What Constitutes African-American Fiction and Why?
I was surprised to see Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor on the list of PEN/Faulkner nominees. I was surprised because I had seen the book many, many times at Borders. No, I didn’t see it here:
Now, Whitehead is most definitely African-American. Sag Harbor is most definitely a fiction book. But why doesn’t he have a spot with the other fiction books?
The problem is that any and all African-American fiction gets put into this section, which means that James Baldwin is next to Romance novels. This isn’t opportune for either genre.
The other Romance novels get their own section. And look! This section is having a sale (and look at all those white characters on the cover). Too bad African-American Romance authors can’t participate. They’re stuck over next to Zora Neale Hurston.
I was taken aback by the injustice of all authors involved. A normal reader looking for a new novel comes into Borders and browses the fiction section. Maybe they don’t go over to the African-American fiction section because they think it is like the other sections next to it: studies of the race’s culture.
Yes, folks, I’m afraid so. African-American fiction is the only singled out race. Asian, hispanic and Native American authors of fiction all get their spot in the regular fiction section.
I started thinking, “well, maybe it’s because the dominant theme is about being African-American.” Then I saw this:
It isn’t. It’s in the regular fiction.
– Any fiction by a African-American is put into this section
– Misunderstandings about the section (or not knowing that the section exists) may lead people to not browse the section
– These books miss out on sales in their real genre because they’re put in this section
– It has nothing to do with the theme of the book, but rather the color of the author.
P.S. Follow Colson Whitehead here @colsonwhitehead