The Section

Published by audenjohnson on

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the African American Literature section at the bookstore. On the one hand, I can see how beneficial it is but on the other, I see it as a way to hide books. How often do people who aren’t black browse that section?  Most of the books there could be placed under a genre.

Say, for instance, writers Brandon Massey and Tananarive Due.Works by both authors can be classified as horror, fantasy or speculative, but both authors are shelved only in the African American Literature section. To some bookstore’s credit, I discovered Tananarive Due in the horror section but since then, I’ve seen her only in the African American section. Stories by both writers scream horror or fantasy so why aren’t they in those section? Do the authors elect to be categorized as an African American writer instead of a Horror or Fantasy writer? Why would they do that? Already, there are far too little minority protagonist in horror and fantasy.

I would prefer not going out of my way to read stories with a black protagonist in the genre I like. I’ve read stories in other genres but prefer Horror and Fantasy so I don’t venture into other sections unless I’m looking for something specific- which is rarely the case. I go straight for the Horror then the Scifi/Fantasy, then maybe Reference to check out books on writing and getting published and sometime even browse a graphic novel or two.

L.A. Banks, I am pleased to see, is always in the Horror section and if the bookstore doesn’t have that section, then she’s under Scifi/Fantasy. Octavia Butler is another who is found in the Scifi/Fantasy section. What makes them different from Brandon Massey and Tananarive Due? Do black writers have to first be categorized not by their work but by their race and then, when they become household names, graduate to the genre they’d been writing in for years?

I am a writer and I am an African American but I am not an African American writer. In terms of genre fiction, I believe race is irrelevant. If a white writer wants to have a minority protagonist let them, if a minority wants to have a white protagonist so be it. If the author relays on stereotypes instead facts then they will have to deal with that decision and the backlash.

I leave you with this. What makes a story African American Literature? Is it merely the fact that the author as well as most of the characters are black? Since we’re on the topic, should black people have to read books or watch movies they don’t like simply because it was written by and is about black people? Your thoughts.



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