| The black, the bourgeois, and the beautiful
Are bestselling authors Eric Jerome Dickey and E. Lynn Harris
just meddlers, or have they got something to say?
I read Beloved when I was fifteen. I still credit Toni Morrison's novel with introducing me to the fantastic world of African-American fiction, though I soon devoured books by James Baldwin, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, and Richard Wright. But Beloved was the one that articulated so much of the frustration and distress I felt as a black girl painfully unaware of and alienated from African-American culture. These writers became my fellow travelers and tourguides as I tried to navigate the treacherous road of identity formation, and reminded me that my story, too, was part of the African-American experience.
Imagine my chagrin when I noticed a few meddlers trying to break into this pristine world. These perpetrators weren't interested in creating Bigger Thomases or expounding on the African-American condition--these were just tales of black libertines romancing their way into the beds of lascivious black women that would have made Sula cry.
The Black Arts Movement introduced the world to a group of elite, classically trained writers whose work forms what most of us consider the body of modern black literature. But beginning with the Terry McMillan phenomenon in the late 1990s, a new breed of black writer emerged at the bookstore. Easy to ignore at first, black trade fiction has surpassed many black classics in notoriety, the latest Eric Jerome Dickey paperback with its embossed cover seems even more ubiquitous than the Terry McMillans were! Every time I stepped on the subway this summer, I saw titles like Milk In My Coffee in splashy script and dancing cartoon characters on the cover. I tried to laugh--my friends and I tittered at the dramatic titles and the full-page Ebony exposes. The E. Lynn Harrises and Omar Tyrees may come and go but all knew what real black literature was.
But let's get real: these writers have managed to capture not only the hearts of black America but also the attention of white publishers and reviewers. Harris has hit the New York Times Bestsellers list umpteen times and shared the spotlight with other black writers of trade fiction in the pages of the Times, Newsweek, and The Village Voice during the summer of 2001. Black fiction is becoming more than just topic in college English classes--it's a profitable business.
Unable to ignore them, I finally plunked down the $7 (each) to see what the fuss was about. My gambles: Harris' Not a Day Goes By (2001) and Dickey's Cheaters (1999).
The black, the bourgeois, and the beautiful