Washington -- The current explosion of Black literature signals what several observers believe is the leading edge of an overall literary renaissance.
Last month some of the newest voices in this burgeoning industry pondered its meaning and impact with a live and satellite audience as a part of Black Issues In Higher Education's Black History Month kick-off celebration. Sponsored in conjunction with Borders Books, Music and Cafe, this 11th installment of the videoconference series "Beyond the Dream: A Celebration of Black History" marked what the panelists called a new literary epoch.
The videoconference also provided a forum to discuss the debut of a unique new literary magazine -- the Black Issues Book Review.
Moderator Julianne Malveaux noted that the literary voices on the videoconference's panel were representative of this new age. They included: Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia, her first novel; Omar Tyree, author of three books, his latest, Single Mom; Colin Channer, author of Waiting in Vain; Sandra Jackson-Opoku, author of The River Where Blood is Born; Juan Williams, whose latest book is about the late Justice Thurgood Marshall; and Shandra Hill, author of Actions Speak Louder.
Assessing the status of Black literary achievement, the panelists say that more Blacks than ever are writing and publishing. They also say that Black authors are coming to a point where Blacks and Whites are reading the same books, noting that Black writers have broadened their range of subjects to include science fiction, interracial experiences, and topics with more crossover appeal.
Still there is a need to expand subject material and find a more assertive approach to marketing books so the community can know what we are writing about, says Tyree, who also is a journalist.
Jackson-Opoku saw significance in the use of the term "Black literature" as opposed to "African American literature."
"Our culture is becoming [a] globalized and a world culture," she says, "and as the new millennium dawns, we will begin to make connections in literature as well as other phases of life."
The general sentiment of the panel was that Blacks are moving toward the millennium with a bright literary future. And all of the panelists agreed that these are exciting times for Black writers.
As an example of how many authors are moving toward a combination of education, social issues, and entertainment, Malveaux cited Shandra Hill, whose books deal with subjects like sexually transmitted diseases. And, as always, readers like to be able to identify with the subjects.
"When people are searching for a book to read, they want something that they can relate to in their own lives," Hill says. "I have had people tell me they liked my book because they saw a little of themselves in the main character."
One of the main challenges facing the Black writer is marketing and convincing publishers that Black people do read, the panelists say. Malveaux wondered whether technology helps or hinders that effort.
Jackson-Opoku responds that the Internet makes selling easier. But she adds that it does have a downside, a potentially negative financial impact on Black bookstores. It also eliminates the personal interaction between buyer and seller.
"The Internet is something that exists and that we all have to learn to accept and use to our advantage," Channer says.
Juan Williams agrees: "The Internet can work for us. For example, I can put pictures and other resource materials that would never go into the actual book on the Web so that young people may use them and learn from them."
"But we can't forget that there is a 50 percent technology gap between African Americans and Whites," Malveaux warns, noting that 80 percent of Whites but only 35 percent of Blacks have access to computers. …