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The Legacy of African-American Writers February 15, 2010

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in African-American literature, bestsellers, fiction, multi-cultural fiction, weekly topics, women's fiction.
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February 15-19, 2010

Guest post written by Virginia DeBerry, moderator of LitChat’s African-American Writers week.

Virginia DeBerry

What is African American Literature? Books written by blacks? Books written about blacks? Both? Several years ago publishers concluded that “African American Lit” was a genre, one encompassing all books written by black authors.

The first novel Donna Grant and I wrote two decades ago, Exposures, was published under the pseudonym Marie Joyce, and it had no black characters—zip, zero. The book was about a young Swedish-American heiress pursuing a career as a fashion photographer; our photo was on the back so it was no secret we were black—but what category should the novel go in?

Novels like The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, written by white authors, are largely about black characters and these books are marketed to and read by both blacks and whites, while most of us African American writers struggle to get our work to “crossover” and reach a wider audience. Other than works considered literary fiction, our novels are marketed to and read by people who look like our characters, like us. We know we have white readers because many identify themselves that way in their letters and email. But for the most part, our work rarely crosses the invisible, artificial barrier that keeps our stories separate. Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie spoke eloquently about this kind of literary divide in The Danger of a Single Story at a recent TED.com conference.

Connie Briscoe joins the conversation on Friday as guest host with Virginia DeBerry as moderator. Briscoe is a NY Times bestselling author of eight novels, including SISTERS & HUSBANDS, the recently released follow-up to her 1996 debut novel, SISTERS AND LOVERS. Read more about Briscoe at http://aalbc.com/authors/connie.htm.

Most of the African American writers I know personally are women—and we write contemporary women’s fiction with characters who happen to be black. Ours are stories of struggle and triumph, loss, coping, love, life, lessons learned and not learned—subjects that affect all women. But we are labeled, marginalized by the market, before our books even make it to the shelf of your local bookstore or library. Together we have sold millions of books, but most white readers of women’s fiction have never heard of Connie Briscoe, Donna Hill, Bernice McFadden, Carleen Brice or DeBerry & Grant even though we read Jodi Piccoult, Anne Tyler, Amy Tan, Elizabeth Berg, Adrianna Trigiani and Jennifer Weiner—you get the picture.

Though I must admit to being thrilled in discovering a recent article on Savannahnow.com comparing our last novel, What Doesn’t Kill You (along with half dozen or so other women’s fiction authors) to the work of Anita Shreve. On the flip side, a few weeks ago Chicklit Club listed their Ultimate 100 reads. One novel out of one hundred was by a black writer—Terry McMillan‘s Waiting to Exhale—which was published back in 1992.

What actually comprises diversity in publishing and marketing is a conversation African American authors have been having quietly, among ourselves, for many years. This fall, Bernice McFadden’s piece on Galley Cat Seg-Book-Gation, my written in frustration Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey about the plight of mid-list black authors, the one year anniversary of Carleen Brice‘s blog Welcome White Folks, Rebecca TheBookLadysBlog on An Invitation to Dialogue on Diversity in Media after the Salon.com article about the “whitewashing” of yet another book cover, and young book bloggers like Reading in Color have shed more light on this issue—but not nearly enough. A look at the Publishers’ Weekly cover for their New Books and Trends in African American Publishing issue and the furor it sparked, speaks to the power and influence of perception.

When I first hosted LitChat in March of last year, the topic we selected was Beyond Black and White–Writing in Color. Because I had become somewhat of a LitChat regular at that point and had been a vocal part of many discussions, I was surprised to discover that during that week, attendance dropped significantly and the make up of the chatters changed dramatically—by race. Who knows who’s “lurking” in the chatroom, but usually there are only a handful of black participants who make themselves known. I never mind my minority status, never think it matters, there are very few men in attendance as well. Besides—we who are LitChat regulars are present because we share an interest in books, writing and writers. Right?

That week, however, chats were largely populated by black chatters (many not seen since); there were only a handful of non-African Americans present and accounted for. While our discussions were lively and evocative, we were once again having a conversation among ourselves, about a topic we know all too well—we were preaching to the choir. The following week LitChat returned to its regular demographics—without fanfare or comment. Did the regular LitChat folks think the subject didn’t apply them and their reading habits? Did the blacks who did drop in feel welcome because of the topic but unwelcome/uncomfortable at other times? Is race and racism still on the taboo topic list? Was everybody just busy?

Next week on LitChat let’s discuss possible reasons for this puzzling literary dichotomy, explore African American writers (note I didn’t say “literature”) more fully and see where the conversation takes us.

Virginia DeBerry is the online persona and tweeting half of the writing team of DeBerry & Grant, author of seven novels. Their latest novel, Uptown, will be published by Touchstone/Simon&Schuster in March.


Topic of the Week: The Craft of Writing November 15, 2009

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in fiction, weekly topics.
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Join the campaign to promote book sales this holiday season. Go to http://bit.ly/W8DsW and drape your Twitter avatar with a BOOKS ARE GREAT GIFTS twibbon.

Writing is more than just lining up words on a page in the attempt to convey an idea, reveal a fact or tell a story. Good writing is more than just grammatically perfect sentences one after another. Writers worth their ink know that behind every good book is great editing. The editing process begins with the writer. Some writers self-edit as they compose, while others concentrate on the flow and concept as they complete their manuscripts. No matter their writing habits and preferences, the successful writer knows that writing needs editing and it begins with oneself. This week in LitChat we’ll discuss the craft of writing and self-editing.


Renni Browne

On Friday, November 20, Renni Browne joins us as guest host of LitChat. Renni is co-author (with Dave King) of the writing handbook, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. There are many good books on the writing craft, but few tackle the nuts and bolts of what to cut, what to keep, and how to make it better.

Renni has edited fiction and nonfiction at several prestigious publishing houses, including a stint as senior editor at William Morrow. Citing a lack of time to effectively edit the titles she acquired, Renni left mainstream publishing in 1979 and founded The Editorial Department in 1980.

In 1991 she and Dave King wrote Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, now in its fifth printing and second edition from HarperCollins. She has written book reviews and magazine articles and appeared on NPR.LitChat-Self-Editing

Over the years Renni has given lectures, workshops, and seminars around the country on self-editing, dialogue, getting published, and other topics of interest to writers. She’s originally from Charlotte, NC, and now lives in Asheville with two cats. Hobbies include old-time music festivals, walks in the mountains, and reading fiction. She especially enjoys Elizabeth George’s and Lee Smith’s fiction.

Renni will be tweeting during LitChat as @EditorialDept.

Topic of the Week: Latino Literature November 9, 2009

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in fiction, Latino literature, literary fiction, multi-cultural fiction, weekly topics.
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No matter on which side of the border it’s produced, there’s no argument that Latino authors have produced some of the greatest works of literature in recent history. Despite its invasion by Europeans, Latin America maintains much of the cultural identity and heritage of its native peoples, providing a colorful tapestry for storytelling. Many Latino authors draw on that culture with remarkable stories of survival, conflict, love, mystery, spiritualism and humanity. Authors such as Carlos Castaneda, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Sandra Cisneros and Jorge Luis Borges brought Latino literature into the homes and hearts of readers worldwide. We’ll discuss these authors and other Latino authors on Monday and Wednesday during LitChat.


Luis Urrea

Luis Urrea joins us as guest host on Friday, November 13. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother, Luis grew up on both sides of the border. He compeled his undergrad work in writing at the University of California, San Diego, then went on to study writing at the graduate level at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Nominated for a Pulitzer for The Devil’s Highway, his 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, Luis has been widely published in literary journals and has 11 books in print.

Publisher’s Weekly said this about Luis’s recently released novel, Into the Beautiful North: “Urrea’s poetic sensibility and journalistic eye for detail in painting the Mexican landscape and sociological complexities create vivid, memorable scenes.”


Alan Cheuse of the Chicago Tribune said, “Awash in a subtle kind of satire… A funny and poignant impossible journey… Into the Beautiful North is a refreshing antidote to all the negativity currently surrounding Mexico.”

After serving as a relief worker in Tijuana and a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications, Luis moved to Boston where he taught expository writing and fiction workshops at Harvard. He has also taught at Massachusetts Bay Community College and the University of Colorado and he was the writer in residence at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.


Books Are Great Gifts

Luis’ other titles include The Hummingbird’s Daughter, By the Lake of Sleeping Children, In Search of Snow, Ghost Sickness and Wandering Time. His writing has won an American Book Award, a Western States Book Award, a Colorado Center for the Book Award and a Christopher Award. The Devil’s Highway has been optioned for a film by CDI Producciones.

Luis lives with his family in Naperville, IL, where he is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Follow Luis on Twitter at: @Urrealism.

Topic of the Week: How Culture Informs and Directs Storytelling August 16, 2009

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in fiction, literary fiction, multi-cultural fiction, weekly topics.
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Eugenia Kim

Eugenia Kim

Some of the most powerful novels of our age have been steeped in cultures other than our own. Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel García Márquez are among the most well-known authors whose books have distinctive ethnic settings. While the cultural flavor of these authors and the hundreds of other authors writing multicultural fiction, the thread that runs through them all is great storytelling. This week in LitChat we’ll talk about the ways that culture informs and directs storytelling.

Our guest host on Friday, August 21st, is Eugenia Kim, whose debut novel The Calligrapher’s Daughter, launches August 18th. Kim is the daughter of Korean immigrant parents who came to America shortly after the Pacific War. She has published short stories and essays in journals and anthologies, including Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings, and is an MFA graduate of Bennington College. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son.

TheCalligraphersDaughter“In The Calligrapher’s Daughter Eugenia Kim beautifully chronicles both the lost world of a traditional Korea and the lost childhood of her remarkable heroine. A coming-of-age story that resonates with larger significance, the novel movingly depicts the emotional cost of transformation and the love and sacrifice that make transformation possible. The Calligrapher’s Daughter is at once the story of a single life as well as the changing life of a nation and, while the details are fascinatingly exotic, the narrative rings with the hard won truths of profound human experience. It is a note-worthy debut from a writer with great heart and real empathy.”—Sheridan Hay, author of The Secret of Lost Things

Follow Eugenia Kim on Twitter at @Eugenia_Kim

Topic of the Week: The Fine Line Between Fact and Fiction July 27, 2009

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in creative non-fiction, memoir, non-fiction, travel essays.
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No matter what publishing pundits say, memoirs and creative non-fiction are still selling. You’d think that after James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was exposed as brilliant fiction in memoir covers, publishing professionals would be more scrupulous in signing and publishing memoirs. Not so. Along came Misha Defonseca’s, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, followed by Love and Consequences by Margaret B. Jones, both of which have been outed as fakes. Perhaps the most heartbreaking memoir fraud of late was Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat, the Halocaust love story everyone wanted to believe about the girl who threw apples over the concentration camp fence and later married the author.

Gary Buslik with his favorite Tweeter

Gary Buslik with his favorite Tweeter

Gary Buslik says he doesn’t have the faintest idea how to make an honest living. He wrote for travel magazines for a while, and when he discovered that by tossing around insincere promises, he could get hotels and restaurants to give him free rooms, meals, and drinks to write something nice about them, and, what’s more, the IRS would let him deduct lots of goofy expenses by declaring himself a freelance writer, he was able to forge a virtually useless profession into a rewarding lifestyle.

These days Gary writes novels, short stories, and essays and, in case the government should ask any questions, teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago—which isn’t quite an honest living, but you work with what you have.

A Rotten Person CoverHis work has appeared in many literary and commercial magazines and anthologies and has been nominated several times for Pushcart Prizes. His novel The Missionary’s Position is a favorite of the Caribbean tourist crowd, and his latest book, A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean (Travelers’ Tales 2008), won Benjamin Franklin and Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Awards for travel writing.

Gary windsurfs and plays softball. He wants his gravestone to read, HERE LIES GARY BUSLIK. NOW, THANK GOD, HE NEVER HAS TO PLAY GOLF.

Follow Gary at @rottenperson.

LitChat January 29, 2009

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in Uncategorized.
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LitChat is all books. All the time.

We exist to bring readers and writers together for fun and fast 1-hour Twitter chats, M-W-F, 4 pm est. Join us.

Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/litchat