It’s a topic that brings compelling arguments for both sides:
Should African-American authors be shelved in the African-American section at the bookstore?
Erotica author Zane, in an interview with MediaBistro published yesterday, says absolutely:
“They sell better. That’s been documented. There’s no question about that. When someone goes into a bookstore and they’re looking for African-American books, they’re going to look for the African-American section. If they dig mystery books, they’re going to look at the mystery section. I’ve done my research and seen the figures; I’ve met with the owners and heads of bookstore chains.”
“There are so many African American authors in the world now, and the only thing they have in common is the color of their skin. The color of their skin tells you absolutely nothing about what lies between the covers of their books. Yet, we’ll let a fan of mystery novels see every book we have except for the ones written by people with brown skin. If you want books by those people, you have to go over to the other section, and sort through the space ships, wizards, unicorns, vampires, and romance novels by brown skinned people until you find a mystery you might want to read.”
In her post, Robin interviews author Farrah Rochon, who disagrees with Zane about where her books should be shelved:
“By limiting African American authors to the ’black section’ of the store or library, you limit their exposure to a huge swath of the reading population, especially in the romance genre...[W]hite readers feel a bit awkward venturing into the ’black section’ of the store, and honestly, they have no reason to. There is ample reading material available in the romance section. [But] I have to believe that non-African American readers would give black books a try if the books were shelved by genre and not by the author’s skin color.”
On the one hand, Zane’s argument says, readers can easily find the authors they want to read within the African-American section of the bookstore. And those readers who want to read African-American authors will purchase more books by Af-Am authors. On the other hand, readers who are not African-American themselves feel intimidated by going into that section to get books, and those books are only defined by the color of the skin of the person writing them—there’s no delineation to genre, or skin of the characters, or any of that.
If we separate authors by skin color, should we also separate them by gender? Or have an ’old dead white guy’ section? The reality of the shelving comes into direct opposition with what we all wish would happen—that readers would be color-blind in their choice of reading material. But from what Zane says, that ideal is a long way off. Meanwhile, African-American authors want to sell books.
What do you think?
For more on the topic, read the entire Rochon interview at CDStacked.
Not only does Megan Frampton think authors should all be shelved according to genre, not skin color, she alphabetizes all of her CDs by artist, not by genre at all, so Buck Owens is right up close to Owl City.