COMMISSION TO SUSTAIN BLACK LITERATURE
Faye Childs —Founder and Creator of the BlackBoard African-American Bestseller List
PURPOSE: OVERSIGHT GOVERNING BODY TO SUSTAIN BLACK LITERATURE © 2019
The BlackBoard Commission to Sustain Black Literature Report Vol. 1
BlackBoard is asking your help that this document be read and acted upon. All interested in giving black literature titles a more active and realistic presence in today’s marketplace must act now. Join us in a call to action to work towards a more secure position within the publishing landscape. We must stop the cyclical disappearance of books by or about people of African descent.
The BlackBoard Commission has been formed to assist black writers, booksellers, and publishers. A group of industry professionals, we intend to work to increase the number of Black authored books in the marketplace written with stellar quality and a broad scope. The official purpose of the BCSBL is to stop the cyclical disappearance of books written by or about people of African descent as well as to track the editorial selections of a culture of books assuring diverse themes published with quality, respect, and integrity.
The BlackBoard African American Bestsellers List, our founding company, was a catalyst, creating a boon in the purchasing of books written by or about African Americans that proved to be lucrative for publishers. During a ten year span, 1991 – 2001, black dollars, purchasing black titles generated 2.5 billion dollars in revenue (Book Industry Study Group 2001).
The BCSBL watches established trends, standards and practices, while keenly evaluating the market in respect to this genre. We will work with economic forecasters regarding the commercial, and retail purchase patterns of people of African descent; and work with book clubs, librarians, booksellers and more to tap into our base of readers.
BlackBoard, using social media, the latest technology used in direct mail campaigns, location pings, and much more, feeds us data across the spectrum of knowledge we seek. A thorough understanding of the changing dynamic of industry trends keeps us front and center regarding the publishing industry. We must have the support of publishers, editors, publicity staffs and marketing departments to restore black authors to their rightful place in the market.
The BCSBL intends to oversee industry-wide standards in publishing to cease the need for an episodic uplifting of black authors in the form of a Renaissance.
The BCSBL Executive Summary
The Commission to Sustain Black Literature (The BCSBL), with a keen understanding of the publishing marketplace, based upon research, focus groups, and buying habits, intends as a task force to take books with diverse content and culture to the next level. The BCSBL studies the editorial purchases of publishing houses, evaluating books with an eye to building strengths, addressing weaknesses, and identifying opportunities regarding books by or about people of African descent.
A conspicuous absence of oversight has caused a manifest imbalance in the publishing of books by or about people of color. Organizations currently in place to watch trends in the industry failed to stop the dilution of black literature which led to a collapse in the value of black literature. The BlackBoard Commission to Sustain Black Literature was formed to reverse this trend and give quality black literature its proper place in our culture.
The Commission to Sustain Black Literature goals and objectives:
- Establish a place of residency so that the work of Black writers is assisted in every way
- Work with Nielsen to conduct a survey regarding the reading and purchasing habits of Black consumers. Investigate the trends that have lead to the over proliferation of ’street lit’ and the effect, if any, it has on black authors and consumers. We will address this through focus groups, direct mail campaigns, book clubs, interactive and electronic media.
- Explore the disappearance of events marketed to Black librarians, booksellers, and publishers at themed events at Book Expo America.
- Begin a Writers-in-Residency House for people of color that contains a library, and offices for editors that work with black writers across America, as well as the writers currently in residence.
- Establish grants to provide editorial assistance to aspiring black writers. These grants would cover such things as the costs of editorial mentoring, proofreading, the hiring of book doctors and copyediting, so author’s of African descent may compete in today’s publishing industry marketplace where manuscripts are expected to be presented as ‘ready to go.’
- The BCSBL working in collaboration with the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), and professionals within the publishing industry advise and consult the commission in selecting the artists that are funded. Our goal is to encourage upcoming writers to write ‘outside of a bubble’ with a broader vision for their characters and storylines.
- Generating work product (manuscripts and books), create jobs and provide a growth of book sales in publishing. African-Americans have proven their buying power within this market supporting quality books written by people of African descent–we aim to give those consumers a reason to go back to the bookseller.
- Work with existing writers centers on College campuses in conjunction with the BCALA to create awareness about the BCSBL to discover and mentor writers recommended by professors, and to have an annual Call for Manuscript Submission.
STATEMENT OF NEED
In 1991, Black literature, stagnant with no market value, needed a promotional tool to stimulate market growth. This stimulus came in the form of a list of bestselling books by or about African-Americans. The list: The BlackBoard African-American Bestsellers List, promoted black literature and stirred African-American’s with unprecedented growth in purchases that resonated at the cash registers of booksellers across America. Iyanla Vanzant, America’s self help guru made her first national appearance on the BlackBoard List, with her self- published title Tapping the Power Within. Acts of Faith, Ms.Vanzant’s next release made its début on the BlackBoard List in the number one position, quickly becoming a runaway bestseller! Ms. Vanzant’s success on the BlackBoard List, eventually catapulted her onto The New York Times List. Today, Acts of Faith has sold copies around the world. Value in the Valley, the third title written by Ms.Vanzant appearing on the BlackBoard List concurrently, guaranteed Ms. Vanzant a literary success. Ms. Vanzant’s hugely popular television show My Fix Life, is the most popular show on the OWN Network.
The List did not just affect books. A leading magazine for Women of Color, Essence, published the list monthly. The magazine experienced its own boon in sales and popularity from readers hungry to see the BlackBoard Bestsellers List. Their subscribers purchased books with characters that looked like them, sharing a cultural identity that explored male/female relationships, everyday successes, failures and spirituality.
Writers and those seeking the dream of becoming published, jumped on the bandwagon and began producing more products. The ‘product’ first termed “urban lit,” became the choice for a demographic of black readers who felt the books ‘kept it real’ because of their raw gritty nature, and a sense of self-identification that they too could tell their story. Subsequently, an over proliferation of editorial purchasing of this genre turned readers off who were seeking the kind of variety of choice available to mainstream readers.
Our goal of creating books that are really ‘good reads’ has the bonus of promoting literacy rates. Millions of young people admire authors such as J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, and Rick Riordan as role models becoming more literate because of them and reading with enthusiasm. Currently black authors such as Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, and Jacquelin Woodson, writing for children, tweens, and teens are definitely successful, however writers of color need a source of advice and assistance to make it into this publishing division difficult to enter. We seek the next James Baldwin, Toni Morrison or Terry McMillan. The black author as franchise writer rarely exists. We want to change that dynamic through conducting a national search to find a genre of authors creating an overall impact on literacy and black book sales.
The History of the African-American Literary Renaissance
To date there have been five clearly documented Renaissance movements in black literature intermingled with decades of the disappearance and viability of Black authors in the market place. The BCSBL in the twenty-first century notes: we do not need another renaissance; Black authors and booksellers deserve a place of permanence within the publishing industry. Listed below are the historical renaissances in the history of black literature,
The Slave Narrative
The first literary renaissance was in defiance of slavery. These early writers of being black in America wrote of horrific abuses during the period of slavery in American history, their struggle for freedom, and the right to read and write. After the Civil War, “The Slave Narratives” written through the African-American literary experience are yet today chilling, and haunting in the telling. Laws forbidding writing (please read some examples below) lasted for hundreds of years.
- Alabama, 1833, section 31 – “Any person or persons who attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read, or write, shall, upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.”
- Alabama, 1833, section 32 – “Any free person of color who shall write for any slave a pass or free paper, on conviction thereof, shall receive for every such offense, thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, and leave the state of Alabama within thirty days thereafter…”
- Alabama, 1833, section 33 – “Any slave who shall write for any other slave, any pass or free-paper, upon conviction, shall receive, on his or her back, fifty lashes for the first offence, and one hundred lashes for every offence thereafter–Wikipedia
- The Harlem Renaissance
During the early twentieth century what James Weldon Johnson called “The flowering of Negro Literature” ushered in an era of authors determined to obtain their dignity within America’s literary world. Langston Hughes spoke of prolific writers becoming the most successful at their craft.
“To create a market for your writing you have to be consistent, professional, a continuing writer – not just a one-article or a one-story or a one-book man.” Langston Hughes
- Jim Crow and Segregation Expressed in Literature brought a literary renaissance that demanded a right to fairness in America and equality under the law. The writers of these books told stories of lynching, segregation, White capping, a justice system of inequality, desperation, and the great migration to the North. Black authors also wrote of the need for strength and perseverance within the American justice system for equal rights under the protection of a written constitution.
- The Civil Rights Movement, and a Generation Fighting for Freedom
Literary scholars and writers of injustice wrote, watched and walked,
protested with lunch counter sit-ins, fought off water hoses, and Police dogs.
Black writers documented our refusal to sit at the back of the bus, and demanded the end to “Colored and “White” public facilities as the backdrop for Martin Luther King’s inspirational “I Have A Dream,” speech. In addition, black writers wrote of Black Power, Malcolm X, Power to the People and Free Lunch for schoolchildren. Written with a voice of creative expression that could not be held back, they wrote passionately for the right to vote and the liberty to feel the freedom promised in America, but stubbornly withheld from all its citizens.
- The BlackBoard African-American Bestsellers List
Founded in 1991. The BlackBoard Bestsellers List created to promote African-American book titles and dispel the notion ’that black people don’t read or purchase books,’ began in 1991. The BlackBoard Bestsellers List proved the success of a more diversified list of bestselling books rivaling the New York Times list of books and their consumer success. Terry McMillan, the first author to appear in the #1 position on the list became the bestselling Black author in America and one of a very few black writers to see her books translated to film in crowded theatres.
The Future of Black Literature
Black readers are seeking a new day in the publishing landscape marketed to them without the mainstream “stereotypical depictions” of the Black community. The BCSBL does not seek censorship, we seek to stop the over proliferation and publication of just ‘one’ type of genre based editorial selections. To be certain, people of color are reading, however due to a lack of choices they are reading what is offered to them on the New York Times Bestsellers List, which all too often is absent of the culture of black people, and black authors.
Our goal is also to further the connection with readers via social networking sites, the internet, as well as provide filmmakers with books to translate into film. Today an estimated seventy percent of films produced in Hollywood are made from books.
Books authored by people of color that make the transition to film equal roughly less than one per cent. Better books=greater opportunity for films with blacks in the cast. BCSBL plans to expand this dynamic—our hard work is to increase the percentage of books by or about people of African descent to the big (and small) screen.
The Commission to Sustain Black Literature Report Vol. 1