Sunday, July 17, 2016
WHITE AUTHORS of BLACK CHARACTERS
In the course of our book club evening Thursday, Carla Damron mentioned an associate who was interested in or had written Southern fiction. Since the black community’s push-back following the publication of The Help by white author Karthryn Stockett, Damron noted that white authors taking on black characters won’t be published today.
I can add my experience to that observation. When I was searching for an agent for my slave novel Kedzie, I had two interviews with literary agents at a conference of the SC Writers Workshop held at Myrtle Beach, SC. One agent, can’t remember the names, said she “couldn’t sell it in New York” because I’m white. This was a revelation to me. I had no idea I had stumbled into being politically incorrect. During the same weekend, a second agent, in answer to my question about the manuscript and my race, hesitated before she said it could be sold “if it’s good enough.” Her hesitation and manner said more than her words.
It was not long thereafter that I realized my novel had about as much chance of being published in the USA as a reporter’s exposé of corruption in the Kremlin had in Russia. I self-published Kedzie, Saint Helena Island Slave in 2011.
Whether or not The Help “distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers” as claimed by the Association of Black Women Historians, their reaction has had far reaching influence on the publishing industry. That it discourages whites from attempting a black perspective is an unintended consequence, I hope.