Do I write black fiction because I’m a black person? Because the main characters in my novels are black, does that make it black fiction? Does my race and the race of my characters automatically put my fiction in a genre?
I have a love/hate relationship with black fiction. I collect it, I love reading it and I guess I write it but good, quality books are hard to find. The popular black authors out there, I’ve tried. Though I’ve enjoyed a few titles, they are all the same and get old fast. Recently there has been a rise in ‘urban fiction’ that focuses on stories about ghetto life, men who are drug dealers and pimps, women who use their bodies to make money. If this is considered black fiction, then it doesn’t represent my reality.
Whenever I see a new black title on the shelf, I always pick it up, no matter what the cover looks like or who the author is and read the back and the first few lines. There have been so many times that I’ve put the book back on the shelf in disgust after reading first lines like “yeah nigga, fuck that pussy” or “yo nigga, pass that blunt.” Those are real lines from urban novels. I couldn’t make that up. And they sell. I have young black girls asking me for these types of books all the time.
Because I work at a bookstore this issue is around me all the time. People come up to me, asking for suggestions for black authors. and every time I’m reminded how little there is to choose from that doesn’t fit in to the categories of urban fiction or romance novels. Customers are constantly complaining that our store doesn’t have a black authors section like so many other stores do. But why should there be a black authors section? Is black fiction it’s own genre? Should there be a separate section for every author who isn’t white? The only time our store has a specific black themed table is in February during Black History Month. I see February as a time to discover new black authors and buy a bunch of new fiction. However, this year our table was terrible. It had the same authors that automatically come to mind when thinking of a black author with nothing new or different from the usual stuff. I even overheard customers saying how bad the table was.
As a writer, this issue bothers me a lot because I don’t look at my novels as black fiction, it’s just fiction featuring some characters who happen to be black. I’m afraid if my novel gets published some day it will be marketed as this genre and that’s not what I want. I will not sell out so my book will fit in to some category in order to sell. I hope that my characters do not seem stereotypical. I hope teens will read it and be inspired to write or read classic black literature (which is the best kind).
I guess that I will have to accept that the colour of my skin automatically puts me in a genre and puts my book in a specific box. But hopefully if/when it comes out, it will be seen as good fiction and not just black fiction.