Monday, February 11, 2008

Our books are for everyone--Barack-style

Martha Southgate here. Here's another thought I want to share. In my mind, part of how RingShout can carry out its mission in addition to building community among and for African-American writers of some seriousness and ambition (although we like to party!) would be the notion of broadening who we include in that community. I don't want to to only talk to or talk about reaching black readers. The best of our work is literature--period--and people of all races can and should profit by reading it. Our experience is a crucial part of the American experience, after all. I believe that key to carrying forth RingShout's mission is that we work hand-in-hand with the"mainstream." I mean, hey, Barack Obama wouldn't be running as strongly as he is if he only talked to black people--he stands strong as a black man who will speak to everyone, without compromising or hiding his race. But he's not running on it either. I want RingShout to do the same, literarily speaking.

19 comments:

Cleveland Urban Journalism Workshop said...

I'm so happy to learn of this group. How can I join? I live in Cleveland

Cloudscome said...

I just came here from My American Melting Pot. I am so glad to read this as my first post! I'll blogroll you right now.

Christopher Chambers said...

It's a long, long tradition: folks as raconteurs, writing about joys and horrors of regular people. From Twain to Zora, Baldwin to Mailer, Alice Walker to Capote. Good to see somebody stepping up to do so in this age of sickening brain candy coarsely calling itself lit...

Randy said...

My first novel Judge Fogg features the first A-A elected judge in Nashville. I've done well on Amazon and on the publisher's website, but this literary work doesn't fit into the Black-lit category. Is this book one of those "for everyone" or is the audience too small for "literary" fiction with A-A characters.

Laura said...

Hello! I came across this blog from Bridgett's Street Lit article from "the root" which I found via an ad on washingtonpost.com.

Sorry for the extremely, extremely long comment, but Bridgett articulated something that's been bothering me for a long time, and I'm entuhsiastically agreeing with her article!!

Her observation that bookstores are rife with "generalist cheerleaders" is an accurate one which depresses me to no end and one I see in products targeted to women, too. It compliments an accompanying trend where mediocrity is also celebrated to its ridiculous extreme. In Britain, the "MOBO" (music of black origin) awards end up singling out a fair number of insipid and overpaid pop stars and treat them like they're the next Quincey Jones or Ella Fitzgerald (this may not be true in all cases, but certainly the line-up is pretty sketchy overall from a talent perspective), when they're quite simply not. Additionally, by trying to promote black cultural achievement with some substandard acts, I feel it ultimately makes a cringeworthy mockery of the staggering talent of old that we should be trying to supersede instead of just sampling. For example, Quincey Jones is not only a tremendous producer: he also wrote film scores and had the classical and jazz chops to do it well, and few people under a certain age are even aware of this, and are moreover not even capable of appreciating it.

For what it's worth, I'm against the categorization of artists and art (music, literature, etc.) because, in my opinion, it discourages integration and appreciation of myriad talents and influences alongside the works of art which have long been the standard. Studying pre-20th century music is a great example -- classical degrees tend to be criminally European-centric. The best you get is possibly a blurb on Porgy and Bess. But what good would having a course excluding European male composers achieve other than to create some initial awareness? Why aren't we able to just unapologetically add Scott Joplin and Duke Ellington and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to the mix in order to compare and contrast structure (there is a passage in a Beethoven piano concerto that features a Joplin-esque left hand, for example)? When we regiment minority contributions into their own bucket, I unavoidably detect a subtle "well, they're not Bach or Mozart, but they're pretty good for not being white men, all things considered", like they somehow don't quite meet the standard set by Bach and the rest by which the rest of music continues to be judged. I think this also occurs with marketing "for women", video games being a great example: "The Wii is so EASY, even a girl can play it! And we'll slap some pink onto this Barbie game so you'll be sure to pick them out from the high-quality games that we designed for everyone else!" It's so insulting. Meanwhile, the stereotypes needlessly thrive on and on.

In his tribute to American History class in "Dave Barry Slept Here", Barry tacks the same sentence on to the end of every chapter (which poked fun at primarily white male achievements and wars): "Meanwhile, women and minorities continue to make important contributions to American history..." He makes a very serious point amid all the humor. I don't want to be just another sidebar in a textbook or one month on the calendar when we scrounge for some important contributions. I'd like to see the many truly outstanding literary and artistic output of the various cultures and creeds studied and celebrated all the time by all people. Great art and literature is universal, crosses boundaries, and forces us to follow those paths over the unseen divides into new and diverse territories.

What do you think about categories?

(Apologies again for this absurdly long post... Thank you for being here to promote literary excellence!)

Muze said...

i am in love with this blog and this movement. as an aspiring writer myself, i cringe a little every time i go to the african-american section of borders or barnes & noble. thank you for this!! i will be adding you to my blogroll pronto and keeping abreast of what's going on over here.

"well, they're not Bach or Mozart, but they're pretty good for not being white men, all things considered"

^^ man, if this isn't the truth i don't know what is.

Vanessa A. Johnson said...

Amen, and kudos to you for creating this platform. I look forward to following along with this endeavor.

Randy O'Brien said...

I've never worked retail, but I can understand the idea of categorizing your stock so people can easily find what they're looking for. That said, I too find it troubling that an artist must be pidgeon-holed. The good news is writers who find a way to create their own genre can find success. For example, John Grisham created the lawyer in trouble genre. He's still the king, but think about how many other movies, TV shows and novels are basically the same as The Firm. Same for Stephen King, the king of horror. For writers, the challenge is to create something unique, but also still fits into a recognizable genre.

Carleen Brice said...

I came over from Eisa's blog. VERY happy to learn about this one. I'll link on my blog too!

Lisa said...

Found you through Carleen's blog and will be adding you to my blogroll and stopping in daily too.

Sustenance Scout said...

And I'm here via Lisa's AND Carleen's blogs! Love your inclusive philosophy! Karen from Denver

Patry Francis said...

It feels like such a hopeful moment in American history. Glad to see that you're spreading it to the literary sphere.

Conseula said...

I'm loving this blog and the very idea of this group. I'm an academic (and English professor to be precise) and am so excited about the possibility of bringing deliberate and sustained focus to contemporary literary fiction. I'll be eager to see how the group intends to reach out to and interact with academia.

Blackgirl On Mars said...

Our experience is a vital part of the human story--period. Sometimes I think we forget what draws us to literature: the universality of it all.
Thanks for the post.
the lab

btw: I love Laura's comment. I may not agree with it all, but right on for putting your thoughts out there on the table and for the record, I applaud and in the end, support the sentiment expressed.

Book Oblate said...

Thank you Ms. Southgate. I would think that any group promoting any kind of literature would reach for the "mainstream" audience. And, like Cave Canem and The Asian American Writers' Workshop, the focus to support and promote a specific group such as writers of color or "other" culture, is necessary, useful, community building, identity reinforcing, important, and can be a great resource for writer and consumer alike. Go ringShout.

Angelia... said...

What a wonderful concept! Kudos. Loved your article at APOOO.

blessings,
angelia

Doug said...

Is this blog still active? I had high hopes for RingShout, but it appears to be dying on the vine here.
Doug

michael a. gonzales said...

http://kintespace.com/kp_blackadelic.html

Carleen Brice said...

I've started a blog you might be interested in: White Readers Meet Black Authors. http://welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com/

We're calling December "National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month."