Where dem colored writers at?

Tayari Jones, the Atlanta-based author of two startling novels, has an interesting essay about the shelving of African American fiction in mainstream bookstores. Here’s a provocative sample:

For most African American writers, this section is the only way that they will connect with the browsers, the mostly African American readers who go out of their way to read books by black authors. I have read the arguments against these sections, usually by white readers who were looking for the work of some famous black author like Toni Morrison and were dismayed to be led to The Colored Section. Each time I read such an account, I am painfully aware that the reader has been browsing the bookstore for years before noticing that the “literature” section is all white.

For all this, Jones is ambivalent about this “ghetto-izing” practice. As a black reader who also happens to work in publishing, I’m ambivalent, too–that is, when I’m not infuriated. More on this to come. For now, read what she’s got to say.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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One Response to Where dem colored writers at?

  1. Chris Reisor says:

    I’ve always found this–and especially the Gay/Lesbian section–to be awkward in bookstores. It sometimes feels like I’m not allowed to look at these shelves, because I don’t belong to the club. Obviously this doesn’t work in the reverse. Gay and black readers wouldn’t (I think) feel awkward scouring the Literature shelves (unless, of course, it was called the “White Literature” or “Straight Literature” shelf).
    Seems like there’s a simple solution to this.
    Obviously this sort of segregation works in terms of selling books (or the stores and publishers wouldn’t do it–I’m sure they’re not doing it as a service to society).
    All you need to do is shelf all books where they belong genre-wise, and you can still hold a couple of copies back for a breakout shelf that features a certain type of literature. They do this all the time with classics.
    This way people looking specifically for black authors can easily find them, and people casually perusing can stumble across something they may never have noticed.

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