Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

Post some books, folks!

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message 1: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments I'm really interested in seeing how other people define 'literary fiction by people of color' by seeing which books you'd put under this category. So please post good/great/life-changing books that you think fit this 'genre'.

message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan | 1 comments A life-changing book for me was The Plexus Agenda by Andre Lewis. It discusses how Blacks and Whites feel about the racial tension in this country. After hearing Barack Obama's speech on race I wanted to know more. This novel paints a vivid picture of what could happen if we don't do something to address the race issue.

message 3: by Paige (new)

Paige | 3 comments I'm new to the group but I'll add some of the books I consider literary fiction. I haven't read a lot by broad ranges of people of color though. I'm still expanding my knowledge :)

message 4: by Kellie (new)

Kellie (krheck) | 4 comments My journey with literary fiction by people of color: I started in high school with Alice Walker and Langston Hughes. Hughes is still and always will be one of the greats to me. When they came out with the entire collected works of his, I knew I had to have it. I can open up to any page and fall in love all over again. It begs to be read aloud.

Then I moved on to Toni Morrison and fell in love with her works.

But I went back to Alice Walker and found out that she was the one responsible for sort of re-discovering Zora Neale Hurston. That led me to Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I think is one of the most amazing books ever written. Period. I recommend it to everyone I have a book conversation with.

From there, I wondered why, in all those college prep courses in high school and having been an English major in college, I was never required to read works by such writers as Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. So I read Invisible Man this past late winter, and all the while the primary was going on and Obama was fighing to be the winner and the parallels and contrasts kept striking me over and over again. Is the invisible man visible at last?

From there I went to Native Son, which I'm reading now. Bigger is stressing me out, LOL. I hope he turns out ok in the end.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Does anyone consider newer authors to be literary?

message 6: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Of course newer authors are literary. And even the definition 'literary' is of course a very subjective one. I tend to call things literary when they're not just following a formula for what a book or story 'should' be to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, when they pay close attention to language, character development, tone and setting (and not just plot, for example). Any newer authors you want to post here?

message 7: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Great posts, BMG. I haven't read Native Son yet (I know, blasphemy!) but the books and authors you listed above are some of my faves top, especially Zora. I think every woman writer of color (like myself) should read Zora and get to her know her life story intimately. Have you read the cool 'autobiography' / scrapbook that came out about her life a few years ago? It's called "Speak, So You Can Speak Again". I won't post it on this bookshelf because it's not Fiction, but you should look it up. Really cool stuff.

message 8: by Kellie (new)

Kellie (krheck) | 4 comments Rona, NO!!! I didn't even know it existed! I practically worship Hurston, I need to find that. Teacake and Janie. Sigh.

You know when I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was 20 years old and a sophomore English major. I finished it, went "meh" and tossed it aside. I have no idea why it didn't resonate much with me.

But I picked it back up in the fall of 2005. It was like a DIFFERENT BOOK to me then. I GOT it. Janie just broke my heart. And (this might be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read it yet) I was reading it just a few months after Hurricane Katrina and had completely forgotten about the end of that book. So when I got to it, I just started shaking all over and crying. "Their eyes were watching God..."

Oh my Lord, what a powerful book. I couldn't stop thinking about it even after I finished it. I think more people ought to read it.

message 9: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Yes, that book is amazing, one of my favorites of all time. The metaphors she uses around nature, God, etc. are so lyrical and poignant but not overly sentimental. I refused to watch the TV movie that Oprah made of it because I didn't want anything to ruin my experience of the book. I really don't like the trend of books becoming movies, but oh well. I guess if that helps introduce people to the books if they don't already know them then it has a benefit.

message 10: by Kellie (new)

Kellie (krheck) | 4 comments Rona, I didn't even know she did a movie of it. I'm not watching it. Janie will always be in my mind, the way Hurston intended her to be.

Hurston's quotes are some of my favorite and are on my profile page here. My absolute favorite of hers is "there are years for questions and there are years for answers."

That's the truth.

message 11: by Monica (new)

Monica Stanford | 2 comments Hi! I'm new! Thank you all for admitting me into this group! I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston, Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro, Kindred, Fledgling, Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler, Brick Lane by Monica Ali, Native Son by Wright, The Fire Next Time by Baldwin, and almost everything by bell hooks. I also loved Blindness by Saramago, One Hundred Years of Solitude by, I loved them all so much!! :-)

message 12: by Wizzard (new)

Wizzard | 10 comments My favorite book of all time is The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. I think it is literary because it does not just focus on plot. Language, politics, characterization, style all
factor into the book.
I would also add the short stories of Zora Neale Hurston, Song for Night by Chris Abani, and the Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami

message 13: by Paige (new)

Paige | 3 comments I really enjoyed Their Eyes Were Watching God. I have read it multiple times and still seem to find something new. I read some of Hurston's short stories and atleast one essay too and plan to read more.


message 14: by Qiana (new)

Qiana | 189 comments Hi, everyone: I'm new to the group and DELIGHTED to see others who enjoy many of the same books I do. Under the heading of newer or more recent literary writers of color, I would add Colson Whitehead, Martha Southgate, Edward P. Jones, and two poets, Kevin Young, and Terence Hayes. One of my favorite books, though, is Percival Everett's Erasure - it has much to say about the distinctions between black literary and popular fiction, and the changing definitions of blackness in our time. Plus it's hilarious. I'd love to discuss it with others if anyone is interested.

Thanks again for admitting me into the group!

message 15: by Qiana (new)

Qiana | 189 comments Um, not sure what happened, but my comment appears to have posted multiple times - I tried to delete them, but my apologies if you are seeing 10 copies of my post.

message 16: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Hi! I'm new here ,too. My name is Wilhelmina, but I'm often called Mina, and I live in Atlanta, GA. I haven't read Erasure yet, but I do own a copy and I would love to participate in a discussion about it. Another new member, William Ewell, has also expressed interest in participating. Are there any others? I was thinking that we could start a discussion on August 15. That would give me and any others who might want to read the book the chance to do so.

What does everyone think about this idea? Thanks, Qiana, for suggesting it.

message 17: by Monica (new)

Monica Stanford | 2 comments Erasure sounds like a great book! Count me in, and thanks for suggesting it!


message 18: by jo (new)

jo | 1031 comments there are many, many books by people of color that have changed my life (really). do you want us to add them to the "read" bookshelf, rona?

message 19: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Hey Jo, you can post them on the 'read' bookshelf and / or in this thread. it's always cool to see what books were truly transformational for folks. Another one that was really amazing for me is 'Wild Seed' by Octavia Butler. Part historical-fiction, part fantasy, and completely mesmerizing and believeable.

message 20: by jo (new)

jo | 1031 comments i posted a few in the "read" bookshelf. almanac of the dead by leslie marmom silko energized me and exhilarated me in a way in which few novels have. it's hard bitten race-and-class politics and hard bitten global politics and hard bitten humor, love, and revolution told in a beautiful and gripping way. some passages (crossing the desert at the US-mexico border, being shot through your bullet-proof vest, planning the revolution) are still with me, more than 10 years later.

message 21: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments "Wild Seed" was a book that changed the way that I perceived fiction by people of color also. An incredible book, even more unusual when I read it in the early eighties than now. I had always enjoyed SF and speculative fiction, but there were very few people of color in the field and, as far as I know, no Black women at all. To read such a great story written by a Black woman, starting in Africa and moving into the diaspora, and shaking up ideas of gender and race as well as good and evil - I was just blown away.

She was much too young to leave us; she is certainly missed.

message 22: by Stacy-Deanne (new)

Stacy-Deanne Stacy-Deanne (wwwgoodreadscomstacydeanne) Hi everyone, just butting in to say hello and thanks for allowing me to join the group! I'm an author and I'd like to share my two cents about literary fiction in general if I may.

As far as Literary fiction, I have been investigating this, LOL. And though, I can't say it's true or untrue, I keep hearing people say that literary fiction, no matter the audience or race of the author has become nonexistent. I have to say that I don't see much literary fiction coming out myself these days and the books that are released are not getting the promotion they deserve.

I have heard of publishers saying that literary fiction doesn't sell these days, or that some publishers don't feel today's reading audience wants literary novels anymore. They say the audience today is more on the go and wants modern-styled books that are quick to read and that literary fiction doesn't fit into that category. I would ask around about this (because this has been a hot topic for a while), and most people (readers) I'd ask about what books they like, say they only read literary fiction in college or when they have to. I was like, "hmmm?" LOL.

I also know of a black author around today, can't remember her name, but you guys might know who I mean who writes literary fiction. Her situation has been discussed in many blogs. She says that her publisher straight out told her that they didn't know how to categorize her or didn't know which audience her work pertained to. She said that they were trying to promote her to only a black audience because she was black, but they ignored the fact that her work has mainly white characters, so she wanted to be promoted to a crossover audience. It was then that her publisher began complaining about her style of writing and I suppose it's still an issue.

My opinion is that literary fiction will always be respected but I do see a change in its popularity as an author and as a reader. I guess it's a sign of the times. People are into more genre fiction these days. They are running to paperback books that are quick for them to read when they take that small break from their busy lives. I also think that new authors breaking in are abandoning writing literary fiction (even if that's their form of writing), because they see it may be hard to break in with that. I don't know, but I do see this happening.

All I can say is that things change and that even though literary fiction may not be the "hot" thing to some people these days, it doesn't mean it will not become that again. Anyone can write a great literary novel tomorrow and the popularity, with good publicity and sales and the popularity would be restored. Look at the fantasy genre. Fantasy hadn't been this popular in decades until J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter caught on. Then everyone and their mother loved fantasy again. Well that can happen for literary fiction.

Unfortunately a lot of black authors have abandoned this form of fiction altogether. I don't know if it's a lost of interest in writing it or that they feel they can't write literary fiction as well as the classic authors, so they don't attempt to. And, like I said, the ones who still write it don't receive much recognition or are labeling their books in another genre to increase sales. This is happening too. The problem with publishers these days is that they want the fast, no-substance stuff from aspiring writers and any aspiring writer hoping to break in who wants to give them more than that (literary or not), seems not to be welcomed.

The bottom line is that literary fiction is not getting the attention it used to by publishers and sad to say, by a lot of today's readers today. Yet, it still has a loyal audience.

message 23: by Iimani (new)

Iimani David (iimanidavid) Hi Stacy... Great post!

You're right about literary fiction becoming unpopular. It's unfortunate for society that it is. Let's face it, the dumb-downing of everything in America is pervasive. Remember the good ol' days when you actually had to know something to partake in conversation? But, that's not what I wanted to respond to so I'll cut it short.

I picked up in your post something that's been bugging me a good while now. Am I a "black writer", or a black man who happens to be a novelist? I attended a book signing some years ago where I was perennially billed as a black writer even though the book had nothing to do with traditional black issues. Barnes and Noble (and I'm sure others) have conveniently set up an "African-American Literature" aisle where I've spotted African authors, Canadian, etc.

Maybe I'm missing something. Perhaps I'm taking things too literally. If someone could help clarify, that would help. It's easy to know if an author is black. But, when is the book "black"? When is the "black author" born? Precisely when?

message 24: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Great discussion. I love how this thread has evolved into a discussion of how writers of color should identify and how we are often identified by others and the challenges that come with that. I wondered when I started this group, 'Literary Fiction by People of Color', how long it would take for a discussion just like this one to start! So thanks Stacy and Iimani for making it happen.

Firstly, I think the dumbing down of our society has been both deliberate and acccidental. Deliberate in the sense that the powers that be have made it harder and harder--not to mention less appealing to young people--to actually be 'educated'. It's no longer as much a sign of proper upbringing, familial pride, or individual strength to be properly educated, intelligent and--gasp!--intellectual. The right wing in particular has been very successful (at least until recently) at pegging anyone who's 'smart' or 'intellectual' (especiallhy people of color) as elite and 'out of touch' with everyday people--sound familiar? As if one can't be both poor/working class or even middle class without being intelligent! It's really insulting to all of us.

Thus, the dumbing down of the literary industry, which despite how it may look on the outside, has been in many ways struggle to stay afloat since the advent of the Internet. The publishing industry is not one people go into because they want to get rich.. This isn't the health care industry or the pharmeceutical industry or high-tech or biogenetics. People love books and they want to publish them. And then they get stuck on trying to find a 'formula' to make money so that their publishing houses can stay in the black (or at least, not go completely bankrupt!). So they go for the lowest common denominator with a fairly uneducated populace and what do you get? Formula fiction that sells in the millions.

Not that this is anything new---'pulp' and other mass-market fiction has been around forever. But I do agree with Stacy and Iimani that what's considered 'literary' either doesn't exist on the same scale anymore, or things like Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' books are considered 'literary' just because they are about things like the Louvre and Westminster abbey and aren't those things high-falutin' and cultural and 'literary'?

Finally, on the identity of writers of color. My answer to you Iimani is that you are whatever you define yourself is. Of course, you are a writer. You are also Black. You are then a Black writer. But those words and identities are not dependent on each other exclusively. And anything you write, to me, is part of the body of 'Black literature', whether you fit into some editor's definition of that or not.

So keep writing and reading everyone, and let's create our own definitions as we go along!


message 25: by Wizzard (new)

Wizzard | 10 comments I was about to head out to work but read the entries and had to throw in my two cents. Which is actually what previous teachers have told me.
1. Read what you like and what moves you 2. Write the type of books that you feel need to be written. 3. At another workshop, (VONA, whoop whoop) the instructor said "Writing a book should change you-- You will not be the same person finishing the book as you will be starting it off" I take this as meaning if you are just working a formula in your books, you know it and are not really contributing anything to the literature.

These may sound idealistic, but I feel like these comments go to the heart of "what is the point of literature" more than the various labels. Lastly, when I read biographies of many writers labelled as great I notice how many works were rejected or published later after the writer had achieved some fame or published posthumously. So, in other words keep writing what you feel needs to be expressed and let the editors and the haters sort it all out.

As a reader, I feel like there are plenty of quality books that are powerful, funny, perceptive, and more that I haven't read yet so I am not concerned with the majority of books or what the trends are or the statistics. I don't think that people have stopped reading good books and I am not worried about the crap that I don't plan to read anyway.

message 26: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 17, 2008 03:01PM) (new)

I read Long Journey home by Julius Lester. I thought it was a very good read.

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