This post was previously at NJ Spoken Word and published on Saturday, January 08, 2005
- Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize inscription: “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”
I was in a New Jersey Borders Bookstore today searching for one of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison. I wanted to replace my copy of her book Sula. Couldn’t find the Nobel Prize Winner in the literature section. So I went to the information desk.
“I’m probably blind,” I said, “But I can’t seem to find Toni Morrison.”
“Toni Morrison? Oh she’d be in our African-American Literature section.”
“What!” My voice shot up a decibel. “Oh, so we’re all sectioned off now, huh? Okay, well, I guess that’s good. It shows how fantastically well the black book market is doing, but Toni Morrison!”
“Well, our African-American section is very popular,” said the young man.
“I’m sure it is. But Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winning author, shoved off to a little section? I’m sure you have white readers running around wondering Where’s Toni Morrison? because they just don’t venture into your African-American section.”
By now the young man was nodding, probably thinking, Great, so I score the angry black woman today. However, I wasn’t glowering at him. I was nodding and smiling. You know that sort of deranged “I can’t believe this effin’ crap!” nod-and-smile.
So, Morrison’s finally broken free of always being called a great black author to being called simply a great American author only to find herself bordered-off, segregated again.
Of course, Morrison’s in good company in her section. I mean, some of our favorite authors are black, you know. Richard Wright and James Baldwin also share black space with her. I’m glad publishers finally understand that black people do read, and they are publishing our work. I’m glad that Borders has found black writers to be so lucrative that its marketing department has created a section just for black literature, and I’m sure the segregation makes locating black authors more convenient for readers. How shopper friendly! However, Toni Morrison is a great American writer. At the very least she should be in both sections, Literature and African-American literature.
Now that black authors are coming into their own in the book industry, I suppose the next hurdle will be integration…again. Or perhaps book stores and publishers will begin keeping track of black authors the same way the record industry does: “Hip Hop, R&B, and oh, the lucky bastards…Crossover.”