Friday, October 05, 2007

Terry McMillan is not a fan of Ghetto Lit

The Ghetto Lit debate is about to get Hot again! Rumors are swirling around the literary blogosphere that Terry McMillan recently fired off a raging email to two execs at publishing giant Simon & Schuster and author/ghostwriter Karen Hunter (who helped Terry's Ex, Jonathan Plummer pen his trashy fictionalized tell-all for an imprint of S&S)).

Here's a piece of the alleged email:

The three of you, along with the other publishing houses who have been kind enough to add "special" urban/ghetto imprints are all about to see a major shift in your ongoing and relentless publication of exploitative, destructive, racist, egregious, sexist, base, tacky, poorly-written, unedited, degrading books. Like a number of Black bookstores who are starting to refuse to sell this trash, I, along with other Black literary organizations, supporters, book clubs as well as writers are about to make our opinions known, to aid in making clear to the public just how demeaning these books are and what it means to our community.

It is sad that it took years of selling trashy sexually-driven as well as tell-alls before so-called black writers were ever allowed in the Big Publishing Houses ...Why hasn't Walter Mosley or Edwidge Dandicat or Barak Obama or Terry McMillan or Jamaica Kincaid among others ever offered our very own imprints, I wonder?...

I've heard that Simon & Schuster has even gotten some of its authors out of jail just to go on a book tour. ...

This is the beginning of a brand new trend, so be prepared for it. Years ago white folks bought us and worked us as slaves. You're doing the same exact thing. The only problem is that back then we didn't go willingly. Malcolm X and Dr. King and Rosa Parks, among others, didn't fight for us to get to This, and this is precisely why you are beginning to see a lack of support for these disgusting books.

(Note: I've edited out the personal attacks on Karen Hunter. But if you really want to see the email in its entirety, go to the aalbc website)

I am anxiously awaiting the fallout from this email that is clearly making the rounds quite quickly. Even though I think Ms. McMillan is a bit of a hot head and much of this email was written in anger, I agree with her 100 percent in her evaluation of ghetto lit and its detrimental effects on anyone who reads it or even sees it in the stores. Not to mention the authors of more "serious" literature who can't get their foot in the door or promotional dollars to support their efforts.

When I walk into Border's Book store, for example, and see what's on display under African-American literature -- dozens of book covers with purple shiny script and half-naked women -- I want to cry. I love books and bookstores like a fat boy loves cake, but the place where I should be able to find literature that reflects my reality offers only degrading smut. I feel cheated and embarrassed instead of inspired and excited. And this is the truth as you'll only read it on the MeltingPot. What about all of those non-Black people who want to educate themselves about Black culture and Black life because in their real life they don't know any Black people. This is what they think we're living like. It's like Primetime TV before the Cosby's. Only now, we ought to know better.

And before anyone jumps on me for being bourgie and out of touch with my peoples, back off. There are wonderful books -- fiction and non-fiction -- that tell the gritty and often gruesome tales of Black urban poverty, resilience and the "game." And they actually include grammatically correct sentences that make sense. What about Push by Sapphire? What about The Autobiography of Malcolm X? I loved both of those books. What about Project Girl by the late Janet Malcolm (who also penned some great YA books that were mostly set in the projects of NYC). Why do publishing houses set the bar so low for African-American readers? What does that mean?

I have been passively angry about this topic for so long. Maybe it's time, thanks to Terry McMillan, to get this revolution going.



Mango Mama said...

I agree 100%. I often go to Borders and witness Black young ladies eagerly grab the newest ghetto lit titles and I just want to shake them and hand them The Bluest Eye or The Color Purple. I'd even recommend Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever. I think part of the problem is that no one is offering these young people guidance in their selection process and there's such an overwhelming volume of ghetto lit available. Most young people can't distinguish the difference between the ghetto lit and legitimate literature. It's really sad. I'm really happy to see Terry laying the gaunlet and getting the conversation started.

Mango Mama said...

I've been checking out your blog for a while and I really enjoy it. I recently started on myself and I'd appreciate it if you'd check it out: I'd really welcome your feedback.

Also, my family and I just moved from Germantown and my daughter, Olivia, went to Green Street Friends for pre-K a few years ago. She's in 3rd grade now. Both my kids are now at Independence Charter in Center City. Independence Charter has a Spanish immersion program and offer all classes in Spanish. Both Olivia and my son, Yannick (he's 5), love the

Take care. Lisa

Liz said...

Gosh, I remember my jaw dropping when I first picked up one of those stupid Zane books. Someone white gave me one because I didn't know what it was. They told me it was being touted as the future of black literature. Grr!!! The woman can barely string two sentences together!

But if I ask folks if they've read the latest Zane, chances are they have. Have they read "The Known World" though? Chances are they haven't.

Mother Laura said...

Hi, I am glad to find this blog. I came here because of MultiRacialSky's link to your post on capitalizing Black. I have always done so with African American but it never occurred to me to do so with Black before, and I apologize for the unintended insult. I will link to your post and change my practice immediately.

I am commenting here because I was concerned to see, in this excellent post, the analogy about your loving books and bookstores "like a fat boy loves cake." Fat people are also the subject of much discrimination in our culture. I always remind my children that our family is at a healthy body weight largely because of genetics (and, to a degree, privilege making it easy to eat healthy and exercise and etc.) and teach them not to say derogatory things about fat people just as I do for people of color, LGBT, etc. Expressions like the one you used can unintentionally add to the mistaken belief that all or most large people are that size because of being greedy, lazy, etc. Would you please reconsider the use of such?

Thanks very much for listening to my concern, and thanks again for the great blog.