I see a great deal of promise in the explosion of Urban Fiction. But for writers like Mat and Tayari, this promise is fraught with…I wouldn’t call it danger, but something akin to it. Just as we have a need for the work of Toni Morrison, we also have a need for the stories of someone like K’Wan. the key though is space.
The space to for writers like K’Wan to tell the stories they want to tell, in the way they feel they want to tell them.
The space for writers like Mat to develop their craft and to do the work needed to move black literature out of the ghetto of low expectations and tired themes.
Book publishers are shutting down imprints left and right. Even academic publishers are now expected to make a profit. In this context where music and books can be freely downloaded it is becoming harder for writers to get the breaks they need to make their mark. And harder for writers to write unique work that speaks to the realities of 21st century black life.
Organizing and networking under these circumstances can only help. Networks can sustain writers through dry spells, they can help writers generate new ideas about distributing their work, they can make what is already viewed as a mystical process much more transparent, and they can spread the wealth that has been previously concentrated in the hands of a few agents, writers, and publishers. I consider this a potential example of Open Source organizing, and I am interested in the journey Mat and his crew are about to take. Harold Cruse talked incessantly about the need for black artists to develop their own critical standards in order to improve their art, and in so doing improve the quality of black life. The Niggerati Manor potentially represents a step in this direction.