Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Empty African American Fiction Shelves

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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When A Writer Is Rendered Speechless

As a woman who makes a living by stringing together words (roughly, 85,000 of them per novel), I can honestly say that there haven't been many moments in my lifetime when I found myself literally speechless. I've been surprised. I've been awed. I've been blindsided. I've even been amazed. But rarely has whatever it was that unfolded before me, left me unable to utter a word. Last night was the exception.

When Senator Barack Obama became President-Elect Barack Obama, I was too moved for words. For the first few moments following CNN's announcement, all I could do was stare at my television screen, looking at words and images that tears had blurred beyond recognition.

I had followed the happenings of the presidential race. Saw the number of contending democratic hopefuls dwindle to three, then two, then one. All the while, I was impressed at how this man, who, until three or four years ago was a virtual unknown, spoke with such eloquence, proliferated such knowledge, and handled himself with such dignity. A family man. A God-fearing man. An educated man. A black man.

The odds were most definitely against Obama. He came from a broken home where his father left when Barack was two, and only returned once to visit when he was ten. After that, he never saw his father again. Obama had only served in the Senate for a few years and was still viewed as "green" and "inexperienced" by his opponents. They said he wasn't ready to be president. Wasn't qualified. And add to that that he was African American (the product of a black father and a white mother) and his chances seemed slimmer than slim. Yet, unfazed and unintimidated, Senator Obama set out to become the holder of the highest political office in the United States.

Few expected him to win the democratic nomination against the better known, well-liked and more experienced Senator Hilary Clinton. But with the declaration of three words that became his mantra: "Yes We Can," Illinois Senator, Barack Obama began a long, historic battle that he ultimately won, not only against Senator Clinton, but against the much-respected Republican hopeful, Senator John McCain, making Senator Obama President of the United States of America.

I'm not sure why the realization of it all rendered me dumbfounded. Perhaps it was because I never thought that a man who looked like me would ever be voted U.S. President. Maybe it was because I was grateful that not only had it happened in my lifetime, but that even my parents, who participated in marches, sit-ins and endured the days of segregation, had lived to see it. Perhaps it was because God had just given my children an excellent example to assure them that with Him, all things are possible if they believe. Maybe it was a mixture of all of the above.

Whatever the reason, November 4, 2008 goes down in my life's history as the day I became proudest of my country. The day that I became happiest to be an American citizen. The day I came to believe, more than ever, that a change.....a GOOD change was on its way to our government and our world.

Many books will arise from this moment in history. Authors from within the U.S. and beyond will capture pieces of Obama's life and his journey between the lines of their novels, memoirs, children's books and poetry. And no doubt, all that will be written won't be positive. Everybody didn't vote for him. There were some who desired to see him fail. But years ago, before the foundation of the world, God's pen wrote Barack Hussein Obama's name as the 44th U.S. President, and His pen is always right.

God bless our President-Elect Obama. God bless our newest first lady, Michelle Obama. God bless their children, Malia and Natasha (Sasha) Obama. May the Lord protect them from harm's way, keep them in His grace, and provide them with all of the knowledge, courage and strength that they will need to successfully lead our country into a brighter future.

God bless the United States of America.