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I happened to be making the blog rounds the other day and came upon discussion about black book segregation in bookstores on author Monica Jackson's new blog Books in Black. I was reading the visitor comments on this particular post and saw one that made my jaw drop. A reader named Katiem shared her experience with going to Border's to buy my latest book Tangled Roots. I won't post her comment word for word. You can read it here (scroll to the bottom) if you'd like. Long story short, Katiem easily found Tangled Roots in the black book section of Borders, which was no big surprise to me. I knew my books were shelved in the black book section. The thing that was so disheartening to me was when she said she went to the mystery section to see if my books were shelved there as well. Not only were my books not shelved in the mystery section, which again was no big surprise to me, but she goes on to say that there were a lot of black readers in the mystery section buying mysteries by white authors, which tells me black mystery lovers are NOT going to the black book section to look for mysteries. Why?
Is it just a lack of awareness of black mystery writers? Is it a belief that mysteries by black writers can't be as good as their white counterparts? Or is it simply that readers black and white assume that the only place to find mysteries in a bookstore is in the MYSTERY section? I'd love to think it's mainly the latter. So, I decided to do a little research to see if ALL mysteries by black mystery writers are shelved in the black book section. I limited my search to Borders. I went to Borders.com because you can not only search store inventory to see what Borders stores carry a particular book but you can see what section the book is shelved in.
Here's what I found:
The following books were listed as being shelved in the Mystery Section of Borders
Cinnamon Kiss By Walter Mosley
Dying in the Dark By Valerie Wilson Wesley
Strange Bedfellows By Paula Woods
Chosen People By Karen Grigsby Bates
A Dark and Deadly Deception By Eleanor Taylor Bland
Blood on the Leaves By Jeff Stetson
The Following Books were listed as being shelved in the African-American section of Borders
Down and Dirty By Gammy Singer
Every Reasonable Doubt By Pamela Samuels-Young
Tangled Roots By Angela Henry
Plain Brown Wrapper By Karen Grigsby Bates
Ghosts of Saint-Michel By Jake Lamar
The Other Brother by Brandon Massey
As you can see, not all books by black mystery writers are being segregated. The question now is why are some black mysteries segregated and not others? Is it the publisher? Gammy, Pamela, Brandon and I are published by black imprints. Gammy and Brandon write for Kensington's Dafina, while Pamela and I both write for Harlequin's Kimani Press. So, at first, I thought maybe it was writing for a black imprint that landed us in the black section. But that can't be the only reason because Jake Lamar writes for St. Martin's Press' Minotaur Books, which is not a black imprint and Karen Grigsby Bates writes for Harper Collins' Avon, also not a black imprint. Also strange is the fact that Karen Grigsby Bates' first book, Plain Brown Wrapper, can be found in the AA section BUT her second book, Chosen People, is shelved in the mystery section. So then I looked at the cover art thinking maybe that was the reason for where our books were getting shelved.
The cover for Plain Brown Wrapper is brown with an illustration of a black woman. Chosen People is just a plain pink cover with title and author, no people of any color. So, is it a cover with a black person on it that determines where books are shelved? Again, I'll point out Jake Lamar. His new book Ghosts of Saint-Michel also has no people on the cover yet his book is listed as being shelved in the AA section. And as a matter of fact, Walter Mosley's Cinnamon Kiss HAS a black woman on the cover and is listed as being in the mystery section. As you can see, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to where books get shelved. But I do feel a little better realizing black readers are going to the mystery section and being exposed to at least some black mystery writers. But they still aren't finding my books and I'm really at a loss as to what to do about it ; (.
On a more positive note, Black Issues Book Review Magazine named Tangled Roots as one of the best Summer Reads of 2006! And for those of you who live in the Minneapolis area, I'm going to be profiled in Insight News. I think it might be in today's issue but I'm not sure. If you see it let me know.
Have a great weekend!
Friday, August 04, 2006
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