Sunday, July 29, 2007

Move over, Alice Walker!

Tomorrow night, I stop being a hater. Some background: St. Martins Press is the home of our newest Black literary heroine--porn star Heather Hunter. Giving folks what they want, no matter how base, is no crime at least on a philosophical level, eh? And as HL Mencken once said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public."

Nuff said on that. Back in the day I was a big fan in (the early 90s) and I still have my old Royce's Video Club Card, Georgia Ave NW DC (yeah boy!!!) in a drawer somewhere safe from my wife. While girls like Jeannie Pepper and Mauvais De Noire (upon whom Nicole Ari Parker's character in "Boogie Nights" was loosely based) were the Rosa Parks of porn, Heather was like "Julia" and "The Cosby Show" bringing black entertainment up to the par and glamor of the mainstream.

I'm going to Karibu, a successful black bookstore in the DC area to pay homage to HH at the publication of her new book, Insatiable. To remain successful, black bookstores--even those run by conscientious brothers and sisters--have to make payroll, pay rent, buy stock. You don't sustain that selling by reprints of James Baldwin novels or cheesey stuff from Christopher Chambers (hell often you even don't it by selling just books, really, but that's another rant). Am I, Mr. Elitist, Mr. Fanboy of Cora Daniels and mega-Curmudgeon Stanley Crouch a hypocrite?

Hell no. I am honest about what I want and why. Again my beef has been with those publishing folk, well-meaning bookstore owners, rappers and BET execs (good to see the "Hot Ghetto Mess" debate spread nationwide) make unsoliticited, lame-to-downright offensive justifications and characterizations for what they've wrought on black culture and ethos at a time when we need every molecule of "lift" we can craft. I love it when I hear some honesty about dispensing brain candy and escapism from these folks; St. Martin's editor Monique Patterson ws such a person, eschewing the usual contrived defense of the state of black literature and merely saying HH's book's a hot and sexy read. Nothing more, nothing less. Prurience. And I can dig prurience. Look, an analogy (loose) can be made to what Stephen King once said: "I am a salami writer. I try to write GOOD salami, but salami is salami."

I read Shannon Holmes and Relentless and a lot of other crap for the same reason I eat too much cake, watch re-runs of "Blind Date"...or worship HH. I am honest about that. I just lament the wat that stuff, including Heather, is now the bar, the norm, the spotlit gleaming centerpiece! Lord, when I took my wife's copy of Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy to read, it was almost as if I hoped she would leave town on business so I could lock all the doors, close the vertical blinds and...well, you know. But if I'm not reading a a Relentless Aaron/Fiddy Cent "novel" on the Metro I'm a miscreant. If it's Upton Sinclair's The I'd be a downright pervert scumbag!!! Where's Chris Hanson from NBC?!

So all I wanna know is--how can I get a gig ghostwriting a Jeannie Pepper or Spontaneous Exstacy novel (hint hint Monique)? Hell I'd even help Peter North write one (he'd have to explain how he gets such velocity and volume in the money shots after 30 years in porn). Of course no one wants a book on the exploitative treatment of black images by many white publishing houses, by VividVideo, by VIACOM and of course by inference the private equity firms etc that own stock in all without a hint of regulation, but screw that. Can you hook a brother up some ghostwriting?


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of that First Amendment argument: "I disagree with what you say but I'll fight to the death to defend your right to say it." I think Heather Hunter has a right to do this and promote it, and the publisher has the right to print it. I disagree with it shoved in our faces when there is so much else we could be doing.

Anonymous said...

Heather Hunter? Will thee be somethign about Magic in there?

Pebbles Flintstone said...

I am not a fan of the porn industry, though erotica and books about sex and sex in our society does have its place. I applaud HH's rights to write and publish as she pleases. I agree with Nabila, and I say "hey if she has an audience and can make some money, more power to her". As long as it is not bein shoved down my throat I, I say go for it!

Tafari said...

Fuck the book, give the movie!


Anonymous said...

I see you are stream of consciousness blogging again, sir. No problem, I dig what you are saying, and I appreciate the honesty (and the satire and sarcasm).

"Industry folk" (I am adding book biz people) might get a little sensitive to such comments but they need to hear them. Heather likely don't give sh*t what you say bruh. She is all about the cash and you get that book and she'll love you for 2.7 minutes until the next dude rolls in. I'm sure the august publishing house of St. Martin's Press put the word out in all of the go-go clubs, ghetto liquor stores and the like in DC, and slipped ads into the prison and jail magazines so the brothas on the blck could relay it to their boys on the outside. hehehehehe

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

There is so much press and buzz on the HH book.

What did you think of Fruit of the Lemon? I recently read it and want to check out her first novel, which I hear is excellent.

Miscreant is my new favorite word, It was in the movie TALK TO ME and I try to work it in where appropiate.

Christopher Chambers said...

I liked Fruit of the Lemon. It tapped into some conflicts and themes common not only to Caribbean folk in Diaspora, but hell--to folks in general. My wife thought it was more entertaining than Small Island but I disagreed. I'm into history so all that Post wwII migration to England stuff is cool to me, plus one of the Jamaican characters cracked me up all the time.

Regarding HH, I am tired of these publishers, producers, etc. sighing and saying "Such is the world we live in." Wrong, such is the world we've made. I got no beef with HH and I am literally shaking with the countdown to seeing her in the flesh (though she does look a bit crazy under all that make up and hard livin' and bonin' these days), but let's put the porn, the street lit, the dumbass films, images, hip hop rhymes back behind closed doors, on the weekend, when you're bored or horny, when you want a treat. My beef is the way these people have pushed this garbage as the mainstream. Frankly I don't know why more people aren't insulted? Maybe we got bad taste. Maybe we don't care that folks don't thnk more of us. You don't need to spoon feed us Masterpiece Theatre or Jane Austin novels, but God damn the pendulum has swung way too far and I think there's a majority of folks who agree.

Anonymous said...

Is your problem with the quality of street lit/ black soap operas or their prevalence?

Are these books widely published now because publishers know that there is a hungry market and these authors are experts at self promotion?

Shouldn't everyone be entitled to tell their own stories? Black people are very diverse and I know I would never be able to write about street life like Nikki Turner. That doesn't make her POV and voice less relevant.

What are your opinions of Chester Himes and Goines and Frank Yerby?

Lisa said...

No, not everyone's entitled to their stories if it's exploitative and dressed up as true stories of the street. Perhaps that is the problem--anything goes as long as it sells, and it sells because that's all that's being promoted. I was looking at two interviews of Cora Daniels, one on this blog and one on NPR and you see the susceptibility of African American readers to a lot of sensationalistic stuff devoid of any quality or craft. Many big name, million selling white authors are VERY adept at self-promotion and when you see the top tier of their work as opposed to street lit or "soap operas" you see a great deal of attention to craft and I would say craft is an integral part of marketing. You add to that the hypotheses put out by Chambers and then author Mat Johnson that white people can write about anything, no matter how esoteric but African Americans are conditioned to read only about "the street" or race or crime no matter how bad the prose.

My son is hungry for fried chicken tenders and Mickey D's sundaes 24-7. Does that mean I give it to him? Does making money absolve McD's of ALL responsibility for making kids fat, especially in areas where there are no alternatives to fast food and no education of alternatives? If readers are "hungry" for stories that speak to their experience, then why are they drawn to raunchy, melodramtic and totally unrealistic and indeed cartoonish books in these genres? By that logic people should be drawn to documentaries and more hard edged TV shows about survival and families trying to make it, and books that address those themes with attention to craft, not marketing. Yet they don't. I fully understand Chris Chambers admittedly amusing way of focusing on this.

If Nikki Turner was a documentary film maker doing a project on the street, or a writer for HBO's "The Wire," then I certainly wouldn't challenge her skills! But in street lit, I think anybody can do it with the right marketing! Anybody can right about raunchy sex too and sell it us. It is disheartening in the general culture to see that this is all we have to offer.

Finally, I was more appalled at Chambers's obligue statements about men's love for pornography. I applaud his humor and his "honesty" but we really didn't need to be treated to those insights! LOL. Nevertheless, I understand why he included this. Heather Hunter is honest about what she does as long as she doesn't make statements that she somehow empowers women of color. It appears that Chambers's theme is that he has no problem with street lit and other genres as long as the publishers admit it's basically brain candy and cheap escapist fantasy? Hopefully he will comment again and clarify that.

Christopher Chambers said...

Great comments thus far. Last anonymous--I am indeed a fan of Goins and was asked to present a paper to the University of Florida right on point this aspects of this discussion.

Now Himes is a different story. Like birds to dinosaurs, some the halfway non-shitty street lit can trace its ancestry to Goins. But Himes? No. When you look at Chester's body of work, his "craft" his themes and passion, he has more in common with Norman Mailer than Relentless Aaron. Please. Then you also ave to look at his contributions to the specific mystery and detective genres and you see it's apples and oranges.

But yeah, on one level it is a question of quality, beyond the ghetto hype question. The difference between Shaft and 90% of the other blaxpo flicks? Gordon Parks. However the quality piece is just one variable in the equation you've got to balance. Look, even Mozart wrote for "vaudeville" and loved fart jokes and sex-themed piano ditties. But like Stephen King, he wrote that crap well! Here's the other side: fart jokes and music were for fart joke time. Mozart said I want to make a living and spend cash, but I also am writing for the ages and I trained all my life to bring my talents to bear. The reason I sound like so many columns and testimony and comments on this subject is because the analogies are basic and easy--like the visitor Lisa above stated with McDonald's and junk food. I've been on panels when I talked about cake and Twinkies. Note I said I LOVE HH (my wife will get over it). But there's a time and a place for HH and Nikki and fart jokes and Mozart's vaudeville. We have flipped the script and yeah, that's BAD.

Anonymous said...

The portions in the blog about the corporations making money off of us regardless of merit is what resonates with me. (for example Vivid Video, BET and publishers).

Anonymous said...

I notice that we spend a lot of time talking about the poor quality of most street lit. From what I've read, it appears that a number of street lit writers don't read a alot and I think that would explain the poor quality of a number of books. Have you ever thought about compiling a list of black authored genre fiction (including street lit or it's forerunners or erotica) that you consider readable and a good starting for someone interested in reading or writing crime fiction featuring blacks?

You've stated that you are fan of Goines, which of Goines works do you consider best and why?

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read the book. HH is fine as hell.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the genie has long left that bottle so don't even waste your time corking it! I just heard Heather Hunter's going to be in Sir Ridley Scott's American Gangster with Denzel and Russell Crowe. More book deals will follow certainly.

My aunt's neighbor has a soon in Iraq with a mechanized division and he wrote about 150 pp for a book about combat and the stress in dealing with the people and insurgents almost like "Jarhead" meets Apocalypse Now but with more about the futility of what's going on. He caught a lot of mess from the crackers and Bush robots in his squad. A book agent told him because he's African American how about changing it to make it more "ghetto"-like and make the brothers who are soldiers and marines more like reformed "thugs." Her comment was that black people won't buy a book like that unless it's changed. I now hear he's either shelvedit permenently or put it on hold to finish his degree online but I hope he tells them to kiss his black ass.

Anonymous said...

chris ,
i am interested in your comments after you see her in the flesh !!! I had been researching her story and other black female porn star stories. What i liked about hh was that after porn , she invested her money in her dreams she started a music career , and a art gallery in dumbo brooklyn ..

Imagine my surprise when i saw her in the flesh , she looked familiar like someone i knew and then i realized hh. Not what you think , photos really do her justice , very petite and not at all what i expected.... but i give her kudos on her art , and trying to start a music career.

Anonymous said...

oh and i also wanted to add vanessa del rio is being published by taschen , it is an art book . called 'Slut with a capital S". and the books are all special edition with a autograph which goes for 1000.00 ..

as an artist i can except what one calls art , and having grown up with ms del rio , she is another one i wish success to , everyone deserves a chance to have what they want . I could never imagine living a life in that way , possibly cause i grew up in the aids age.

Anonymous said...

So whores write books and phonies celebrate them. Big effing deal. Chambers uses many words to say nothing.

Christopher Chambers said...

Anonymous--Whoreson, Dopefiend are tow of Goines's best.

Just came back. Mob scene. She looked surreally waxen--too much make-up and now overly-buck teeth? Then again I remember her in the 1989-1995 timeframe. The halcyon days. But it was exciting. She is a TINY thing. Barely 5ft tall.

Z, can you blow as well as HH? Probably... LOL

Anonymous said...

Buck teeth? My mom always said if you sucked your thumb, you would end up with buck teeth. I guess the same goes for other body parts.

Anonymous said...

Z, can you blow as well as HH?

Well, your wife did pretty good.


Christopher Chambers said...

Z: That's my girl!!! Had to marry her when I found out your mom's no longer in the biz.

Next time, have the balls to show me face, address, etc. Or just leave contructive comments, if possible.

Snowman said...

There's no cause for this, "Z." Stick to the issues. I don't think the author meant this to be personal.

I don't know who Heather Hunter is but I wonder when porn stars became pop stars (or bestselling authors) regardless of race?

Anonymous said...

The "issue" of a porn star who becomes a celebrity is trivial.

Chambers laid the insult on me at his 9:09 comment and I responded in kind.

The old adage applies: some guys can dish it out but can't take it.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is that it's not trivial. Mr. Stream-of-Consciousness is pointing out how jacked up the culture saturation had become, and this it's even more acute for African Americans (are you in the tribe, Z?) The ill effects invade even politics. I suppose some of it's subtle or as slow as glacier melt but even that has dire consequences.

What would YOU like to talk about Z? hehehehe. What is your opinion of the district attorney in the Glenarlow Wilson case vis a vis the Duke lacrosse case? It's touched on in a post today. However I'm waiting for something meatier from Mr. Chambers on that, if he can stop obsessing about Heather Hunter. I would like to see a Vanessa Del Rio novel as well.

Slowly but surely the messis, how it

Anonymous said...

I know this was addressed to but I must say that I think Genarlow should take the deal and I'm tired of people treating this guy like a saint. He was all kinds of wrong. The other 4 guys who had sex with that passed out girl served time. Why shouldn't he?