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I got the link to the following open letter via Twitter from Angela at Reading While Black. The letter is by best-selling African American author, Virginia DeBerry.

Here are some excerpts from Virginia’s letter for those who can’t be arsed to follow the link:

Dear Oprah:

We don’t sing karaoke or dance with the stars. We have been contributing to the cultural landscape long before Jon & Kate, Britney,Rhianna and Chris or Stephanie Meyer and most of America, including you have probably never even heard of us….

We are writers and we are in trouble. Big trouble.

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Liar by  Justine Larbalestier

Of course it’s sad, but it isn’t new.

The latest epsiode of white-washing a book cover, involves author Justine Larbalestier’s YA book, Liar.

As you can see, the cover clearly features a white girl, with long hair, however, apparently Larbalestier’s lead is a black girl with very short hair.

Here’s part of the Galleycat article:

When YA fantasy author Justine Larbalestier gave her fans a first look at the American cover for Liar, back in April, she was understandably excited: “This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue,” she blogged. “Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover.”

The love, however, is not universal. Earlier this week, an unnamed “outraged, nauseous, [and] flabbergasted” children’s book editor blogging at Editorial Anonymous took issue with the cover, noting that Liar is about a young girl who is “black, with very short hair, and is mistaken for a boy early on in the book by teachers and fellow students,” which is pretty much the exact opposite of the model who has wound up on the dust jacket…

As Alicia, a YA librarian blogger, frames the question: “Did the publishers not want to put a black girl on the cover for fear of not selling enough books to their white customers?”…

To address these complaints, Larbalestier has written a new blog post, revealing that she fought that cover every step of the way: “I never wanted a girl’s face on the cover,” she says. “Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah. I strongly objected to all of them. I lost.”

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Come one, come all, to meet black authors of romance, mystery, poetry, science fiction, and every other genre and subgenre of writing, fiction or otherwise! Many of them are hidden away in the African American (also known by some as black ghetto) section of most bookstores.

Via Farrah Rochon’s blog I chanced upon this wonderful idea (brain child of author Carleen Brice) to start changing the tide, to dispel preconceived notions (both among readers and book sellers) about writing by blacks. In her own words, from the White Readers Meet Black Authors blog:

Welcome readers of all races, shapes and sizes. Here is where you’ll be safely, carefully introduced to books written by black people. Now, don’t be alarmed. The books are written by black people, but like other books, they can be read by anybody. In fact, we WANT you to read our books. Don’t let the fact that publishers and booksellers put us in the back in the special section of the store scare you. They do that because they want African American readers to be able to find us easily, which is a good thing. However, it has come to our attention that it also puts some of the rest of you off.

So we are extending an official invitation for you to check out our section of the bookstore. Much like in the rest of the bookstore you’ll find books about thugs, hos, murder, revenge, sex, sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, husbands and wives, children, and God. You’ll find romance, mystery, deep thoughts about the meaning of life and death, tear-jerkers and belly laughs.

I’m foreseeing actual in-store parties around the country one day. But first our humble little blog here will introduce you to some of the writers you may never otherwise know about, but I promise you will like. At least, I promise you will like or hate as much as any other writer or any other book you’ll find in the rest of the store.

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I read this on Cece’s blog earlier today, and I have to say, Halle-effing-lujah.

I do believe that we are the sum total of our experiences. My experience as a black person, is different from a lot of other blacks.

The racial divide is there, but sometimes you’ve gotta say fuck it, this is who I am, this is how I think. It doesn’t make me a sell-out, it just means that I refuse to get bogged down by racial issues, and see racist intent around every corner. As far as I’m concerned, that way leads madness.

The Shelving Issue

The question that hasn’t been answered to my satisfaction yet, is who is responsible for romance books being shelved in the AA section?

The publishers who believe that niche marketing works? The bookstores who want to make sure that the books are easily accessible to AA readers? Or the AA readers themselves who want the books to be easily accessible to them?

Who has the power to make wholesale changes to the way that AA-authored books are currently shelved?

One question that nobody seems to have asked is, what happens if the ideal compromise re shelving, is reached? What then? What’s the next argument?

In my opinion, it then boils down to one thing. Getting white folks to get over the “But I can’t relate to ‘those’ types of characters” line. That’s a lame excuse, and will continue to be a lame excuse, especially as you Americans seem to love those European hystericals with their lords and ladies, and roguish dukes, and virginal duchesses, whom y’all have fuck-all in common with.

How to achieve this? Bloody good marketing, that’s how.

Coming up next: Shelia Goss (you may want to turn down the volume, as there’s music on this site)