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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.

Everyone knows that Oprah is a champion of reading, that books are one of her favorite things and it is precisely because of that passion that I send this note.

I’m sure you are aware that publishing, like so many industries today—especially those centered around the arts, is struggling to keep up and figure their way through the maze of new media. What I’m not sure you know is how that struggle is affecting, or more accurately disaffecting an entire segment of writers–black novelists.

Not the few who live in the rarefied literary echelons—Toni Morrison, Stephen Carter, Edwidge Dandicat etc. are doing fine—they enjoy the support of the media and the “wider” (whiter) population.

These struggling authors also don’t include those who now make up the largest growing segment of Af-Am writers—urban/erotica authors whose books are acquired by publishers at little expense and sold at great profit. A quick look at the Af-Am displays in bookstores will make this trend abundantly clear.

The literary marginalization that is taking place largely affects those of us in the middle-much like the economy today. There are many of us who have/had careers courtesy of Terry McMillan, we came along right after the success of Waiting to Exhale and found a warm welcome and an open door for a career we had longed for but so often found beyond our reach.

Terry proved, what we had always known, that black folks read, and would buy books featuring characters they personally identify with. Not that we would stop reading all the non-black authors we supported, we would just enjoy a wider choice…

We do our best with our craft, but get “editorial” requests to add “more grit” or “more sex” and when we don’t, can find ourselves without a publisher. This tactic has already cost us the final payment of a very lucrative contract—and a publisher. And despite exuberant praise from our editor about our new book (March 2010) “I kissed the manuscript when I finished…” we find ourselves wondering if we will get a deal for another book. We certainly know that if we were starting out in today’s climate, it is unlikely we would have ever been given a chance.

To read the rest of the letter, pop over to Blogging While Black.

Very thought-provoking.


  • Ebony
    November 28
    12:41 am

    I love all of their books and would hate to see them not get picked up by a publisher.


  • I feared this would happen when “street lit” became so popular. I’m not sure what the solution is, but it’s frustrating as hell to be told that you must write something you don’t want to write. It’s also damned near impossible to do.


  • katieM
    November 29
    3:18 am

    I don’t understand the rise in “street lit” over other genres. But then, I see us – in particular Black women- disappearing from mainstream media altogether. I don’t see us on TV in meaningful roles; the crap on radio is just that – crap; and we get one movie a year – usually some Tyler Perry mess. I love mysteries, romance, comics, and science fiction. I can’t find any black authors on the shelves in those genres, just a few in between the “streety” junk.


  • Ebony
    November 30
    2:50 am

    katieM those books are out there, but like you said you have to wade through street lit to get to them. I prefer looking for books by genre and then last name instead of having them all thrown together.


  • sallahdog
    November 30
    1:41 pm

    does oprah even give a crap about books that have romance that doesnt end in death in them? I would hope she would care about black authors being able to do authentic books instead of tossing in crap just to please some marketers “more grit” desire..


  • sallahdog
    November 30
    1:49 pm

    I am sure its worse for black authors, because they are so few in number and I am not in any way marginalizing their plight. I also see this marketing stuff going on in other genres and other authors… If I see one more author of mainstream romance jump on the paranormal bandwagon and muck it up I am going to scream… Used to be paranormal, were my favorite, but I am so sick of the same tired retread and crappy world building (in paranormal , altuni, or scifi the world building is critical for me) that I have gone back to historical or contemp romance for the moment, to give myself a breather..

    Its frustrating to me that some publisher decides that if X sold well, we need to flood the market with it…whatever it is.. I have broadened my tastes to include several new to me black authors from reading this blog and others, and NONE of them write urban street lit, and if they did, it wouldn’t appeal to me, just like crime or techno thrillers dont appeal to me…


  • Thanks for reposting my letter. I truly appreciate it–our plight is that of many many African American authors today and it’s wonderful to know that you are in our corner!



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