Black Male Authors: Smart, Sexy & Successful

By Foston, Nikitta A. | Ebony, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Black Male Authors: Smart, Sexy & Successful


Foston, Nikitta A., Ebony


A new group of Black male authors, armed with style, confidence, and sex appeal, has exploded onto the publishing scene, creating a wave of excitement in the book community and an allegiance of loyal followers. With book-signings that rival those of rock stars and touting schedules that are as hectic and as fan-packed as some hip-hop concerts, these writers, who are as charismatic as they are talented, are changing the dimensions of African-American literature.

"Women have been saturated with the female perspective," says author Michael Baisden. "Ladies want to understand men better so this is a wily for them to be a fly on the wall and find out what men are saying, thinking and really telling."

Among the leaders of the Black male wave are Eric Jerome Dickey, E. Lynn Harris, Walter Mosley and Omar Tyree. Before making it to the best-seller list, Harris was a successful computer salesman and Mosley was a computer programmer. Dickey, on the other hand, was a screenwriter and substitute teacher, and Tyree wits a pharmacy student. Yet all abandoned their old lives and pursued a creative calling that reflected their personal convictions, their individual personalities and cultural responsibilities.

One of the reasons why these best-selling authors are attracting so much attention is the ever-increasing Black book-buying audience. Faith Childs, of Faith Childs Literary Agency; agrees. "Black readers have long been there, and so have Black writers. It's just that now book publishers are getting around to recognizing them."

Another reason behind the rise of Black male authors is the trailblazing path of Black female authors such as Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, who paved the way, for a new generation of male and female authors. "As in any business, the confirmation of their success caused publishers to open up and become more favorable toward other projects by African-American authors," says Juanita T. James, former senior vice president of club management at the Book-of-the-Month Club.

According to the American Booksellers Association, women represent 75 percent of African-Americans who regularly buy books, and 90 percent of the fiction buyers. "African-American women developed an appetite for stories that represent them in society," says Clara Villarosa, owner of Harlem's Hue-Man Bookstore. "Once fed, they craved for more." It's no wonder, then, that these handsomely packaged authors, complete with talent, charm and the ability to sell themselves, have become the hottest thing on the market.

Black-owned bookstores, forever the champion of African American authors, heavily support Brothers in literature through on-site media campaigns, book-signings, and author-readings, bringing more Black readers into the stores and putting more Black male authors on the shelves. Mainstream outlets, eager to cash in on the Black male invasion, are also making their shelves, and in some cases, entire sections, available to the work of fiction's newest elite.

E. Lynn Harris, author of eight novels, including his most recent A Love Of My Own, has brought Black gay fiction out of the closet and into the limelight. Despite his less-than-traditional themes, the two-time Blackboard Novel of the Year winner and three-time NAACP Image Award nominee has had three novels optioned for film and continues to attract readers. "I think people appreciate a good story and don't really get themselves involved in what other people consider controversial to keep them away," says Harris, an openly gay author who has been in a committed relationship for several years and who is currently working on a series of young adult novels. "I think we live in a climate where everyone needs to make a decision for themselves in terms of sharing what is very personal to them. But if I can be an example of someone who is successful, without lying about who he is, then I'm pleased about that. …

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