Friday, February 17, 2012
White People, Black Stories: James Patterson Channels a Black Detective
Hi Meltingpot Readers,
I have to admit, I've never, ever read anything written by the prolific, James Patterson. Not because I have anything against him or his work, he just doesn't write in a genre that I'm terribly interested in. But I have a lot of respect for him as an author who single handedly keeps the publishing industry afloat.
I do have a James Patterson story though. I remember being in the library a few years ago, and seeing an "Alex Cross" novel prominently displayed on the shelf. Because I am a voracious reader, as well as a book reviewer, I knew about Alex Cross. I knew he was a Black detective and the basis for a widely popular series, one that began with the book, Along Came a Spider. I picked up the book, thinking maybe I'd give it a try. Up until then, yes, I admit it, I assumed the author of Along Came A Spider, the creator of Alex Cross, HAD to be Black. Imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered James Patterson was White. I actually got into a fight with the librarian when she corrected my assumption. Okay it wasn't a fight, it was mostly me just going, 'No way! Are you sure?'
But, yes indeed, James Patterson is very White and very Rich. And not just because of Alex Cross. He's written so much more than that one series, but Alex Cross was crucial in building that fortune. In fact, the Alex Cross series has been tagged as the best-selling detective series in the United States in the last ten years. Not bad Mr. Patterson. Going Black obviously has its priveledges.
So, I'm of course wondering, what drove Patterson to create a Black main character? I'm curious what his connection to the Black community is, if at all.
Here's how Patterson answered that question from a reader in 2010:
"My grandparents had a small restaurant when I was a little kid, and there was an African-American woman who was a cook there. I spent tons of time with her and her family. I always kept them in the back of my head, and the aura of that household is part of what drove me to create the Cross family. So it's not just Alex."
Like I said, I've never read a James Patterson novel, so I cannot comment on how authentic his Black characters are, but this comment makes me a wee bit wary. Your grandparents' cook is your connection to the Black community? Really? But again, these books are a huge hit, so he's obviously doing something really well and race probably has nothing to do with it. I know plenty of Black people who are big fans of Patterson's and love the fact that Alex Cross is Black. It doesn't matter one bit that his creator is White.
So, I'm just curious. Did anybody else out there at one time think James Patterson was Black because of his Alex Cross series? Does anybody else think it's kind of weird that Tyler Perry has been cast to play the celebrated detective in the next Alex Cross movie? Yeah, me too.