This year was a little “meh” for me with books, adult fiction/literature generally and Black American literature in particular. If not for sprints from the white women who anchor most American “English” literature degree programs, Jane Smiley and Alice Munro to name a few, I may have wondered if even old guard literary folks were just too unjolted and unmoved to care too much in 2014. Or, perhaps too distracted.
I remember last year it felt like every single week I was telling someone about a new book I was reading, or either hearing a speech about someone else’s current infatuation myself. I was so impressed and encouraged by the number of quality books printed from Black American authors I actually emailed a long list to my non-bookish friends, trying to force them on board with some titles. I had no shortage of spines to entice me to break sleep in middle of the night for just one more chapter or page. My tote bags stayed stuffed with material to peruse while I waited or ate out or just went out for sunlight, walks, air.
However, this year was a bit quieter on that front. Now, it could just be me. Or, it could be everyone. It seems like people went through a lot in 2014. I even perused many publications’ “Best Of 2014” lists seeking inspiration and recall. I typically do not need others’ opinions. A few gems leaped out, but for the most part I was stuck longing for the life change of a Salvage the Bones (Jesmyn Ward) or High-Rise People (Audrey Petty) or Wave (Sonali Deraniyagala) or Meaty (Samantha Irby), just some of my favorites in recent years. Not surprisingly, and even though I am exceptionally capable of enjoying and experiencing literature across a vast spectrum for both pleasure and study, these books came from women of color who touched me more profoundly.
For Black American women in 2014, the situation was not only paltry but dire. It feels wondrous to see a Black American woman at the helm of both literary and mainstream fiction in America (Roxane Gay), and we are all happy for Jacqueline Woodsons’ National Book Award win. However, I wondered where were big, majestic books by my Black American sisters at front of the bookstore and many more smaller books Black American women really had to talk about? I recall picking up the newest events from Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Terry McMillan in 2013. Thank God someone found two new stories from Octavia Butler to publish in 2014…Other than that, there was that “African-American Section” plantation leaving too much to chance beyond names I am actually looking for. I appreciate Black and African stories from around the globe, but I miss getting dizzy in bookstores simply due to the sheer number of very quality and varied books by Black people in America, for which foreign tales and authors’ experiences can not substitute.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge that I, along with the rest of the nation, spent a great degree of 2014 in mourning for one reason or another: with brand new revelations of racial injustices springing forth at breakneck speed and back-to-back losses of highly-beloved creative geniuses in a number I feel unprecedented in my lifetime, and even serial killers making a comeback. So mass sadness may have obscured perfectly beautiful and strong books, unfairly rendering their words mute and their covers invisible behind the fray of disorientation in our world. I am working to compile the books this year who made the noble effort to break through that and reach me, to yank me out of external crisis into internal exercise and repair as only books do. And, they actually did manage to pull me out of my failsafe coping mechanism of writing in order to collapse to my nascent one of reading.
I am sure it is just me.