New Directions in Black Spirituality: Black Writers Attract Huge Following of Women and Men Searching for Healing

By Starling, Kelly | Ebony, October 1998 | Go to article overview

New Directions in Black Spirituality: Black Writers Attract Huge Following of Women and Men Searching for Healing


Starling, Kelly, Ebony


Black writers attract huge following of women and men searching for healing

THREE years ago when Joyce A. Baskins received the same Christmas present from two different people, she called it a coincidence. Today, she names it a blessing. From the moment she opened one of the pocket-sized volumes and read its inspirational words, Baskins says she felt a connection.

"It was an instant impact," says the director of Christian education at Pittsburgh's First Allegheny Presbyterian Church. "[The author] reminded me of Zora Neale Hurston in that she spoke out of my experience. Just as every woman has had a Tea Cake [a character in Hurston's book] in her life, I can associate myself with the messages in Vanzant's writing."

The woman thought so much of Acts of Faith by Iyanla Vanzant that she donated the other copy to her church. When the parish secretary began printing quotes from the book on the back of the Sunday bulletin, the magic began. People told Baskins they shared the affirmations with friends in trouble. One man read a quote to his daughter who had been cutting class.

That's the electric response people have come to expect from the new breed of Black authors who are making spirituality the hottest ticket in literature. Their inspirational words ease the everyday aches of our lives like soothing touchstones, comforting us from excerpts stuck to refrigerator doors and work bulletin boards to greeting cards and monologues of radio deejays and talk show hosts. The number of inspirational books written predominantly by women in the last decade is amazing. Publishing books steeped in spirituality has become big business.

Among the writers making a name in the genre are Eric Copage, whose 1993 collection of quotes and bits of everyday wisdom, Black Pearls, sold more than 200,000 copies, and psychotherapist Julia A. Boyd, author of Girlfriend to Girlfriend: Everyday Wisdom and Affirmations from the Sister Circle. But according to literary experts, the undisputed superstars of the movement are Maryland guru Vanzant and Dallas minister and author Bishop T.D. Jakes. In some camps, their names drum up the type of furor reserved for superstar musicians and Hollywood celebrities.

Vanzant's writings have stirred a national following, debuting at the top of best-seller lists and pulling off the incredible feat for an author of any race--staying there. The queen of spirituality has become her own industry with her company called Inner Visions Spiritual Life Maintenance, a web site, speaking tours, empowerment workshops and a line of Hallmark cards that bears her inspirational words. Her book titles, some of which have gone through as many as 15 printings, are so popular among readers some have given the act of reading and living her words its own name: "Vanzantin' chantin'."

The response to Jakes is just as thunderous. His chant, "Get Ready, Get Ready, Get Ready" has become a rallying call among TV viewers nationwide. Along with his popular Black Entertainment Television (BET) program, Jakes gets his message out on videos, cassettes and national seminars. A July conference by the minister on the theme of his new book, The Lady, Her Lover and Her Lord, drew 52,000 women to Atlanta's Georgia Dome and was aired via satellite to more than 150 national prisons. Perhaps the actions of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell speak best about how powerful Jakes has become. On the last day of the event, Campbell issued a proclamation declaring July 9-11 "T.D. Jakes Weekend."

Indeed, women are among the top consumers of the new genre of Black spiritual books, booksellers say, as they flock to seminars hosted by the authors and pass the books among Sister circles and friends. But fans of the inspirational texts can increasingly be found among men. At a recent Chicago book signing for Jakes, Brothers of all ages could be seen among the rows of seated women nodding their heads or calling out "Amen" to the minister's words. …

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