Updated: Oct 3
I had an uncle Cookie. He was a five percenter living in rural South Carolina and considered eccentric. One year, during a family visit, he discovered I was an avid reader and wise beyond my seven years. In response, he gifted me a copy of Before the Mayflower, A History of Black America. It took me six months, but I read the entire tome.
I carried that book with me everywhere! It spurred my love of Black writers and their words and shaped my reading preference. As a young adult, I filled my bookshelves with Black nonfiction that provided information and learning. In contrast, I filled the fiction side of my shelves with contemporary romances about White heroines. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Black heroines in romance were not readily available.
Pre-Amazon, readily available, meant going into Borders and looking at the romance books on display. I read the blurbs and digested the covers before picking my book of the week. Then I took the long walk to the African American Studies /Interests section (really Borders?) and picked up a book. That section was overwhelmingly nonfiction.
The few fiction books in the section were hard to find. If Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan, or Zane did not write the novel (I bought them all), you could forget being introduced to it. To this day I do not understand where Borders hid all the Black Contemporary Fiction Authors. When I got older, I discovered subscription services for Black fiction and romance book clubs. I also discovered Black bookstores during my time living in Atlanta and Chicago. But that was not the same as being able to order a latte and eat a scone while reading my new BeBe Campbell book.
What was the publishing industry saying to me as a young adult reader? What is it saying now? Does it assume Black women don’t need romance? Are our lives so different from White women that our everyday stories can’t be told with humor and hope?
Was Borders implying that all Black people cared to read were books about overcoming current and historical race and economic struggles? Is that all we do in their eyes? March!
I march and read Dubois, Gates, and bell Hooks aplenty. But sometimes, I want to take a break, escape and dream about a fine African King showing me the earth’s secrets and making my body realize that he is all I need.
Black women write fiction about falling in love in its many facets with strength and wit. It’s time for the industry to take notice. Black Romance Matters!