Pa. Primary returns, I stopped off at Borders...or was it Barnes & Noble...or was it Target? Yes, to fetch another copy of Mat Johnson's graphic novel Incognegro (buy it also on the right) for my sister's boyfriend. Imagine my surprise when I told the store employee I couldn't find it! Not in fantasy or especially the huge comic/graphic novel section. Nope, she says, "Oh, we put it in the black section." Oh. Oooooooooh, yeah. I was also looking for Native Son. Guess where I found it? Classic American fiction? No. Oooooooooooh, yeah, in the black section. Next to Terri Woods and such. Ghetto lit. Street & sex/thug and ho/soap opera section. Hoped to get my wife a copy of another edition of Dorothy West's The Wedding. Mrs. Nat's is all dog-earred and ragged--as a book should be!
But guess what? Had to push through the urban fiction again. Yeah, sandwiched in the W's with Miz Terri's stuff and all kinds of bamma pablum. On a whim, I said surely Edwidge Danticat ain't in here. The name--sounds so foreign. The artsy covers? Nah, the employees or book store pigeonholing won't catch Ms. Danticat.
Oooooooooh. Not so. There she was, in the Ds. in the black section. Next to a handful of Eric Jerome Dickey titles. And even he ain't "urban." Jamaica Kincaid...oooooooooh, yeah. In that handy, one-stop literary Soweto, Jim Crow corral called the black section...
Now, many of us laud this condition. They say why not! Give the average brotha 'n sista what they want. Make my stuff front and center 'cause ain't nobody got no time for Richard Wright [even though on bookfest panels they'll invoke his name in a heartbeat hahahaha] Don't make 'em dig for it...we should rejoice that they're even walking into a bookstore! Ahem...uh...um...in that statement we have more allegory for what's wrong with us. Perhaps the efforts of groups like RingShout, et al should not be aimed at publishers after all, and exhortations in this area always fall on deaf or hostile ears when it comes to fans, bookclubs and certainly other authors. As music journalist Mike Gonzales exhorts, the thrust should be at the booksellers. A Powerpoint presentation utilizing Sesame Street might be a good first step.