Wednesday, January 04, 2006

naughty, naughty: black fiction too sexy?

Their Eyes Were Reading Smut - New York Times

last year, i dropped in on a black romance writer's blog and checked out the conversation there. in a thread about chick lit vs. literary fiction, someone said that those who complain about chick lit and how bad it is are just boring, over-educated so-and-so's, by extension arguing that literary fiction is boring and over-educated.

maybe. honestly, my tastes in african american literature are very particular. the more literary, the better. but nick chiles seems a bit overwrought in his reaction. why the shame, nick? don't we have permission to be trashy, too?


Danyel said...

I linked this article at my blog today, but didn't elaborate because today's post was all about basketball. BUT:

I agree with you about the hatred of "street lit." we DO have permission to be trashy, sexy -- whatevah. I love me some literary fiction, and Lord knows what I write tends to be in that category ... but is that what I set OUT to do? No. It's what comes outta me. I imagine (best case scenarios), re the authors writing "street lit," it's what comes out of them. Hating "street lit" reminds me of people hating on "gangsta" hip hop.


ding said...

for some reason, chiles' reaction reminded me of bill cosby's unfortunate rant about poor black people.

i wonder if this 'street lit' is being published by mainstream houses or independent presses. in other words, it may be street but people who haven't had access to authorship now have it.

is that what he's really freaked out about? the perceived leveling of what authorship used to be?

john patrick said...

I know this is not a new debate, and forgive me if I'm drawing parallels where I shouldn't be, but this reminds me of the debate within the Asian American and film critics community when Better Luck Tomorrow. came out.

It also reminds me of some Asian Americans who don't like Margaret Cho's comedy; someone (an ethic studies major) once told me that 'you just don't air dirty laundry.'

There's also talk about 'negative images' or 'reinforcing a stereotype' or 'we should be more uplifting.'

This might sound simplistic, but I think that at the core, these arguements basically boil down to either A)"Don't do that, not in front of the kids;" or, B) "Don't do that, not in front of the white people." In A, it's a matter of propriety. In B, it's a matter of embarassment.

I hesitate to condemn someone who is embarassed when white people catch a glimpse of certain parts of their heritage, it's part of the identity journy. I, personally, remember when I was a kid being very adamant to white people about never eating cats and dogs, and feeling ashamed of the poor hungry people that steal your pets.

However, I for one am capable of going days without identifying with white people. That's right, I've developed a point of view that is for the most part, independent of them.

In fact, at work, sometimes I am so ignorant of the white point of view that I have to stop myself and ask, how would a white person do this? What would a white person do/think?" It's a matter of professional survival. And when I'm stumped, I ask my white friends and collegues. I'm too old to be intimidated by the cultural barriers, and they're there to work with me, not to judge me.

ding said...

i definitely think there's some internalized shit going on there with mr. chiles.

slightly OT, jp - do you ever make your white colleagues uncomfortable? i mean, do they recognize what you're doing? do they get it?

cuz i think that i don't have the ovarial chutzpah to overturn the paradigm so consistently as you do.

Anonymous said...

I USED TO GIVE A SHIT... about why there was not more literary Aframerican fiction being published. "Too much trash, trash, trash," I wailed.

Not anymore.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BABY. If Random House has trashier imprints, those sales allow them to publish more avantegarde works.

In the Public Library World, high circulation rates impact our budget. I am perfectly happy to see a tattered copy of ZANE check out 86 times before it MUST be withdrawn because of its condition. This trash keeps us in business and we can try to purchase broadly. There may be more copies of Zane than Toni Morrison because of the differences in demand and usuage, but Toni is still in the house. As is Gayl Jones--who never checks out.

Here are some of the major trends i have noticed:
1. Soft core authors (Zane, Mary B. Morrison)
2. street lit (Y Blak Moore--Old School was Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim)
3. Folks acting a fool in Church
(Michelle Andrea Bowen, Kimberla Lawson Roby)
4. Inspirational--Characters who survive the drama through faith
5. all the books about four gorgeous girlfriends having trouble with their hot, ambitious men
6. relationship drama, drama, drama


john patrick said...

Doris bo boris? I used to know someone named Doris bo boris!

Usually, I'm pretty nonthreatening when it comes to the paradigm, and they're happy to help me. Because usually it's me drawing on their cultural knowledge (i.e., how do I invest my money? how do you make Christmas cookies?)

ding said...

yeah, i remember a doris bo boris, too. i heard she moved to the outer rings.

but yeah, DBB brings up a point nick 'class panic' chiles forgets: just because street lit is out there doesn't mean the high falutin' stuff has disappeared.