Monday, December 15, 2008

Does it Matter if You're Black or White in Christian Fiction?


I was at a party this weekend and met an author of several Christian fiction titles. She is published by my same publisher (Simon & Schuster) and has a very lucrative contract. We had a nice chat about the publishing industry and our work. But here's a question I came up with after our conversation was over and I'm hoping some of you might be able to answer it.

When we talk of Inspirational Fiction, we know that's code for Christian fiction. My question is, are inspirational fiction writers segregated on the book shelves or are they all lumped together under one Inspirational umbrella? Do White Christians read Black Christian authors and vice versa? More importantly, is there a difference in the type of Christianity or inspirational theme in the work of White vs Black inspirational authors? And let's not stop there. I'm going to assume there are some Latino and Asian Christian titles floating around out there too. Where do they fit in?

As a person who has never read any inspirational fiction, these questions all started percolating in my mind. Anybody have any answers? Is inspirational fiction, like the romance genre, divided down color lines? While I don't believe in segregated literature in any format, I do find it particularly ironic to have Christian fiction divided by race. I mean really. What would Jesus think?

Peace!

P.S. Got some new links over there on the side. And we had to say goodbye to Stereohyped. They were shut down abruptly. RIP.

8 comments:

Yvonne said...

I recently stumbled onto this headscratcher too. I've recently been searching some regional Christian bookstores for a documentary called 'Soulmate' that I plan to review for my blog.

I, perhaps naively considering my childhood in various churches, never thought of Christian bookstores as racially segregated spaces. But apparently there are white and black (and Hispanic and Asian Christian bookstores), and never the twain shall meet.

I'm still thawing out from the frosty replies I received when inquiring about the documentary at "white" Christian bookstores.

I'm sure there are bookstores where "Christian" is not a racially coded concept, and after this surprising recent experience, I'd love to visit 'em!

(By the way, I'm still kicking myself for missing you at the First Person Festival!)

LT said...

Yvonne,

thank you for you comment. this is what I feared and hope it is not common practice. maybe someone else will offer some information.

Carleen Brice said...

Check out this post: http://ceceliadowdy.blogspot.com/2008/11/november-book-giveaway.html

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Lori, Carleen Brice forwarded your post to me, as well as posted a link to my post from last November (I blogged about a similiar topic.)
As far as segregating Christian fiction is concerned, from my experience, it all depends upon the store. I've seen some stores place African-American Christian fiction in the African-American section, sometimes it's in the Christian section and a FEW times I've seen them shelved both places.
Since my novels are African American Christian Fiction Romance titles, I've seen my novels mostly placed in the romance section of the bookstore. I've even went to some bookstores and if they had more than one copy of my novel on the shelf, I've moved one copy into the AA section, knowing that there were some readers who only read AA fiction, and would probably not venture past the AA section when in search of a novel.
Camy Tang is Asian Christian fiction author, but I'm not sure how her books are shelved? I've purchased her titles at a conference or online. I don't believe an Asian fiction section exists in a bookstore? I'd venture to say that her books would be shelved in the Christian fiction section, but I'm not sure about that! Feel free to email me with any further questions you may have about this topic!

LT said...

Cecelia,

Thanks for the information. This is all really fascinating to me and I can't believe I never really thought about it until now. It seems our work is never done.

Carleen, thanks for the introduction.

Patricia W. said...

Not sure why this would be anymore surprising than the continued segregation of Christians in churches. It's funky phenomenon that has its roots in a lot of things. Cecelia brought up several of the thorny issues. I'd like to offer a few more.

One, a lot of booksellers segregate books by white and non-white authors. There's the African-American section, in which you will also find the Christian fiction titles by African-American authors. Clearly, this is a racial issue. But it is also an economic issue. Some African-American readers say they prefer books by AA authors to be shelved this way because it makes it easier for them to shop.

Two, Christian book publishers and booksellers largely hold to fiction standards that many African-American authors do not adhere to. These are things like not having divorced characters, not talking about denominations, not having any characters who engage in clearly sinful behaviors, not dealing with controversial topics like abortion, abuse, prostitution, drugs, etc. Christian publishers have relaxed the standards somewhat but not as much as is seen in some Christian fiction by African-American authors and so their books are not shelved. (Christian booksellers recently treated a Christian magazine like it was porn simply because it featured a cover story about high-profile women preachers and bishops.) To me, there's a bit of chicken-and-egg thing going on between the Christian publishers and booksellers but the "guideslines" do exist.

Three, a lot of African-American Christian fiction is published by mainstream publishers. Perhaps their sales teams do not seek to have their titles shelved with other Christian fiction so as not to limit sales (or maybe they even request for it not to be?).

So does it matter? On some levels, no. On others, it certainly means AA Christian fiction authors have to work harder for their books to be distributed widely.

I see more African-American Christian authors getting involved with the successful and well-organized blog tours that white Christian authors have been using in recent years. This opens their fiction up to a whole body of readers who might not otherwise hear of them.

African-Americans, and probably other groups of readers, definitely read stories by white and other authors. I know I do.

LT said...

Hi Patricia W,

Thanks for this additional information. I was curious if these "guidelines" were actually written down somewhere or just understood. And I guess I never realized just how big Christian fiction was which explains why it can afford to be segregated. Right?

Thanks for stopping by the Meltingpot.

Ferocious Kitty said...

I'm late to the topic, but like Patricia, I pretty much expect Christian fiction to be segregated, just as most Christian churches are.

But what does surprise me is something I observed at most stores within the major grocery store chain here in Pittsburgh. They have a book/magazine section in each store, and in all the stores I've been in except one (which is in a neighborhood with a large Jewish population), there is special kiosk-revolving type thing exclusively for Christian/inspirational titles--99%of which are by black authors, even though the surrounding area isn't predominantly or even half black by anyone's estimation.

It's as if someone decided that only black people would buy religious/inspirational books at the grocery store, lol!