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What I Am Is What I Am

What I am is what I am

I’m a black romance writer. That can mean different things, depending on where you place the emphasis. I could be a writer of black romance. I could be a romance writer who is black. I am both however, and for some, that’s a problem.

Black romances are hardly mentioned in the mainstream. One college professor is teaching a group of students about romantic fiction. She mentioned a range of writers and genres, including a final class choice between an erotic romance (with a gay romance subplot) and an inspirational. Though the class began with Monica Jackson’s novella, “The Choice,” as a discussion on the definition of romance and the eight elements of romance, a full-length novel by a black author was woefully missing from the list.

Not really a problem or surprising, you think. Except the class is majority African-American females and is being taught at a Historically Black College. Yet the idea of including a full-length romance by a black author did not occur to this professor. To be fair, once it was pointed out to her, she did add a Beverly Jenkins title to her list. (Sorry, Loretta Chase.) Still, it’s disheartening that the need to add a multicultural book had to be pointed out at all.

We genre writers are invisible to the mainstream readership. It’s not just romance. Science fiction, mystery, horror—if you are known to be black and populate your stories with black people, you are shelved and marketed away from the mainstream culture. The Powers That Be have determined that your work is “Other” and as such, mainstream readers “can’t relate” to you or your characters.

For the last few months, I’ve been wandering the World Wide Web, occasionally making posts and comments regarding black folks who write and where their books can be found. Some people don’t have a problem with it. Some people say it’s just a marketing thing. Some say it’s a niche. But when you have black characters written by black authors shelved in the black section, while black characters by white authors are shelved in regular fiction, I think everyone can admit that there is an imbalance occurring.

Can anything be done? I don’t know. Should anything be done? I know some people don’t think so. We’re fine where we are, where our readers can find us. Is it wrong to ask for more, to want to reach more readers, to want to actually make a living writing fiction? So why shouldn’t I want to be placed in a high-traffic area? I think I’m safe in my assumption that there are black readers who read white authors and regularly visit genre sections. Why can’t there be white readers who read black authors?

I just wanna be a writer, darn it. If I have to use any adjective, I’d like to use successful. Not ethnic, not multicultural. Seressia Glass, successful writer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if marketing will allow me to be anything else.

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