The world is slowly changing. Things that I never thought I would see in my lifetime are occurring. We have a Bi-racial President, and interracial dating is on the rise. While I love these new changes, and love seeing people become more open-minded when it comes to racial relations, I still have to ask the question: Are our worlds still divided when it comes to literature? Let’s be honest, culture, social and economic statuses, and our environments play a role in our taste when it comes to what we are comfortable with reading.
While these things may have an effect, are our book tastes segregated? When I was working on my first novel, I had numerous strangers read samples of my book. I wanted honest feedback to see if I had actual talent, and not just have my family and friends stroking my ego. I chose numerous people from every race to act as a beta reader for me. One thing that I didn’t want is to be labeled as “African American Fiction”. Why you may ask when I am clearly African American? The reason, I didn’t want to limit myself.
Books like 50 Shades of Gray or Twilight, aren’t labeled “White Fiction”, they are labeled as Fiction. People of all races support these books, and enjoy them, and that is what I wanted for mine. My thoughts were if I labeled myself as purely African American Fiction, I would be limiting myself to only attracting African Americans to read my book. When I wrote my novel, I intended it to be for everyone. I felt I wrote about a topic that everyone goes through. I wasn’t thinking about the color of my skin being a factor. I met an agent who read my novel, and her first impression of it was that she hated it. She didn’t sign me, but monitored me closely. I was a little discouraged, but with my fan base on Facebook, and 79 out of 80 people who beta tested it expressed that they loved it, I decided to self-publish and I have had success with doing so.
The agent was surprised by the diverse audience I seemed to have, and was a little taken back by it. She expressed that she was actually shocked that so many “white” reviewers actually enjoyed the novel. Rather than ask her why, I left that question alone because I feared what her answer would be.
Another thing that I’ve observed is my book sales. While I’m proud that my book is attracting a diverse audience, I’m still labeled as African American Fiction. 80% of my audience is still African American. When it comes to reviews, I feel that there are some Whites who have read my work and have seen the message that I was trying to convey, but there are some that have totally missed the point.
While this can happen with anyone (I know that it’s all a matter of interpretation, and I’ve had a few Black reviewers who have missed points also) I have to wonder if culture plays a part in how it’s received. Is my book not appealing to certain races because our environments, and backgrounds are too different? Are our worlds different? Is there a sort of racial segregation when it comes to literature? I question these things because I look at literature groups on social media. I’ve noticed for the most part that groups tend to stick with their races with a few other races sprinkled in (I’m not saying all. I’m saying the ones that I’ve observed. I’m not an expert, I’m merely giving my opinion.)
I saw an indication of this division when I talked to my good friend Savannah Mae. She is a member of my book group on Facebook, and is one of the few Whites who has accepted the invitation. We expressed our feelings on how interracial relationships in African American Fiction isn’t common, and we wondered if the reason for this was because African American Authors fear that they would lose fans, or hurt sales by including those types of relationships in their work.
I won’t lie, in my novel my character has interracial relationships, and it was a fear of mine when publishing the book. I wondered if people would view my character as a “Sell out” because he was sleeping with a few white women. As a new author, this is a big fear and concern. While our world is gradually changing. I wonder if in time people will be more open minded to reading cultures that are different from theirs.
What are your thoughts?
About the Author
Ben Burgess, Jr is the author of the new novel Monster and the author of the poetry book Times Have Changed and Life is Strange. He is an active performer of spoken word poetry. Ben Burgess, Jr uses his love of writing to inspire and influence youths to strive for what they believe in, and to never give up on their dreams.
His poetry book Times Have Changed and Life is Strange is currently used in two schools in the lower east side of Manhattan. Ben Burgess has a BA degree in Business Management, and a MA degree in Educational Leadership.
He is the proud father of his daughter Jaelynn and is active in trying to improve urban neighborhoods and communities.