Friday, September 22, 2006

Zane's Birthday Party

I'm giddy. I'm going to Zane's birthday party (the big four-oh) here in D.C. this weekend. Lawd, she's a Virgo like my wife and my nephew and my grandmother...I'm an Aquarius. Virgos are obessive and nitpicky. Aquarians are obsessive and nitpicky about things that aren't real.

Terri Woods will be there, queen of the Triple Crown "street fiction" empire.

I wonder if the ghosts of Hughes, Wright, Hurston, Himes & Goins ( whom they claim to emulate), Hansberry, Haley, Bontemps, Octavia et al will follow me in there? Or will be there spells and hexes on the doors to da club, like in the shitty horror film "13 Ghosts."

Maybe I'll carry a 20/20 or Dateline NBC hidden mini-cam in there for Nick Chiles. Have you read his now famous New York Times op-ed piece on what he says is the woeful state of black literature?

I've been on panels and have talked to death on this topic. And I should copyright my statements, because I'm started to hear and see them all over the place, all over the industry--with attribution sometimes, sometimes not.

Look, I LOVE street fiction. I love the garish covers and crazy-ass titles. Futher, I LOVE the erotica out there and even the cheesy fake ghetto love tales. And Zane is better than all of them, the way the 1979 fratboy movie Animal House, as gross and base as it was, was also enough to bring tears to your eyes from belly laughs, make you quote now iconic lines or await cult classic scenes with baited breath. Animal House spawned a lot of imitators, including Porky's and a whole genre of humor. But nothing came close to the original.

Here's the gist. I love street fiction and this whole crass ghetto/bama fable genre like I love coconut layer and red velvet cake. Y'all know I am a dessert (primarily cake) fiend. But that's the rub. It's dessert. A treat. Something you taste after a hearty nutritious meal; something you relax with a big slice of and a cup of coffee.

Now the script's flipped. Dessert is dinner. Dinner is meaningless--almost pointless, we're told. Nutrition is hating. Nutrition, the art of preparing a warm meal and tasting it's nuances--that's "not want the people want." Borders lumps this stuff in with the ghosts I named above, and often those ghosts' works aren't even on the shelves, nor do our folk--and let's not lay all this blame or young people or women--even know where to look. And the authors see nothing wrong with it. Hell with Zadie Smith. Hell with Alice Walker--I've sold more books outta a Buick hoopdy in College Park, Georgia than Alice Walker. Miss Celie my ass...but every woman on the Metrobus is reading my new book Dicklickin' & Trigger Clickin' hahahaha.

But do you see the white equivalent of Dicklickin' (yes I made it up) mixed in the stacks with Dickens? Oh hell no. Mr. Charlie wouldn't stand for that. He'd much fill us with platitudes about our "raw and edgey" material. If you do nothing but shove coconut layer cake or red velvet cake down my throat, and offer me nothing else, and even disparage real food, I will eat it. I will not ask if there's anything else. I will not be tantalized by whole other worlds of food open to me. I will get fatter and fatter. My teeth will rot. I'll get diabetes and heart disease. I'll die.

But hey, "Cake speaks to me, my experience. Broccoli don't!" Bullshit. Let's not confuse escapist fables of thugs and loose women for nonfiction. You want "real?" Go watch The Wire on HBO and that will destroy all of your crazy show you how it's done RIGHT!

As a reading audience, we have to grow up. Nuff said. If that's elitist, well--what's the flipside of elite? Poor? "Mediocre-ist?" We're in a pandering culture. I suppose publishing is the last media to finally embrace that. Colin Channer drew an analogy to the unspoken battle between amateurish "spoken word" and serious poetry, i.e. poets who hone their craft. The former is viewed as more "real" by the masses and the latter something only vegan folk with natty dreadlocks embrace. And as for the authors--I suspect that you have to write one book every six months if your advance from "Mr. Charlie's" multinational media conglomerant which measures division and affiliate budgets in billions is barely enough to buy three pairs of average Italian gators from Stacy Adams? And that's despite the platitudes (Notice that the editors and PR folk at the big houses always look,act and sound like Charlotte on "Sex & The City?")

That brings me to the most insidious aspect of this switching from dinner to dessert, and the irrelevncy of dinner. Not that we have bought into this crap. We buy into a lot of nonsense because all we see is short-term. How can get paid? What little nugget can you give me so I can shout to MY folks "Look what I got for you (and me)! Look how I'm livin'! I make paper for myself and Mr. Charlie!" OK. Look at the Flavor of Love. Flav buffooning. Women of color acting like whores and feeding every stereotype. Guess who produces the show, writes the material? White boys. And it's on VH-1--part of Viacom (like BET hahahaha). What's next--"New York" and "Nibbles" as novelists? Sign 'em up Mr. Charlie, before Teri or my boy Carl Weber does! All that, and Tavis Smiley is on PBS, at what--11pm on Sunday nights? There's a place for Flav. We love to see the trainwreck. I knowI do!!! But lets give equal, MORE friggin' what real, what's informative, what's special. And FOR GOD'S SAKE let's at least not allow white people to spoonfeed the garbage to us!

All things in balance. Your diet. Your reading. Your life. This shit is totally out of balance now. Although maybe I will roll up to the club and get some Dizzy Gillespie-sized mouthfulls of cake. Then I'll fast and eat a marinated pork loin of Small Island, or some oldtime favorite comfort food: The Last of the Mohicans.

My wife just wants to see the male strippers. Talk about pork loin...


Anonymous said...

Mr. Chambers I saw you at on panel at the Chicago Tribune Book Festival at Printers Row, and at the Virginia Festival of the Book, where my son attends UVA. You met him if you recall. I think your comments are entertaining but they are right on the target about "dinner" and "dessert." Both of my son and daughter read these thug and sex books, but they also mainly read literature and contemporary "serious" novels but black writers. I am glad they live in the "balance" you talk about. I hope their taste in music and TV shows will change however.

We can't wait you to come back to Chicago and Indiana, and we can't wait to readr Yella Patsy's Boys, The Darker Mask and Bonefish (or Bahama Mama?). Will you do any Bivens books again?

Anonymous said...

.... What about writers such as Plank, Sartre, Sade, Zizek ,Kundera, Cassirer,Hesse, James, Djebar, etc. Why is it that Black people mostly read black literature--and paltry literature at that ? Let Bro man know

--DaVon Jones