Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by writtenlove, Dec 11, 2013.
What do you think about the majority of AA Lit?
Does it have a glamorized street life to you?
I think AA literature has done the opposite. It shows the harsh realities African Americans have/had to deal with. Novels like Wright's Black Boy and Ellison's Invisible Man show the main characters dealing with issues you normally wouldn't associate with African Americans. It goes beyond racism and social injustice, which is actually why these books are so powerful.
I should add that I haven't read much AA fiction that is set in modern times, so my experience with AA literature is limited to stuff from the Harlem Renaissance/Civil War era or stuff set during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
See I wish I could give some insight but I can only echo what @thirdwind has said, though I've probably read less. I almost signed up for an AA Lit. from the Harlem Renaissance - Present, but I didn't like the time (like 6 pm or something >:/).
I will say I've always been put off by it because I don't quite understand the AA Lit. label. Why do we have it? Is it a grouping by genre, that is writing about African Americans, or is it a grouping by author, by which I mean written by Black authors. In the former case, it makes sense; in the latter I'd prefer it labeled as "Lit. by AA authors," which would I would then be able to say is entirely unnecessary unless there were compliment labels like "by Latin American Authors" or "by British Authors". As it is, I'm certain it's referring to the authors, who would no doubt be writing literature about African American people; however it leaves room for implication for someone like me.
Sadly, I'm not all that interested in reading about black people's struggles in society, the presence and ramifications of discrimination, economic hardship, or anything like that. I wouldn't really want to read about it from any perspective unless the story was unique. I don't really watch many Tyler Perry movies any more because they all come across as the same, showcasing the same black family struggles on repeat. It is similar in literature, from my experience. It may be a personal thing, but I find many African American fiction authors--or at least the ones who become successful--tend to right about social issues and don't really branch out into generally entertaining (in my opinion) genre fiction such as mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, or what have you. My question is why? Why are there so few AA authors who write any of the aforementioned genres (without "blackness" being one of the main focuses)? Can we just write a good story without mention of color?
Hmmm... Feel free to ignore my musing as it does not answer my question... Just thinking though, What is African American Literature in our times. What do black people right about. I've not written anything recently that would imply ethnicity, so readers can default to whatever they choose. I am working on a project with a character who will be recognized as black within his world, but that will not be even a large focus within the story, and I'm not going to utilize him to examine AA culture.
Sorry about wasting your time. I'm a writer; I can be very opinionated.
Maya Angelou has become one of the greatest poets in American history.
What do you think about the majority of English lit? It's a big monolithic bloc devoid of internal diversity, after all.
Your point? No offense, really, but is that all you've come to say?
There are a number of great AA poets. Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes are two I can name off the top of my head. But that says nothing about what AA authors write about.
Define English Lit. Do you mean pieces written in English? Pieces written by English Speakers? Pieces written by authors from England? Pieces that depict English/British culture or society? Depending on what you're looking at, your analysis of "English Lit" holds only limited truth.
My point was that the OP was a terrible way of framing a discussion about African American literature as it approaches it from the standpoint that there is no meaningful divisions within it and a coherent view of it can be expressed in large, sweeping generalities. Would we start a conversation premised that way about all the literature written by English people? All the literature written by Russian people?
Alright, fair questions. Still It would be best if the OP offered a definition because right now, AA Literature is grouped as a genre, at least socially. Of course it's all be written by African Americans, but in general, the label AA Lit. is refering to a specific type of writing, writing that emphasizes social and economic struggles for minorities, that highlights family struggles of minorities, and many things like that. Now it is arguable that All literature hits these points; however, AA Lit. as it is presented tends to showcase the cultural struggles of minorities in America, typically black struggles. Anything else is placed in a other genres, in my experience.
My question is why don't AA authors branch out more? And to qualify it, if there is more diversity within AA fiction, why the need for the label to signify AA authorship? I don't understand the premise.
My point? That you guys are over looking a part of literature, as in poetry which Maya Angelou has become one of the greatest. So great that I believe she even read one of her poems at the Obama inauguration.
Next time I won't submit a post before running them by you first for your approval, k?
Here's my theory. Quite simply, African American writers (or Jewish writers; or Indian American writers; etc.) are trying to preserve their heritage and culture. You have to remember that the literary canon is mostly made up of white males; there are very few minorities to be found in there. AA writers tackled issues that most writers in the Western Canon never faced, so at the very least, they provide a fresh perspective on our culture. So having AA literature (or Jewish literature; or Indian American literature; etc.) as a separate body of works is very important because these works aren't found in the Western Canon.
As for why African American writers don't branch out more, I have no idea. But there are a few out there.
Ok. Is that theory actually true? I suspect it isn't at all. I've heard very few non-western writers (and no important ones) dismiss western literature or attempt to insulate themselves or their work in the way you describe. I think you are waxing fanciful.
You can cut the snark with me. I'm not saying you need any approval, but I had to ask why you say that because one-liners are good for nothing. I was literally asking what you were trying to get across by mentioning Maya Angelou. There is no need to get so defensive. Sometimes a question is just a question.
The original question was this:
So this response...
...while entirely valid and accepted, isn't exactly satisfying because there is a disconnect between this thought and how it relates to AA Lit. as a whole. For me it seemed arbitrary.
I'm not telling you how to post. I'm not gonna say "so next time give more than just blah blah blah." But do expect me to ask questions when you post one-liners, because I may not understand what your point is, what you are trying to get us to think about.
Now that you mention that you have clarified a bit, I agree. We do seem to be overlooking AA poetry as literature, but those who have responded may not be poets or familiar with poetry. I'm not. So It would be inappropriate for me to comment on poetry.
@thirdwind Thank you for the thoughtful response. I didn't look at it that way. Of course there are some who do, I just feel like a lot of AA Lit, like a lot of AA movies, tends to get funneled to the same few issues. There are many things to write about. My question is, if a rising number of black authors started writing romances and mysteries which simply feature AA protagonists and life from that perspective, would they allow it under the label of AA Lit, or would it be "promoted" to general Romance or Mystery?
I see plenty of one liners on this forum. My post satisfied what the OP asked, if her poetry wasn't any good and didn't have any 'street cred', she wouldn't have risen the ranks, to become one of the greatest. It's a pretty simple statement that doesn't need to be expounded upon. Personally I don't like the idea of literature being broken down based upon the color of the author's skin. What exactly does that accomplish? If anything it continues to perpetuates racism even more. If we are ever going to break the chain, it needs to be a clean cut and on all fronts.
@MLM, no one is dismissing the Western Canon. Minority writers frequently read works from it and engage in dialogue with its authors. In a perfect world, we would include minority writers in the canon, but as it stands, the Western Canon is mostly white male writers. You could even think of it as White Male Literature. So I think minority writers feel the need to be part of a movement that best represents them. Of course, some minority writers reject such labels, so this is a complicated and delicate issue for sure.
@Andrae Smith, that's a tough question to answer since classifying books into genres is somewhat of a marketing tool by publishers. If a romance novel written by an AA writer and featuring AA characters put more emphasis on the romance part, then I'm assuming that it would get classified as romance, though the publisher might think that it could boost sales by categorizing the book as AA literature. So from a publishing standpoint, it's most likely a marketing/profit issue.
Personally, I'm not sure where I stand on this. It's a very complicated issue. For example, what if To Kill a Mockingbird had been written by an AA writer? How would that change our view of the book? What if something like The Catcher in the Rye, which has nothing to do with race, had been written by an AA writer? It's interesting to think about.
I don't know what newer work qualifies as the genre but I still can't get Octavia Butler's novel, Kindred, out of my head. I absolutely loved it. It's not about 'gangstas' and street like though.
@Lewdog there are plenty of one-liners here, but that does not negate the fact that for me to understand what you presented here, more information was needed. It seemed like you were trying to say more, implying more, otherwise why say anything. I did not see what your more was, so I asked. It's that simple. I'll reiterate, "Sometimes a question is just a question." I didn't understand, so I asked. Period. If all you really wanted to say was that "simple statement" then that is fine. I have no problem with that at all. I would have appreciated it if you had just said "yes" when I asked "Is that all you've come to say?" but it's whatever, dude. I thought there was more and didn't know what it was, and because I asked, you told me that there was more ("I think you guys are overlooking...").
So again, you can drop your defenses; sometimes a question is just a question.
Anyway, I agree with your point on the labels.
@thirdwind Exactly. It is more of a rhetorical, open-ended question. All of that is interesting to think about. I'd just rather ask more questions than pretend I have answers.
@GingerCoffee do tell us more about it, please ha ha. I guess I could look it up, but still. It might help the convo along.
@Andrae Smith: "Kindred"
She's married to a white man in Altadena and in the story he ends up back with her on one of the time events. But I don't want to tell you too much, I don't want to spoil it.
Thanks @GingerCoffee, that does seem very interesting. I'll read it, give it a good review and hope for a movie adaptation.
Butler died in 2006. It was written years ago and was definitely movie worthy. Maybe now that "12 Years a Slave" is a hit someone will think about this book. I think before that America wasn't ready to look very closely at that ugly part of our past.
@Andrae Smith: You should take a look at this incredible book, Sister Citizen" by Melissa Harris-Perry.
Sometimes it takes someone else to open our eyes to the stereotypes ingrained in our minds. Harris-Perry writes revelations that the house Mammy is a white myth (Harris-Perry documents the origin of the myth). The reality is these women had to leave their own children to work for white families. Yet in the media we are shown images of the loving black house nanny/maid and people have that image as if it were common and real. I'm not saying they were resentful or not nice people. But to ignore their reality, leaving their own families to be able to feed them, that's the tragedy, that we ignore that part of those household workers' lives.
I know about images. The nursing profession suffers from an image stereotype that demeans us, little helpmates with frilly collars or sexy big breasted ladies in short skirts. I'm a professional, with a degree, and a private practice, yet I have to put up with that demeaning portrayal of my profession.
Sigh... I'm getting off topic, sorry. I do recommend Harris-Perry's book though. It's another 'should be required reading' book. You should buy a copy for all the women in your family.
I'll check this one out too. Thanks Ging. See I'd probably know more if I were taking the class on AA Lit. I wanted to but it didn't fit my schedule.
Just popping in here for a quick blip... @Andrae Smith , ALL of Butler's work is ridiculously good. Her Oankali series, her Parables books, her Patternist series and her individual novels. She ranks in my Top 5 science fiction writers of all time.
Thanks for the input @Wreybies! I will remember that as I make my next reading list. (just as soon as I start the list I already have. >_<)
There are actually two African Americans that occupy spots in my Top 5 Sci-Fi. Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany. Maybe as a young gay latino, I was drawn to voices that sounded more like my own, spoke more about my life, represented me more. Maybe that gives reason to the original topic. Maybe AA lit exists as a lit because there are people today and in the past who felt they weren't part of the cultural story being told. What is any lit if not a cultural record of what we think, how we think and who we think about? If you never read yourself there on the page, that's an isolating, marginalizing feeling to have. Maybe today it seems less necessary because we have grown socially, but you don't have to go too far back to find a very different time.
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