The Help, authored Kathryn Stockett – is a runaway, NYT bestseller. The story centers on AA maids and their white employers.
First off, if you’re reading this Kathryn, a big congratulations to you! As a writer, I applaud you and your novel. In this very tough fiction market, it does a heart good to know that unknown authors are being recognized.
Now having said that, let me say this: Kathryn is a white woman. I already gave the description of the book. So I guess my question is - is The Help a so-called “black” story? I know it would have been labeled “black” story if I’d written it.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am an advocate for writing about whoever and whatever you want – whether it be animals, aliens or blue people. That’s the beauty of art and individuality – we all have a different perspective to bring to the table.
So I guess my second question is, does the label change from an “Black Story” to an “American Story” because the author is white?
If Kathryn had been black and the characters white – the book probably never would have been acquired. Or maybe if the story and writing style was too enticing to pass up, the editor may have demanded that the author change the complexion of the characters. We’ve seen it done before – take the case of author, Millenia Black - who submitted her manuscript to her publisher and was told that she had to change her characters from white to black. She sued them. They gagged her. Let's move on....
Another book that is quickly following in the The Help’s footsteps is Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan – also a white woman. This story also takes place in Mississippi and has both black and white characters. I went to Amazon to read all of the industry reviews and was fascinated at how expertly each reviewer avoided even hinting at the fact that the novel had anything to do with black folk.
As you can see Mudbound has a beautiful cover, as does The Help. Why aren’t AA authors offered similar covers?
The more things change the more they stay the same. Back in the 1920’s Julia Peterkin was one of the very few white authors to specialize in Negro experience and character. Her novel, Scarlet, Sister Mary won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1929.
I have the book – she’s a wonderful writer – but between 1928 and 1929 Nella Larsen published both Passing and Quicksand, Wallace Thurman published The Blacker the Berry, Jessie Fauset, Plum Bun; and Claude McKay, Home to Harlem. I suspect that none of these works were even considered for the prestigious prize even though I can pick two out of the list that were more (at least for me) compelling than Sister, Scarlet Mary.
I have not read The Help or Mudbound - but from the reviews, readers are more than pleased.
What did the publishers do with these two books that they do not do with similar books written by AA writers?
I suspect that they marketed the book to both black and white book clubs, and that they also rallied for the books to be made available in what has become known as the “Golden” outlets: BJ’s, Walmart and so on.
It breaks my heart that we AA authors are not afforded the same opportunities.
We can elect a black president, we can have white authors publish stories with black characters, but publishers refuse to acquire and or publish novels written by AA authors who write white characters?
Publishing doesnt make me feel like I'm living in a post racial society - publishing makes me feel like I'm living in the twilight zone.
Causes Bernice McFadden Supports
Hurston Wright Foundation
Girls Write Now
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)