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.
Even though she’s a veteran in the entertainment world, clocking in close to 20 years, Thembisa S. Mshaka is making her official debut in the book world with Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, which will be released later this month.
Mshaka’s take on the industry: In my perfect author’s world, writers would be just as desirable to corporate sponsors as athletes and entertainers, who often betray them with impropriety from which I personally would refrain. I'd rep the brands I actually love and use. I'm talking strategic partnering for lifestyle tours and events, conferences and commercials. Multi-platform marketing partnerships between authors and authentically connected brands would serve to make the book product as pervasive as sneakers or soda, and I would ideally communicate to people that it's perfectly fine to read more! After all, in today's reality-driven, user-generated landscape, real experts are more credible than someone who’d “play one on TV.”
A writer’s writer, Martha Southgate’s latest book is Third Girl from the Left and she’s hard at work on her next title which will be released by Algonquin Books. Her publishing adventures led her to write a New York Times piece questioning the existence of writers like her, and to gather other concerned writers/publishing folk to form ringShout, a collective dedicated to raising the awareness of literary works by black writers. Members have written pieces like this that critique the publishing industry.
Southgate’s version of the world: Books would be published primarily in paperback, with just a few thousand hardcovers for libraries. Paperbacks look great and last long these days; people feel hardcovers are too expensive, and if you're not a best-selling author, both you and the publishing house take a loss on them. Let's go European and quit doing it! There would be MFA programs in literature and reading and not quite so many in writing. Who’s gonna read all these books everyone wants to write unless they get taught the value of reading and how to know good from bad? For the same reason, no one would be allowed to major in fiction writing as an undergrad. Go 'head on and be in the lit mag, youngblood. But while you're in college, you should be learning how to read—thoughtfully, deeply and well. Likewise, Sapphire's Push would never be taught without being immediately followed by Percival Everett's Erasure. Read 'em both, and you'll see why I say that.
And well, if I ruled the literary world, let’s just say I’m working on that as we speak. Every day I’m concocting schemes like I’m running for office, without the shadiness, of course. And until one of my plans actually works, you can find me here writing about all things books related. Hey, together we may be able to stage a successful coup d'état, one column at a time.
Felicia Pride is the book columnist for The Root and the founder of The BackList. Her most recent book is The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs. Look for this column here on The Root every 1st and 3rd Tuesday. Send her an e-mail here.