If We Ruled the (Literary) World

For the debut of her column “Books on The Root,” columnist Felicia Pride asks nine black writers to weigh in on the state of book publishing.

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It’s hard out here for authors these days. You really can’t be just an author. In order to support yourself—because, let’s be honest, most book advances only go so far—you have to be writer, teaching artist, lecturer, hustler, marketing guru, business owner and grant junkie. And when you do get a chance to write, you’re distracted by the headlines screaming that the traditional book world is going to hell and the chilling reality that many black writers are still left out in the cold. As Kurtis Blow mused, these are the breaks?

But wallowing doesn’t feed burdened writers. Hence, this new book column. You can say it’s a way for The Root to level the playing field a little. To break it up, break it up, break it up. To shine light on the great writers doing great work, and in the process, help them gain more readers. To discuss the issues within publishing—the good, the bad and the ugly. To uplift books to their deserved prominent place in our society and collective psyche.

So to get this party started, I thought a little fantasizing was in order. Again, with the help of Kurtis Blow, I contemplated, what if, authors in the struggle ruled the literary world? I asked a diverse group of writer folk to tell me: How would things be different?

Imagine this:

Author and media personality Abiola Abram’s first book, Dare, is a hip-hop-inspired retelling of “Faust.” It didn’t take her long to realize that selling books requires savvy, which she exemplifies in a multitude of ways on Planet Abiola, her talk-variety show.

Abram’s dreams: If I ruled the literary world, parents would quote Baldwin, Hansberry, Angelou and Morrison on a daily basis to their children. Artists would be supported emotionally by their communities and regarded just as valuable as lawyers and bankers. Hip-hop would be a non-commodified art form that would have an even stronger literary presence. So what should we do tomorrow? Same thing we should try to do every day. Try to take over the world.

Carleen Brice recently released her first novel Orange Mint and Honey and is also heading a crusade to get white readers acquainted with black writers beyond Morrison and Mosley through her blog “White Readers Meet Black Authors.” Check for her forthcoming book, Children of the Waters, this July.

Brice envisions: If I ruled the literary world, the African-American fiction section of bookstores would smell like cookies. Every time someone entered the section, confetti would fall, angels would sing and champagne punch would flow like a river. And everybody who bought a novel by a black author would get a kiss on the cheek or a handshake from Barack Obama.

Christopher Chambers, the co-editor of The Darker Mask and author of the Angela Bivens mysteries, is a writer who doesn’t bite his tongue on his in-your-face blog Nat Turner’s Revenge, especially when the topic is publishing. The Georgetown professor’s novel Yella Patsy’s Boys drops next year.