Imagine the struggles of those early pioneers in African American literature. Whether they penned fiction or non-fiction, the manuscripts they’d poured their heart and soul into was ready for the world to read. The only way this would happen was through publication. Led by courage and on the wings of faith, they strolled proudly toward the literary door. Many knocked long and hard, while others no doubt had to kick. Finally, entrance was granted. Fast forward to now. Every African American writer whether self-published or under contract with a traditional publisher should remember the struggle in celebration, not complacency. Although African American authors have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.
Until 2003, my link to the literary world was that of reader. However, in 2007, after the publication of my debut novel, When I’m With You, I see things from an entirely different perspective. While the struggles from yesteryear may have lessened, African American authors are still faced with challenges, nonetheless.
My last statement doesn’t come from what someone told me, but from personal experience. Three and a half years ago when I knocked on those same doors, I stood firm in the belief that the story burning deep in my spirit was worthy of publication. The most defining moment on my literary journey came when someone behind the desk said, “We don’t think readers would be interested in reading this story.” Okay, another rejection, which I was use to by now. Thankfully, I was able to ask why not and got an answer. “Well, it touches on issues black readers aren’t used to reading.” Whoa Nellie!! Yes, folks, that’s when I discovered that stories written by African American authors are categorized and scrutinized to a large degree based on profitability. But for me, the deeper implication was that either Black folks won’t read outside of what has already been published or they don’t read, period.
Sorry to disappoint you America, but Black folks read!! While African Americans make-up only 13 % of the total U.S. population, black buying power is incredibly strong. Annually, nearly three hundred million of our dollars are spent on books. That single incident coupled with trying to find an editor who didn’t view the story through “colored glasses” made me even more determined to continue on the path of getting my story on store shelves.
Today, African American authors enjoy the benefit of better advances and royalties (although there still isn’t parity with white writers), savvy marketing plans, and effective book tours. Despite all of this, challenges remain. While I can’t speak for others, I’m resolved to continue the struggle of those who came before me. After all, our forefathers endured immense suffering and many died just for the chance to learn how to read. And authors before me were deprived of the opportunities I now enjoy. I owe them that much.
But how? Thanks for asking!
I must embrace the commitment and preparation needed to continually do the one thing that will keep me in the published world—write the stories of the heart. Of all the challenges I face as an author who happens to be African American, coupled with all the other components that shape the literary world; this is the only element I have complete autonomy over.