Blacks on Bookshelves

Audra Russell
Feb 25 · 3 min read

I went into a large chain bookstore yesterday (I know, but I also support Indie bookstores so don’t hurt me) and headed towards the African American section. When I got there, it was gone. I found an employee and inquired as to where it had been moved. She told me they got rid of the African American section and incorporated the books by Black authors in with all the other books.

Her answer left me torn.

On the one hand, I am happy because this is long overdue. Black authors deserve to be in the mainstream with all the other authors (and without those annoying ‘African American’ stickers that libraries usually place on the spines of books by Black authors…dooming them to be left unread by anyone who isn’t Black).

However, I was also disappointed because I know other than some of the greats like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Walter Mosley, a lot of people, both Black and White, may not know what names to look for if they are in search of Black writers.

In school we are taught about the greats: Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Bronte, and Bradbury to name a few. I never saw myself in any of those books (and some of them really weren’t that great). The only books I read by Black authors were put in my hands by my parents. They certainly weren’t taught as part of the classic literature canon.

Yes, things are changing now, and Black people and other people of color are writing their own stories and demanding they be heard. More and more books are being published for everyone from children through adults, and they are written by Black people, Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics. We are seeing ourselves reflected in the book world, and that’s amazing.

Still, there is much work left to do.

School curriculums are slow to expand what’s being taught in English classes as far as literature goes. Don’t get me wrong, there has been progress, but not enough. If I went to a middle school or high school or even a college campus and asked people to name Black authors, or any authors of color, I fear that many of them would not be able to rattle off even five names. But if I asked them to name the classics, they could, and our voices (other than Morrison and Angelou and maybe Baldwin now that a movie has been made from one of his books) may not be among them.

So, yes, I’m glad that there is no longer an African American section at this large chain bookstore, but it is just the beginning. The next step for this (and other) bookstores is to make room in their displays at the front of the store to showcase these authors with the same diligence as they have done for other authors.

Many times, unless we are looking for a specific book, we gravitate to displays and tend to purchase from them. Imagine how many worlds would be opened to readers, that they might not otherwise venture into, if people like Barbara Neely or Paule Marshall or LaShonda Katrice Barnett or Chester Himes or Ishmael Reed or Daniel Black were put on display.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to the great Black authors who have paved the way for us and are well-known in all racial circles. But there are lesser-known Black authors whose writings are just as great who the world needs to know about.

There are so many more issues related to this topic which I could go on about, but it’s too much for one post.

Do yourself a favor and check out one of the authors I mentioned. You can also go here for a GREAT list of books by Black authors.

Audra Russell

Written by

Writer. Blogger. Native Jersey girl in a Maryland world. Come visit me at www.audrarussellwrites.com

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