Black people have always battled over their art. On the one hand you’ve got those who believe that Kenny G. or even Kirk Whalum shouldn’t hold a candle to Wynton Marsalis. And on the other you’ve got those who would claim with a straight face that Ice Cube is the next Hemingway.
A couple of recent posts deal with this dynamic.
First Mat Johnson.
More after the break.
I can understand where both Mat and Larry are talking about. No art form can progress without people who are dedicated to the pursuit of it as opposed to loot, or simple entertainment. Reading the debate between Mat and Shamontiel Vaughn (a self-published author) I’m struck by the fact that Shamontiel doesn’t ONCE mention craft. Her entire post focuses on how much she’s put into marketing and selling her product. Similarly what strikes me about Tyler Perry is how much drive and hustle he exhibited in bringing his plays to life. Mat and Larry on the other hand appreciate the craft AS craft. Mat is concerned with being a better writer and generating literature that lasts, just as Larry is concerned with generating powerful black theater.
There’s a line in the classic movie Hollywood Shuffle that I think is appropriate here. “Hoes gotta eat too.” And I don’t mean this in a snide or sarcastic way–though I always crack up when I hear that line. Artists have to get in where they fit in. By definition all fiction can’t be literature, just as it isn’t possible to have an entire class of “above average students.” The question though is about room. If the resources spent on theater or literature are zero-sum, if for every book self-published by Shamontiel, Mat loses a couple of readers…this debate will become much more contentious. And yeah Tyler is going to have to create his own festival.
But if not? Then both sides can co-exist peacefully. (Doubt it!)