This past weekend, I had a marvelous time during my first visit to Phoenix, AZ. I was there along with others of my Anointed Authors on Tour sisters, on the last stop of our 2008 tour. Almost everything about this tour stop was perfect. The weather was ideal (low 80's during the day, high 50's during the night). The hosting book clubs (see group photo) rolled out the red carpet, showered us with wonderful Arizona souvenirs, fed us well and provided us with limo escorts (two thumbs up to Girlfriend 2 Girlfriend Book Club and Shades of the Desert Book Club). I reconnected with two wonderful fans-turned-friends that I met three years ago in Baltimore, MD who have now moved to Phoenix (big shout out to Yulanda and Cooky). The community of readers came out and supported our appearances (not just in attendance, but they bought books).
So, there was very little that didn't go wonderfully under the Arizona sun. However, there was one thing that I found unnerving. Saturday afternoon, Yulanda and Cooky, came and picked me up from my hotel between functions and took me on a brief tour of the city. I'd been told earlier that AA books were difficult to find on bookshelves in Phoenix, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. We stopped by a very busy area mall and strode inside the Borders Bookstore there. After browsing for quite some time, we finally located the African American section of the store. There was only one bookcase to embody that section and that bookcase only contained about four shelves. And on those shelves, there was one AA fiction title. One. O-N-E (big congrats to Jacquelin Thomas for being our sole representation).
Of course, with my sister-girls being the avid readers that they are, and me, being the avid writer that I am, we couldn't dare leave without confronting the store workers about their empty African American section. When asked why they didn't have more of our books, the worker replied, "Oh, we had some, but they just sell so quickly." My challenging response was, "So, if they sell so quickly, that means the demand is there. Why didn't you restock when you sold out?" His answer, "Because the publishers and distributors won't send us any more."
One of my sister-girls asked whether or not he'd placed an order for more books and he responded by saying, "We don't order books. The companies just send them to us. All the other companies for all the other books you see just sent us these books for the shelves, but none of the publishers for the African American titles will send us any." At that point, all the three of us could do was look at him. Apparently, we looked a whole lot dumber than we were for him to think we'd buy that. The publishers and distributors won't send any more? Are you kidding me? The publishers and distributors make their money by sending out the books and having them sold. Why would they not restock the shelves?
"Are you disappointed?" That was the question he asked with an almost sneering smile as we stared at him. At that point, leaving just seemed like the right thing to do.
What does it mean for African American writers when there are stores who won't stock our books? When the buying public has no option other than to go to the counter and order our books any time they want to get one, how many book sells do we lose? The thought is disheartening.
Barack Obama is president-elect, yes. He smashed a barrier that just a few years ago...just a few months ago...maybe even just a few weeks ago, seemed unbendable, let alone unbreakable. The bar has been raised and a new standard has been set. Somehow, as creators and supporters of African American literature, we have to find a way to overcome the obstacles that are set in place to limit our achievements as well.
We've come a long way, baby.....but the battle ain't over yet.