Monday, February 12, 2007

Doin' that race and romance thing...

So there has been quite a bit of discussion about racism in romance the past week or so. As per usual, I was late to the convo, but I've finally caught up and gotten the full picture. Although it got a bit heated here and there, for the most part a lot of really interesting stuff got brought up. Only rarely did the conversation degenerate into idiocy, as when the French chick called all Americans racist because she knew someone who wouldn't let their kid watch "The Cosby Show." To which I say, that's a damn shame, because that? Was an excellent show. Also, I was watching "The O.C." a couple of weeks ago, and there was a smelly French character, ergo, all French people are smelly. Also the words "whitey" and "Negro" came up, I believe. Good times, good times. If you have been living under a rock, or if you don't normally frequent romance-centric blogs and are interested, the threads to which I am referring can be found here, here, and here.

This seems to me to be a three pronged issue:

1: Are AA (yes, this is pretty much a black/white thing I'm going to be talking about here) authors being marginalized by being shelved in AA fiction sections rather than the romance section?

2: Does this type of shelving hurt or help authors? On the one hand, AA readers can easily find AA fiction if that is what they are looking for. On the other, are they being limited from finding a wider audience? (Wait, is this actually part of #1?)

3: Do white/other readers not seek out AA romance? And if so, should they make more of an effort to do so?

Many of these blogosphere dust-ups have me rolling my eyes, but this one got me thinking about my reading habits. A little self-examination never hurt anyone. Also, it made me veddy, veddy curious. Bear with me folks, all kinds of thoughts are percolating here.

How much AA romance have I read? Erm, uh, hmmm...I'm sure I can think of something...

[Click on post title for full post]

Well okay, then, there's your answer. Perhaps. I cannot be positive that I haven't read more romance novels by AA authors, I don't pay attention to back cover photos all that much. But I haven't gone out of my way to read romances with AA content, though. Why not? Short answer: laziness. I have seen some AA romance, but they were of the contemporary or category variety, a genre that I am only interested in sometimes. It never occurred to me to look deeper. I am also really shocked by the AA fiction section thingy. I knew that there were AA sections in the bookstore, but I thought that they were more for historical/sociological type stuff. I know that bookstores have different aims than librarians, but this bothered my librarian soul. I feel that some labelling is good, but too much is detrimental to readers and authors (Rant to follow at some point). Is it true that AA romance is shelved separately? I am currently conducting a sociological investigation of bookstores in the 516. Results to follow soon, and strongly worded letters will be written if necessary.

However, this discussion really brought to my attention my lack of knowledge of AA authors. I discovered the following authors through this discussion. All shall be added to my list of authors to seek out:

Seressia Glass
Dyanne Davis
Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
Eve Vaughn (e-published author)
Lena Matthews (e-published author)

[Side Note: I am noting that the last two authors publish with e-publishers, because I feel that is a different situation. The act of browsing for books online at a site like Samhain or EC is very different from doing it in a bookstore. I usually browse by genre or theme. It's easier to find stuff up your alley and make random discoveries. I think the race factor is partcicularly incidental here, because of the different physical dimension. I had heard of them both, I just hadn't been hitting the e-pub sites due to lack of funds. They both do the interracial and the kink thing that I like. Wheee! I've gotta put aside some $$ for e-buys, 'cuz I've also gotta read the new Bonnie Dee.]

The first three authors publish through Genesis Press, an independent Af-Am press, and I can honestly say that I hadn't heard of any of them. I would assume that they are put in the AA fic section. And that just sucks, because if it wasn't for this dust-up they wouldn't have been brought to my attention. Do I feel like it's my duty as a liberal white girl to read AA authors? Not particularly. But we all have our reading preferences. Some of mine are vamps and other things that go bump in the night, uptight heroes, bookish heroines, reunited lovers, younger man/older woman, a bit of BDSM, black woman/white man...the list goes on and on. And these authors have books that fit within these preferences well. Ms. Glass has one about psychics that looks as thought it will be quite good, also some good IRs. Ms. Davis has some interesting ones, including one about a Pakistani med student and a Black nurse. Ms. Holcomb has one about a bookstore owner who gets involved with a Rock Star, which sounds like my teenage fantasy of my future. These books appeal to me not because of the color of the author's skin, but because of their content. However, if they are not shelved in the Romance section, then I probably wouldn't have found them. So yes, this white girl thinks that racism in romance is an issue.

Laziness on my part? Perhaps. But then again, you've never been in the bookstore with the Destroyer. She alternates between winging books at passerby, and sticking them in the stroller basket. I have to remember to check before I leave so I don't get busted for shoplifting. Then when she tires of these pursuits, she starts shrieking. So, yeah, it's a quick in and out. I can't be wandering around too much. But during my bookstore investigation, I'll bring potato chips. That keeps her quiet for awhile.

More to come later...


Mailyn said...

I don't think it's a bad thing IF AA readers are happy. I mean, let's not think it's a negative thing right off the bat. It's probably a fact that most romance is about white people so maybe AA readers have a hard time finding a book with an AA couple. Putting these romances in a section by itself could help them rather than have to swim the rather big Romance section to fish out what they want. It also spotlights AA authors since they are getting a section and, at least down here in the bookstores, they get a presentation type thingie [I don't know what they call it, lol] where they spotlight the best of or the newest releases. They also do this for Spanish speaking writers even if they are writing in English and I think it's a good thing because, rather than get lost in the sea of books, it gves people an opportunity to read something new.

After all, if it's all thrown in with the rest of everything chances are it will get lost.

Oh and I also wanted to say hi and send lots of hugs since I've been MIA.

Devon said...

Hi Mailyn, hope all is well. Hope to see you around more soon.

You bring up some interesting points. However, what is being described is a separate section for AA authors of all genres, often far from the genre of the work itself. And to me, that is segregation. I think that there isn't necessarilyracism behind it, and I think that at one time it would've served a purpose. But for the record, I don't think that literature (of the highbrow sort) and poetry should be shelved according to race. As for genre/popular literature, I would have much less of a problem with having displays/areas within the genre to highlight AA romance or whatever. This way AA readers who prefer AA books could spot them easily, but also other folks can be exposed to them as well. I also don't see why Kimani etc., couldn't be on display with the rest of the Harlequins, for the same reasons.

I suppose the opposing argument is that I should be making the effort to find the AA section, but the fact of the matter is, if I'm making a trip to the bookstore, I'm making a beeline for what I'm looking for. Any browsing is going to be nearby, b/c I can only push it so far before I've gotta boogie.

Holly said...

But I've seen arguments from both sides. Some claim to want the separation. They want to be KNOWN for writing AA, not romance. Others want to be known for romance, not AA.

Like I said in my post at SF, I don't really care one way or the other what color the characters are, or the author. Who gives a rip? But I absolutely refuse, on principle, to go to another "section" of the bookstore just to find an AA romance. Have I read some? Yes, yes I have. Some I liked, others I didn't. Just like with all other ethnicities.

Eastern culture isn't something I'm very interested in. Never have been, probably never will be. And yet I've bought, and enjoyed, several novels with Asian characters or Eastern culture themes. But they were shelved right there in the romance section.

Devon said...

I don't give a durn what the color of the authors or characters skin is. What bugs me is that I could be missing out on something that would interest me because its in a separate section that isn't near the sections I browse in. What prevents me from reading more AA is ignorance, pretty much. Ignorance of the wider world of romance publishing, ignorance of the fact that they're not in with the other romances. I do understand that some like to read AA primarily, but why not pput in a sub-section of the romance section?

Holly said...

I agree with you there, but what I'm saying is, a lot of authors (from what I've read online) don't WANT to be in the romance section. Booksellers started separating the books because they demanded it. That's the issue I have with this.

AA authors need to decide which they want to be..AA authors or Romance authors. As you suggested, it's possible to be both by make it a sub-section of the romance section, but would the die-hard AA authors be happy with that?

From what I've seen, no, no they wouldn't. I think it's THOSE authors that are making it so hard for others to become "mainstream".

That's why I said, You can't have both.

Mailyn did make an excellent point, but from my point of view..well, I don't go to other sections of my local bookstore. The suspense is two isles from the Romance, with the fantasy in between. That's where I go. I don't look at CD's or DVD's and unless I'm looking for something specific, I don't venture into the other parts of the bookstore, either. I know what I like and that's where I look.

I realize I may be in the minority here, but I'm an in out and kind of gal. I go in, browse for what I want, in the section I like, then leave. While it's true I could spend hours upon hours in a bookstore, those hours would be spent in the section of my this case Romance.

SO, yes, they need to be grouped together. But if the authors and/or publishers are the ones saying they shouldn't be..well...what are we gonna do?

Devon said...

I'm with you on the bookstore browsing. I just hit those couple of aisles and a quick dash through the Children's department....

You do have plenty of good points...I just don't see the point of segregating Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Terry MacMillan etc etc. It just seems so weird, to throw all these unrelated authors together because of skin color. It's the librarian in me, it goes against my grain.

I think I'm going to write to Borders and Barnes and Noble and ask. Let's see if I get a response.

Holly said...

I don't see the point in it, either. not at all. I'm not a librarian, just an organizational freak. lol

roslynholcomb said...

Hi Devon, thanks for mentioning my book, Rock Star on your blog. I don't know if you come back and read comments on old posts, but if you haven't had a chance to read my book, I'll be more than happy to send you a free copy. Let me know if you're interested. Thanks. Roslyn Hardy Holcomb

Devon said...


I would love to get a copy of your book! I haven't found it in stores yet. And I will certainly post a review (honest, of course) here.

Email me at

Or else I'll come stalk you at your website. 'Cuz I'm psycho like that.

Thank you for coming by. Yay!