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Published:October 12th, 2007 11:29 EST
What Happen to the Great African American Author?

What Happen to the Great African American Author?

By LaShelle Turner

Something is inherently wrong with the publishing industry when former hip hop video star, Karrine Steffans, is the most interviewed and talked about African American author this year. This woman, who has made a career of telling lurid details of her intimate life with hip hop celebrities, has been on every major syndicated black radio program in the country.

Her first book, Video Vixen, became a bestseller and her second book, The Vixen Diaries, is gathering even more press. She even made it to the modern day pinnacle of author success; she was on Oprah. Are we so used to salacious gossip that it has become literature? Do we want these types of books to represent the model of a bestselling black author?

Karrine Steffans represents the reality for many black authors in today`s publishing industry. There are few great examples of African American literary authors on bookstore shelves. Most chain bookstores are filled with books by black authors who write tales of lust, sex, drugs and more sex.

Steffans`s books started a new genre of books, the Hip Hop Tattle Tell. Since the debut of her first book, many have followed her recipe for book selling success. Carmen Bryan`s It`s no Secret told her story of becoming a hip-hop baby mama. Tarsha Jones`s Meet Ms. Jones tells of her sexual conquests of rap stars, being a DJ is the side story. Even Terry McMillan`s ex-husband Jonathan Plummer has made his debut as an author. His book, Balancing Act, is a thinly veiled fiction version of his very public divorce from McMillan. No doubt ghostwriters are writing most of these books. It is hard to learn sentence structure and cohesion between all the bed hopping and chasing celebrities.

Note to all struggling black authors trying to get a publishing deal: Forget sending out queries and taking creative writing workshops, just go sleep with a few black celebrities and remember to take good notes.

What is most frightening about these books is who is reading them. Most are young, impressionable teen-aged African American girls. These books basically tell young black girls how to become hip-hop groupies. It is sending the message that fame and sex are interrelated. Real talent is only a minor detail.

With the exception of Alice Walker or Terry McMillan, most black authors do not garner the same media attention as Ms. Steffans. Very few become household names. Most live an obscure life, never making enough money to quit their day jobs or make the New York Times best seller list.

As an avid reader, it is a hard task trying to find African American books with good substance. True, there are many good nonfiction and romance books by black authors, but where are all the great books like Alice Walker`s Color Purple or Edward P. Jones`s The Known World. Where are our Joyce Carol Oates and Jodi Picoult? One has little other choice but to read great fiction books by authors of other races. Still, one longs to read about the black experience through the imagination of a well-written author of color.

The publishing industry is sending a message to African American readers. Black Americans do read, but only at a superficial level.  Substance and great writing talent does not sell; well at least in our communities.


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