Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington, D.C.-based author whose current projects deal with the arts, gender and public life. She is the author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter.
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 himself.
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.
All book publishing houses shall immediately be divested from conglomerate parent corporations, which, when you get down to it, is the real problem. That all book deals with ex-porn stars, rappers, felons, video rumpshakers, mega preachers (unless the subject of the book is theology rather than love and money) be canceled and advances forfeited. That diversity in the publishing workplace shall be enforced. Ruthlessly. That every story shall be told. Once.
Books would have larger marketing budgets and authors would know how to push themselves forward as celebrities. Agents would not be so out of touch. Authors would be able to develop better strategies to build their platforms so they would have better traction within the press. I don't rule the literary world, but I rule the Marvelous World and I am working on some of that.
In my world, editors would work in-house at least five days a week—even during the summer. In my world, editors would return or appropriately delegate their authors’ telephone calls and e-mails in a timely fashion. If I ruled the world, I would not bow to fads, but instead create an assessable and sustainable model for success. I would also lessen the focus on genres. Lastly, if I ruled the world, I would dismantle one of the last bastions of acceptable racism—that infernal African-American section in bookstores.
I would make books matter again. Not in the sense of containing ideas or being tools for learning—they still matter in that sense. But I would want books to be part of the culture in a way they aren’t any more. Thirty years ago you could turn on the television and see Norman Mailer or James Baldwin on a talk show. Novelist was considered a noble profession, and books seemed much more valuable. On the other hand, they didn’t have a gifted memoirist as president of the United States back then, so it sort of averages out.
Writers such as Paul Beatty, Touré and Junot Díaz would be pushed in high school classrooms like crack is on the block—it’s high time we stop forcing the dead white guys on kids who can’t identify with them, and introduce teens to great stories they can get into. Also, I'd bubble wrap every last one of the hyper-sexualized urban fiction covers in my local bookstore so moms like me wouldn’t be so damn embarrassed to take our kids to the African-American “literature” section. Oh, and 14-year-olds wouldn’t read Zane, like, ever.
Writers would be just as desirable to corporate sponsors as athletes and entertainers. I'd rep the brands I actually love and use. 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 ideally communicate to people that it's perfectly fine to read more!
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? No one would be allowed to major in fiction writing as an undergrad. Go 'head on and be in the lit mag, youngblood. 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 BackList. Her most recent book is The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.