I went to a networking event last night for writers and literary folk. I had some nice conversations and met some good people. Late into the night, I talked to a publicist, whose firm had organized the get-together. I started telling her about my writing and the book(s) I’m working on. I knew my synopsis of the books were disorganized and I felt like I was rambling. She was kind though and then said, “What you’ll have to think about is where will it be shelved.” In the midst of the meandering description, she had clued into how tough I’ve found it to categorize what I want to do with one of the books. It’s got some speculative fiction, shellacked with satire, and doused with social commentary. Indeed, what shelf would it be on!
But then she hit me with, “Like would it be shelved in African American Literature?” since I had told her both books star black women. Oh. That’s what she meant. I felt a flash back to my Borders rant. In all the words I’d given her, the plot points I’d touched on, the setting I’d sketched out, it seems what she’s mostly heard was BLACK. I know it was her thinking as a publicist, as someone who would try to promote a book, but then there’s part of the problem.
Where’s my shelf? she wanted to know. While white writers can decide to be on just about any shelf because they aren’t constrained by race, by people considering race before they consider story. I’m not looking for a colorblind readership, as though there is something wrong with being a black writer and writing black stories. I just want a readership open to the stories of people who may not look just like they do.