Not An Urban Queen - Rants of a Bibliophile

I eagerly spend time in bookstores.  They are part of my life, real books, even though my family purchased the Kindle Fire for me for Christmas, there is something about real books.

The day all the kids were back in their respective classroom, I found myself at the mall, at the bookstore, working.  I decided to walk the aisles and see if their were any new titles.

My genre is black female literary works so of course, I was in a Barnes and Noble in a heavily populated diverse area of the metro and thought, surely, they will have some works by true literary writers.  Much to my dismay, their "African American" section was a simple 2-foot encap with titles that resembled an entry in the soft-porn category.

I ranted about this issue before and have talked about it with my friends.  I am a modern, middle aged (finally admitting that), educated, upper income black woman who works at home and loves to read.  I have never lived in the ghetto, don't walk around in a thong, and have never slung diamonds around, been in a video, or wear a weave.  Where are the books for people like me who love to read?

When I looked at that endcap, I shook my head and thought, it's 2013, we have to have better.  Not just for me, but for everyone, for the power of words to transform thought, for the message it sends to my young daughters, for the image it sends to the general public.  Why are publishers only putting out this trash and passing it off as literature?

I am not alone in my assessment, especially when thinking about strong black female protagonists.  It is the same for some television experiences, most notably the one called Girls.  It is set in Brooklyn without any people of color in the cast or as extras.  That is virtually impossible in New York, I've been there, I see a rainbow everywhere.  Is it because the media giants want to white wash out the experiences of black and brown women? Or is it because they think white women will not watch the show or read the book if the central character is a black woman?

Shondra Rhimes, the Gen X writer, seems to have broken through the gate with her compelling dramas.  She created Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, and now Scandal, with a strong multi-cultural cast and fully developed black female protagonists.  I thought surely there is room for this same phenomenon in literature.

The same holds true for YA fiction, most of the books do not reflect the heritage, rhythm, or nuance of my tween girls.

I love books and want my daughters to have the same experience.  We have them almost literally in every room of our house. They are the reason I keep looking, keep trying, keep reading, keep reviewing, hopefully, to demonstrate that we are out here, an educated audience that appreciates the power of storytelling and the magic of great research brought to life.  And oh, something beyond just the antebellum era (slavery or free people) or the 1940s...modern women have rich lives that should be reflected in literature.

Just as I was becoming a bit dismayed with the reading options available to me, my son's girlfriend showed me how to load up my Kindle Fire.

There is hope!  There are some great books being written - independently - about richly developed characters and full lives by women of color.  They are taking the ownership back from the publishing house gatekeepers who are primarily younger white men and women - and defining the landscape with their voices.  I am looking forward to exploring some of the new titles including Cricket Promises by Keturah Israel and Shatt Illusions by Leigh Hershkovich (while not a black woman, she is a young Jewish woman who dared convention), as well as all the ones I identified as my 2013 reading list.

Maybe next time I visit the bookstore there will be something there for me because I am not an urban queen.


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