THE FATE (sorry), THE STATE OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN FICTION
African-American fiction is dead!
Too dramatic? Sorry. AA fiction is on its death bed. Right now, it clearly still has a pulse, and some would argue it’s not only alive; it’s stronger and thriving more than ever. But I’m going to disagree. Adamantly! I’ve always been one to believe that existing isn’t synonymous with living. So for the record, AA fiction will always exist, but in terms of living, breathing, having the iconic cultural influence like the days of Langston Hughes or W.E.B Dubois, it will fall from the endangered literary species list to virtual extinction IF things continue on the course they are currently on. African-American fiction will die.
Initially I wrote a very long winded, apologetic introduction for the premise of this piece. But then I thought, isn’t that part of the problem with the world today? People being more concerned about being sensitive and accepted than getting to the roots of the truth or being honest with others. And later, we will actually explore how that contributes to this topic?
Anyway, so I said whatever. I’m going to write what I think. Some of you will disagree, others will exercise their right to like me no longer (going as far to unfriend me on FaceBook), and some may accuse me of animosity or hate.
Just remember 2 things if you decide to continue reading:
1) You’ll need the leading geneticist in the world to find anything remotely close to resembling even the tiniest strand of hate in my DNA
2) if you utterly disagree with my opinions and statements, or my existence in general, don’t get mad, get to writing!
The comments section below is open 24/7. We can engage in healthy dialogue and we’re fortunate to have an onsite Book Referee to oversee the bout!
So what undisputable facts do I have to make such a bold assertion that eliminates an entire literary culture? Well, there’s…er, uh. Oh, and that one thing that…hmm. No, I know, what had happened was… Look, it’s not exactly black and white like the pages of a book. It’s not an exact science with irrefutable data. It’s more like a prediction, and hopefully one that ends with a similar result of the Y2K hysteria and the Mayan calendar claims. Believe me; I’m hoping that I’m wrong. Come on, I’m the guy who wrote, Regression, after all! But even after we explore a few of the reasons AA fiction is headed toward its demise, and a few suggestions to prevent this untimely death, I still fear this prophecy will hold true. And the Vegas odds that I’ll be the guy standing there with a print out of this exact article saying, “I told you so,” are pretty high. Sorry.
First piece of evidence is easy; the number of African-American bookstores closing over the last several years has been heart breaking. More than 100+ including one of the more popular in New York, Hue-Man in Harlem, and have all closed their doors for various reasons. Shout out to Zahra’s and Eso Won here in LA still going strong. But they aren’t the norm, and since African-American bookstores sell, well, African-American books, then one of the largest arenas for consumption is becoming increasingly unavailable. And remember, it’s not like they were a chain or there were millions out there to begin with. It’s not even like new ones are opening up as the old ones close!
Once those doors lock, they are done, and you may not find another one around for hundreds of miles. Kind of a pain for the casual reader who likes to browses and still prefers the feel and smell of actual pages compared to an eReader. Oh, for the record, it’s not just AA Bookstores. National retail chain Borders as well as other indie bookstores have all struggled to maintain the traditional brick and mortar existence in the wake of the new eBook era, and were forced to call it quits.
Moment of silence. I know some of you were thinking, the stores close, but many just opened online shops to keep up with the times, and ebooks are the new trend over physical books anyway. True, but despite the emergence and convenience of eBooks, to date, they still account for less than 25% of total book sales. So all logic suggests that less bookstores means less book sales, and in 2011 this held true with a 2.5% dip. Not implying bookstores closing is the only reason for the decrease, but it certainly had some effect.
But Rickey, you say, with eBooks and the ease of indie publishing, there is a much bigger platform for more AA authors to emerge and more product to be put out there. How can AA fiction possibly shrink? Like Gwen Stefani, there is NO DOUBT there are probably more African-American authors now than have ever existed since the colonialism of America. Well, I guess depending how loosely you define author. If you keep it simple, one who has released a book to the public, meaning it doesn’t matter how good or bad, how expertly or poorly edited, doesn’t matter how many sales or relevancy, just a book (hard cover, paperback, napkin with eyeliner, ebook, whatever), then yes, not only are there more authors now, the number will continue to rise. Sometimes I wonder if there are more authors than readers!
It’s also important we define AA fiction at some point, I guess. We aren’t necessarily referring to all AA authors, because you can have an African-American author who writes very mainstream fiction. AA fiction, for the purpose of this rant, lecture, article, whatever, are those characters and stories that are geared toward or from the standpoint of an African-American crowd due to specific cultural references and norms. But even with that said, this is where it gets philosophical, this is where existing and living comes into play. More doesn’t always mean better, so more authors doesn’t suggest improvement, especially when there are no regulatory entities when it comes to professional standards of eBooks. While I am all for people exploring their childhood dreams of being an author or quenching an undying hunger to write, I’m an even firmer believer that nearly every profession has an orientation for new employees that instructs them on the ins and outs of the job.
There are very few people who fancy themselves authors and only put out books as a hobby. Regardless of sales, feedback, etc., most are writing with aspirations of being a full time writer, or that glorious achievement of having an international best seller or movie deal that makes them rich. Aspiring for money makes it business, not personal, and circles back to the point – all successful businesses have standards by which they operate. So what will happen when eBooks become the norm and there is minimal to no policing of industry standards −two detrimental shifts that will be too hard to ignore, is what.