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Are Publishers Racist?

Reflection on Afrian-American literature.  For writers and publishers, this is an exciting time to reflect on and celebrate African-American literature. The genre traces its origins to the slave narratives and spreads out through the Harlem Renaissance to such contemporary notable authors as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Walter Mosley. Its early greats were Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley of the late 19th century, W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and Zora Neale Hurston of the early 20th, and later, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple or Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family were all best sellers. The style and impact of such great works is worth pause and reflection.

But we at Sherri Rosen Publicity, NYC, want to pause and reflect on whether or not it is necessary to have the genre “African American Literature.” A lot of these good books would be shelved under Memoir, Creative Non-Fiction, History, Autobiography—were they not written by black people. Historic African American Literature often encompasses issues such as racism, slavery, and equality. Today, however, much of what is called “African American Literature” does not cover such issues. For us this raises the question: Is the only criteria for being shelved under the “African American Literature” banner head being black? If a black person writes a memoir, why not just put their work under “Memoir”?

And this opens up a door to share a sad, if not disturbing, tendency in publishing we have observed. Black authors are not allowed to write white characters, while white authors are allowed to write black characters. We want to ask the simple question: Why? Why do publishers feel that black people cannot write white dialect? Why do black authors have to write about black people and why do they have to be categorized under black headings?

And so today we want to humbly lift up the question we have been asking every time we’re shopping in the bookstore and pass the “African American” section. Is it a valuable and descriptive title of a genre? Or is it an echo of segregation?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 at 5:05 pm and is filed under Clients, Friends and Colleagues, Industry News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Are Publishers Racist?”

  1. Patricia L Graham Says:

    It will be Black History Month in the UK next week and I published two titles a few months ago to commemorate my country’s 50th year of independence by utilising the self-publishing market after having problems publishing in my younger days. Unfortunately I have experienced a whole raft of recurring problems in five months or possibly the same problems dressed up in new technological suits and terminology? Well the results are basically the same but the language being used to explain away all manner of abnormalities is insulting and takes me back to the kind of tactics once employed to deny Blacks the vote and employment. Figures in relation to employment during austerity will still speak volumes of course. People of colour have been dealing with European people for centuries now. It won’t take centuries more to understand what is happening and why. Racism is as embedded in publishing as it is in other professions and it is spawns inequalities across the board.

  2. G. Franklin Prue Says:

    When ever I bring the subject up of Racism in NY publishing on sites like LinkedIN. I get Haters or disturbed white people crying and denying. I know this for a fact. Open your eyes and let me know when I can find African American Editors and Literary Agents begging for projects from African American Writers. You see! this problem will never be addressed until there is a boycott against these corporations who own in New York publishing houses. and now they want to price fix our books. I waited thirty years for a publisher from New York and was completely ignored until came along. And with three books out. I am still getting the door slammed in my face by the Gatekeepers of New York publishing who happen to be white people and remember this is a ‘subjective’ business.

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