“Underground Airlines” by Ben Winters is another slavery-based novel making waves.

Slavery narratives captivate modern audiences

Originally published in the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper.

Ben Winters, an author of nine novels, recently released “Underground Airlines,” an alternate history where slavery is still legal in four special states.

Winters, who is not a Black author, has already reached the New York Times best-sellers list for this particular work, which continues the recent string of successful novels about Blacks, especially slaves.

Brit Bennett, a Black author of soon-to-be-released novel “The Mothers,” in her opinion, said the trend stems from “12 Years a Slave” and the reboot of “Roots,” which both made its turns in the media with the former winning an Academy Award for Best Picture.

But is it wrong that stories featuring beatings and rapes are profiting? Perhaps. But there is also the argument that these stories need to be told, which is what writer Mychal Denzel Smith meant when he said, “I want a Marvel Universe of films about slavery. I want so many films about slavery that white actors start to complain that the only roles they’re being offered are those of slave owners.”

To be clear, audiences of all kinds, Black and others, have shown, in some sense, an eagerness to consume these narratives. While some say they’ve had enough, others believe there is much more to be said. When it comes to fiction, as of now at least, the latter argument seems to be winning.

Slavery novels are the big hit in this year’s literary market.

Aside from “Underground Airlines,” this year, “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi tracks multiple generations of slaves, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead has been selected for Oprah’s greatest endorsement, The Book of the Month Club, and a trip to Barnes & Noble will likely feature a section for African-Americans with more texts on slavery and modern troubles for Black and brown people.

Nonetheless, slave narratives have a long history, long before modern novels, and this must be noted in the same context and respect.

“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” an autobiography of a former slave living in Britain, was first published in 1789. In another case, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” an American Slave, is now required reading in many high schools and universities.

Moreover, while some scholars may call this genre sensationalist drivel, the sheer horror and thrilling nature of these works continue to mystify, and there isn’t any reason to believe that publishers will all of a sudden say “no” to what consumers seem to enjoy.

With all of this said, however, one potential critique for slavery narratives is an alleged predictability of violence and torture, cruel masters and whippings.

Colson Whitehead’s new novel has been listed on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club as a new release this year.

Typically stories begin and end, for example, with protagonists who yearn for literacy, a better life, better food, and this tends to make the narrative uneasy, melancholy, reflective and downright dreary. But since it is based on the reality of institutional slavery, in all senses, this critique is likely null and void.

As award-winning author Toni Morrison said, writers will continue to “rip that veil” and continue to force readers to take a long look in the mirror and judge history with a fine comb and pick.