Monday, December 18, 2006

Mom lit, anyone?

There's an article up at the nyt on the latest trend (meaning it's probably already over), mom lit. Basically, chick lit authors and readers are now having babies. I think this mania for labelling books chick lit has gone too far. I've read a couple of "chick lit"-y titles and been put off by others because they seemed to be chick lit.

The mom-centricity of some parts of our culture seem to be almost purely market-driven and I think that's the case here. But as a mom, I am interested in some of those stories that have some mothering angle. But I'm also interested in fast-paced murder mysteries and thrillers, though I hope to have nothing in common with those protagonists anytime soon.

But with this mom lit trend, I'm thinking again about how that affects or excludes black authors and readers. For instance I really enjoyed Jennifer Weiner's Little Earthquakes (she's quoted in the nyt article and has commented on it in her blog), both because I recognized many of the challenges the mothers faced and because it seemed more realistic to me since it wasn't an all-white cast of characters. (Yes, the black mother is married to a professional athlete - which I could make a case for as a stereotypical way to insert a black mother. But she wasn't the maid, or the personal assistant, or a recipient of the white character's charity). I wonder if there are black authors whose books would easily fit within the mom lit category but aren't being placed there and who may be missing readers because they've been lumped into a racial niche.

Can you think of any black authors who have written mom lit (or have something coming out?) Let me know, I'd like to check them out.

Another thing the article touches on is the over-the-top wealth of some of the characters in these novels. Yet I think it is entirely possible to have an engaging novel about women/people/mothers who are not obscenely wealthy. It might even be a. better. book.

Jump at the Sun
I meant to comment on Kim McLarin's book below - but, I got a little distracted. Anyway, I recommend it. It's interesting that I was reading it around the time that Bebe Moore Campbell passed away. McLarin's novels have more depth than much of what is pushed onto the African American shelves. Jump at the Sun is no exception. I was impressed with the way she weaved one mother's story as really a part of her family's maternal history and made all the women sympathetic to some degree (for awhile anyway). I am reading a lot of really light fiction now and McLarin's novel is not light - it pushed me to think and gave me characters too complex for me to easily dismiss or embrace. It also left things kind of unsettled and it was good to read something that was more realistic, with a story that isn't all tied up at the end.

A reading Dec. 22 in Baltimore:
We have reached the last stop on the 2006 tour of Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces.Red Emma's Books will host the contributors on Friday, December 22, 2006 at 6:30pm. If you haven't had a chance to attend a reading this is a great way to end the year (and pick up some last minute autographed Christmas presents). Spread the word! Also keep an eye out for the new 2007 tour schedule in a couple weeks.Red Emma's Books Reading and Book SigningFriday, December 22, 2006800 St. Paul Street Baltimore, MD6:30pm Michelle national resource for poets/writersand the folks who love us!

I just missed the Growing Up Girl event at Charis in Atlanta. Hopefully some of the authors will make a swing near me in 2007.

Review surfing:
SF Chronicle on Amiri Baraka's short story collection, Tales of the Out & the Gone.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Do cookies and writers belong together?

This is going to be a (hopefully coherent) hodge-podge of a post. Due to the lateness of the hour and all the random things I've run across at times when I haven't been able to post.

Kitty Kelley's newest bio-subject is:
That's right, Oprah. I would love to read a good biography of Oprah, though I feel she has told so much of her own story, that it'd make more sense for her to do an autobiography (and that would probably sell more copies). It will be interesting how it comes out - if it comes out. Got that nugget from galleycat. Here's the article.

Also from galleycat - a promotional idea
Cookies, books and authors. Sounds like a sweet deal, though having such an event at a feminist bookstore seems both subversive and stereotypical. I'll have to think on that for awhile. But I do love baked goods, so I'd be willing to go for the concept. Perhaps Tayari Jones could do it with red velvet cake.

Books in stores - and a contest
Take a picture of Marilynn Griffith's latest book, If the Shoe Fits, on your local bookstore's shelves and you may win a copy. Or you could just buy it after you take the pic, right?
BTW, there's a cookie recipe on MG's site. So she could certainly do the cookie/signing idea.

Are you an Edward P. Jones scholar?
Then this is for you:
Deadline extended for a proposed panel on Edward P. Jones at the eighteenth annual conference ofthe American Literature Association to be held in Boston, May 24-27, 2007.Papers that focus on his short fiction are particularly encouraged, though papers on his novel, TheKnown World, will be considered. All approaches are welcome.Please email 200 word abstracts and a CV no later than January 10, 2007 to Gregory Miller,University of California at Davis (
Pulled from kalamu's cyberdrummers listserv for and about writers of African descent. Email to be added.

Review surfing
WashPost review of There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America By William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

WSJ, new-2-me blogs, McLarin's novel

I decided today to get deeper into making this a viable blog. Naturally that sent me on a hunt for links and interesting things to share. Here's what I've found so far (and probably all for tonight!)

New-2-me blogs:
Mat Johnson, found via a link on Nichelle Tramble's blog. (For the record, I vote that Nichelle keep blogging.) Mat has some interesting posts about commercial fiction, self-publishing and the state of the black literati - and yes his site is called Niggerati. Talk amongst yourselves about that one - perhaps there's a Michael Richards joke in there somewhere. I haven't read all of Mat's posts, but found the one I did read (#3) to be provocative. Are the self-published, so-called ghetto lit authors working on the craft? Does it matter if they still sell?
And speaking of selling, I have a 99% unread copy of B-More Careful available really cheap. I bought it to check out the craze and just could not even force myself to read it. So if the author is working on the craft, I'll never see the work, since I will not risk the money again.

Anyway, Mat's work looks cool, and I'm particularly interested in the Walter White-inspired graphic novel coming out next year. I'll have to get some of his work - talk in comments about it if you're familiar with his writing.

Also stumbled into Felicia Pride's blog and she had a post about a WSJ article about black authors. I'm not a suscriber, so I'll have to go to the hard copy tomorrow. Here's what's available on their site as a preview for non-subscribers:

Why Book Industry Sees the World Split Still by Race
By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg
Word Count: 1,851 Companies Featured in This Article: CBS, Borders Group, Wal-Mart Stores,, Barnes & Noble, Pearson
Brandon Massey's readers tell him they know just where to find his horror novels -- in the African-American section of bookstores. He's torn about whether or not this is a good thing.
"You face a double-edged sword," says Mr. Massey, 33 years old. "I'm black and I'm published by a black imprint, so I'm automatically slotted in African-American fiction." That helps black readers to find his books easily and has underpinned his career. At the same time, he says, the placement "limits my sales."
Should fiction written by black authors be shelved in African-American departments, a move that often helps ....

And no, Felicia, you're not the only one:

Am I the only one that hadn't heard about Angela Bassett and her husband's
Courtney Vance's new book entitled, Friends: A Love Story? It's being published
by Harlequin/Kimani Press this January

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bebe Moore Campbell

When we made it home from our T-giving trip, I was shocked to see that Bebe Moore Campbell had died. I saw it on Tayari Jones' site - then googled it to see what happened. I keep being surprised with younger deaths - though I wouldn't have thought of 56 as youthful 15 years ago. It seems very young now.
So, if you haven't already started, go and re-read some of Bebe's books. Here are a few of the obituary stories on her. She made a mark on us and her last book, 72 Hour Hold, really pushes the entire society to have a real dialogue on mental illness/disease.

LATimes: "Bebe was a passionate voice for Los Angeles," novelist Paula L. Woods said Monday. "She wrote about the historical and social forces that make us rub against each other and spark. Her heart was in the African American community."There will be a gap without her. Already, you feel that absence."

WashPost: "African Americans know about racism," Campbell said, "but I don't think we really know the causes. I decided it's first of all a family problem."

NYTimes: Along with writers like Terry McMillan, Ms. Campbell was part of the first wave of black novelists who made the lives of upwardly mobile black people a routine subject for popular fiction. Straddling the divide between literary and mass-market novels, Ms. Campbell’s work explored not only the turbulent dance between blacks and whites but also the equally fraught relationship between men and women.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Blacks, books and newspapers

The NYTimes has a story on Black Issues Book Review's new venture, Blacks&Books - a supplement for Black newspapers. I love the idea - and hope it eventually gets to my, not-so-urban market.

A novel in 30 days
Are you crazy, ambitious or dedicated enough to pound out 50,000 words in 30 days? Then you're probably already participating in National Novel Writing Month. If you're not and want to learn about it (and some strategies for your own writing) read this.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yeah - still here and reading

What I'm reading...
I am back in a heavy reading mode and am gathering more books than I can possibly read by the end of the month. But I intend to make a valiant effort.

Found the latest Kim McLarin novel, Jump at the Sun, at the library. Loved her two first novels, so I'm excited about the premise of this one - a mother's struggle with her new life as a stay-at-home mom. I have read a few titles that do the mommy tales (the modern version) but don't know of that many new novels by Black women that are doing that. I realize I'm probably just missing them - so I'm open to suggestions in comments.

The NYTimes has a story about the surprise bestselling book by Sen. Barack Obama. Of course there's still all the talk about and his coy avoidance of the question of 2008, the White House and Hilary. Here's a bit from the NYTimes books story.
Writing in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called Mr. Obama, 45, “that rare politician who can actually write.” In The Washington Post, Michael Kazin praised Mr. Obama’s “knack for mixing stirring rhetoric about good and evil with practical policy ideas.”

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sunday Books Roundup

Here's what I've found of interest today in the books sections:

A nice LA Times feature story on writers ("ethnic" writers) who are including social history and commentary in their mystery novels. Paula L. Woods (author of the Charlotte Justice novels, including Strange Bedfellows) and Walter Mosley are quoted. Also a reference to Gary Phillips and his novel, The Jook.
Also in the LA Times, a review of Forty Million Dollar Slaves The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, by William C. Rhoden. Rhoden is a sportswriter for the NYTimes who played football for Morgan State University in the late 1960s. This will be a big publishing year for Rhoden - he also has this title, Third and a Mile : From Fritz Pollard to Michael Vick - An Oral History of the Trials, Tears and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback, coming out in the fall.

The WaPost reviewed Andrea Smith's The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner a few weeks ago. It's about a group of African American church ladies who begin breaking the law to save babies. The novel is set in South Carolina in the 1950s.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Beloved" Chosen as Best American Fiction

I was really surprised and pleased to read today that 100 writers and critics chose Toni Morrison's Beloved as the best work of American fiction published in 25 years. Really, they did. Read about it in the NYTimes. Here's the list of judges.

There is also an essay by A. O. Scott about the process and it includes this tidbit about the previous effort by the NYTimes to choose a best work of fiction:

The last time this kind of survey was conducted, in 1965 (under the
auspices of Book Week, the literary supplement of the soon-to-be-defunct New
York Herald Tribune), the winner was Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," which was declared "the most memorable" work of American fiction published since the end of World War II, and the most likely to endure.

I thought that was pretty amazing, but then again, not too surprising. Race and class are there at the beginning of the idea of America as a nation, so novels that grapple with both and the many issues spawned by color and class have the potential to be our great works.

One Love, in Memoriam
Today is the 25th anniversary of Bob Marley's death. I read a story earlier this week on the ABC news site about the upcoming anniversary. I thought it was really odd that "top-selling Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu" was such a big part of the story. Not necessarily bad, it just seemed like he was more of a focal point than necessary. I would have liked to have heard more thoughts from across the musical spectrum.

I really liked NPR's tribute story, which included an interview with Christopher John Farley, who has a new book, Before the Legend:The Rise of Bob Marley, that's a history of Marley before reggae and Rastafari. There's an excerpt from the book at the NPR site.

One thing I learned from the story is that there are multiple versions of "One Love." There are audio clips on NPR's site as well as a photo gallery.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Checking for reviews and such

Just a few quick hits:

Miami Herald review of Walter Mosley's Fortunate Son.

An interesting story on "chica" lit from The Arizona Republic. Here's an interesting quote from Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez:

"Labels can be tools of empowerment when used properly, and they can be
tools of marginalization when used incorrectly," Valdes-Rodriguez says. "They
can be both at once. And I know that if I didn't have a Spanish name, I would be
selling a lot more books than I am . . . because I get notes from people saying,
'I'm not Latina, but I read your book anyway.' I know Jennifer Weiner isn't
getting notes saying, 'I'm not Jewish, but I read your book anyway,' for In Her
Shoes or Good in Bed, and our books are very similar. . . .
"My worry is
that bookstores are going to start to have the Latina section. And at that
point, my career dies."

There's another comparison to the African American literary landscape before and after Terry McMillan. (The comparison in the above quote is of course unspoken, but if you've been in any major bookstore, you've seen "our" section). Of course the so-called urban lit fad is driving us further in that direction of marginalization and stereotypes.

The Palm Beach Post has an editor who is blogging about Black literature. I don't know why that shocked me - it just seemed really specific for a metro daily in a city that I don't think of as black. Shocking, but cool. Check out Rhonda Swan, the Literary Diva.

E. Lynn Harris has a new novel out. Here's a feature story about him from the Washington Blade in which he declines to call himself an activist and talks about upcoming work. The new novel is I Say a Little Prayer. Gay men and the black church. Man, E. Lynn really set us to talking.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A new press, pimps and more

Just saw an announcement about Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, edited by Michelle Sewelle. She is publishing it under her press, Girlchild Press, this month. Check it out here:

Calls for Writing
Seal Press is publishing an anthology about women travelling solo. Deadline is May 15, 2006. Get the details here:

Another opportunity is the upcoming anthology, Cornrows, Double-Dutch, & Black Girl Blues:Words and Images of Black Girlhood in America Photos by Delphine Fawundu-Buford, Edited by Ibi Aanu Zoboi.

The editor seeks submissions that speak to the experience of the black girl aged 7 through 12 in America. Currently, this is a closed invitation to women who either work closely with young black girls or writers who can contribute an intriguing memoir. Once we have secured a publisher, an open call will be sent out to young girls across the country to submit short poems.

Deadline is April 15, 2006. The call is much longer than what I've posted here. To submit or get more details, email the editor at:

Who's really struggling?
The Oscar pimp song controversy isn't over. Jill Nelson has a commentary about the song and hip hop culture in general at Nia Online. I'm really tired of the glorification of pimping - so hats off to Jill for being grown up (as always) about it.