What Reading and Writing Black Books Means to Black Authors
We asked some of the authors we’ve featured this month to write a piece on what reading and writing Black books means to them, and we got some powerful responses. Read them, listen to them, and take their words with you for the rest of this year. Black authors should be celebrated all year long, and any dedication to supporting them should last beyond the end of the shortest month in the year.
Support Black authors, uplift their voices, and share their stories.
Read on and see just how important that is.
Kai Leakes, Author of Love, Trust, and Pleasure
TO THE OLDER MILLENNIAL BLACK WOMEN WHO WERE BLACK GIRLS THAT WANTED TO BE STORM AND KENDRA FROM BUFFY.
I thought I’d never get a historic Black romance with a Black man adoring and loving on a Black woman with erotic descriptive words about her beauty.
Writing Black stories fuels my passion, especially for readers who love what I craft. I grew up a book nerd. Libraries and Barnes & Nobel were my sanctuary. My mother infused the passion of reading in the womb which attached me to my books and fantasy shows (X-men included) as escapism for my imagination. Growing up books were about children who didn’t look like me or very rarely had a token child of color as an associate. That centralizing narrative was exhausting. I didn’t see myself. I clung to the Babysitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street until I aged out. I steered clear of Sweet Valley High because the twin ‘Village of the Damned’ looking girls, really didn’t connect with me. Vampires became my passion.
I’m thankful to the Black children and MG writers that are around today! Through all of this, you notice, I have not mentioned a Black writer at all. Reading Rainbow was a saving grace. But beyond that my libraries didn’t make it obvious that they carried Black writers. They didn’t. Historic romances were introduced in my pre-teens. That’s when I found more Black writers (especially in High School where we’d sneak Zane and Eric Jerome Dickey to read them on the bus or in class on the low). My bandwidth with the lack of representation was early on, especially in fantasy. There was no ‘Twilight’ for this Black girl in her teens, until I was introduced to the fire that I needed in my young college years, ‘The Vampire Huntress Series’ by L.A. Banks. I was fresh out of High School when introduced to her through finally finding a Black writer, a horror writer, whose cover scared the Hell out of me. That writer was griot Tananarive Due, that cover, ‘The Living Blood.”
I felt alone growing up reading historical romances about women with skin like cream, rose lips, blushed powered cheeks with rouge Highland men. I loved the salacious sex but felt isolated. I thought I’d never get a historic Black romance with a Black man adoring and loving on a Black woman with erotic descriptive words about her beauty. So, I write for my sistas, and brothas who want to see themselves in fantasy, romance, and more. I made that vow as a child, to create stories about love and fantasy. I uphold it as an adult. I still crave to read about being a magical being who is looked at in love, lust, admiration, and healthy desire, while hoping to be a Conjuring woman of power. I’ve achieved the later in being a conjuring writer. I conjure magical words. I write for the girl I used to be, the ignored teen and young adult I was, and the adult I am. Reading and writing Black stories are a source of self-care, carrying on oral traditions, and dismantling the boring default. Black women writers are warriors, we must continue to be griots for those coming after us and with us. Reading enforces that. Writing solidifies it.
Porsha Deun, Author of Addict
This was my first experience with reading a Black main character.
On the first day of Black history month this year, a number of Black authors (myself included) were rightfully upset and checking a white author and her supporters for writing & publishing a Black romance novel. Said white author claimed she just had to write the story because no one else was writing Black romance (insert strong eye roll) and one of her most vocal supporters (also white) said that Own Voices was not wanted in the romance genre. As if Black readers did not read romance or if they did, they were not looking for characters that looked like them to be written by authors who also looked like them.
[Insert strong desire to yoke up the publishing industry for very intentionally putting out this mindset but keeping it cool because we want to keep our criminal records clean.]
The very first book I remember seeing a Black main character in was the American Girl Addy Walker series. In the series, Addy is born a slave and escapes to the north with her mother, leaving her grandparents and baby sister behind. Just before her escape, Addy’s brother and father were sold off to another plantation. A story slavery, horrible hardship, racism, colorism, the Civil War, separation, love, and reunion. This was my first experience with reading a Black main character.
Though I know this was not the intention of American Girl nor the author, Connie Porter, this sent the message (to me) that our stories, Black stories, always had to be traumatic, even if they have a happy ending. Unfortunately, this is a reality we still face. We are traumatized by the stories of our past and whenever reality hits us in our daily lives and whenever another one of us is trending for the most cruel and heartbreaking reason on social media.
And somehow, for those of us who are readers, the publishing industry expects us to escape this reality with books whose main characters look like these very same people inflicting these horrors (past and present) on us, with books that are about the very trauma we are trying to escape from for a few hours. Really?
I think not.
It does my heart good that my niece (who turns six next month) had the blessing that I did not have with her first book with a Black main character. Her experience was one of joy, exploration, embracing, and self-love. It also helps that these books (Hair Like Mine and Skin Like Mine) were written by a dear friend, LaTashia Perry.
I am proud to be a part of the solution, as both a Black reader and a Black writer who writes Black leads. In my humble opinion, there will never be enough Black books by Black authors in the world. There will never be enough representation of Black love, Black pride, Black ingenuity, Black excellence. Still, I will do whatever I can, in any way that I can to provide the world with some.
Nikki-Michelle, Author of Scandalous
I knew I always wanted to write about Black people being in love. I longed to create stories where Black men unabashedly loved Black women and the children from that union, or the children blended by that union.
Reading Black authors comes natural to me. I don’t feel whole if I don’t have a vast majority of Black authors on my bookshelf. I remember growing up in this small town in Mississippi. My mom always made sure we had some kind of books in the house. They were mostly all Disney books, but when I got a little older, I found books like Little House on the Prairie, Babysitters’ Club, books by Christopher Pike, Sweet Valley High, etc. It was rare that I saw kids or people who looked like me between the pages of those books.
Then one day, I was at an older cousin’s house, and I found a book with a Black woman and Black man on the cover. Until then, I’d never seen Black folk on a book cover, and this was in the early 90s. I remember it being a BET Arabesque book. For days I’d sneak and read that book. I had no business reading that at such a young age, but I was engrossed. There was this Black man loving and cherishing this Black woman. I was enamored. Up until that point, all I’d read by Black people were autobiographies. From then on, all I did was search out fiction books by Black authors, Black women specifically.
I knew I always wanted to write about Black people being in love. I longed to create stories where Black men unabashedly loved Black women and the children from that union, or the children blended by that union. For me, it’s important to write Black people almost exclusively. I always want to show the good, the bad, and the ugly as there are so many avenues to explore. However, I tend to write more about the good as the racist systems put in place already stereo-typically show us how very little they think of Black people. My books will always show Black men and Black women as main characters no matter what genre I tackle, and 7 out of 10 times, the Black man will be loving the Black woman with no limits.
While I do read books by authors of all races, only Black authors can deliver stories that more accurately depict what it is like to be Black in America and abroad. It doesn’t matter if the story is fiction or non-fiction, only a Black person can tell me what it’s like to live in Black skin and how it feels to love and be loved by another Black person. I get excited when I get a new book by one of my favorites in my hand. As I type this, I am on pins and needles waiting on Beverly Jenkins’ next release. Ms. Bev writes about Black love in a historical setting. I’ve learned more about Black History from her novels than school ever taught me. That is one of the joys of getting my Black stories from a Black author.
Chelsea Lockhart, Author of Keeping Promises
Seeing your life experiences validated within the pages of a book is something that can’t be glossed over – it lends to a confidence that your existence is indeed worth something, that you’re not isolated in your experiences, and that you are more than what other people say that you are.
This is a topic I feel like I can never not be loud about. This is what my company, Written in Melanin, is based on. It’s why I create resources like the Melanin Library and the Melanin Chat. We absolutely must support Black authors! And I don’t say that simply because I am one.
It’s important to read Black authors because it’s important to see yourself if the pages of a book, not only at younger ages, but even as an adult. Seeing your life experiences validated within the pages of a book is something that can’t be glossed over – it lends to a confidence that your existence is indeed worth something, that you’re not isolated in your experiences, and that you are more than what other people say that you are. And when living in a country that is quick to criminalize your existence and a world that is quick to belittle anyone, that kind of representation is invaluable.
In my humble opinion though, it’s not simply enough to just have anyone tell the story – it must be authentic. That’s why I’m so passionate about seeing Black authors write these books. We live in our skin and navigate this world, so we should be the ones to tell that story – to give that representation – to connect to the reader picking it up and falling into the story of someone who looks like them. I will always believe that there is a monumental difference from being on the outside looking in and the inside looking out – and being a spectator can only allow someone to tell a fraction of the whole story.
But aside from the lofty ideals I have about representation, there’s also the simple fact that the Black authors I’ve had the privilege of knowing write books for Black readers. We write stories with a “if you know, then you know” mentality. That’s not to say that anyone can’t enjoy the book – because anyone can. But there is a familiarity to be found in books written by Black authors. The characters move different in spaces than others would. Their confidence and hesitations and the way they see the world reflects the reality that we live in a world that tells us we aren’t the ones they want. We write our stories for readers who understand that.
Being able to write those stories means that I’m adding one more book to the world where a Black girl can fall in love, be the chosen one, or be angry without being stereotyped and villainized. Being able to write these stories means that there is one more book where a Black girl can simply be whoever she is and do whatever she does without having to first explain herself and defend why she deserves to be in a particular space to begin with.
Writing these stories gives me hope for the future so I could never, ever, stop reading them.