Can a White Reader Enjoy a Black Book? / By Omar Tyree

by | Oct 29, 2019 | Featured Article | 0 comments

It’s funny how the world reads white character books as if their views is only perspective that matters. White society novel have become the so-called “classics” that we’re all supposed to read, learn from and be tested on in world literature, while everything else becomes multicultural, third world, alternative and elective. Black books, Hispanic books and Asian books are all looked at as “additional” reading and not the required. So, the first article I chose to write for my blog @ Author’s Lounge is a conversation on world perspectives through literature.

In case you’ve never heard of me, I’m a West Philadelphia born, Mt. Airy raised, Central High School graduate class of 1987 (#246), who went on to attend the University of Pittsburgh with big dreams of playing professional football before transferring to Howard University in Washington, DC, where I received a degree in Print Journalism from the School of Communications and started writing newspaper articles instead.

I also wrote my first two novels, Colored, On White Campus (now entitled College Boy in my Urban Griot series) and Flyy Girl, while still a sophomore undergrad at Pitt. I published both books in October 1992, and April 1993, respectively, upon my graduation from Howard. I formed my own publishing company of MARS Productions at age 22 from my one-bedroom apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland, and was unwilling to wait around for validation from the major book publishers in New York City.

I wrote a third book, Capital City; The Chronicles of a DC Underworld—all about the so-called “Murder Capital” era—and published it the following year of 1994.

I went on to sell more than 25,000 copies of my first three books up and down the Northeast Coast from Newport News, Virginia, to DC, Baltimore, Philly, New Jersey and New York, and soon captured the attention of Simon & Schuster, who offered me a two-book publishing deal and national distribution in 1995.

At the time, I had come up with the brand of “urban classics” to describe my work, as books about the lifestyles of young, inner-city African-Americans. I had stolen the word “urban” from popular radio stations, where I understood the term as new code word for “black.” So, instead of calling my novels black books, I called them urban books instead, and the term caught on, particularly after Flyy Girl was republished by Simon & Schuster in 1996. And before I knew it, the “urban classics” that had I proclaimed my books to be, had collectively sold more than two million copies worldwide.

The novel Flyy Girl inspired hundreds of young, African-American non-readers to not only enjoy literature, but to write their own stories in their own voices, while solidifying a new genre of urban books nationwide. These new, young and urban books later included the so-called “street-lit” titles from dozens of other young black writers, who came after me.

Of course—as we’ll find with Author’s Lounge or any other book site—we can always create an overdose of one thing, which surely became the case with what I began to call “drug dealer girlfriend books.” I began to see entirely too many books on the same subjects of inner-city poverty, crime, greed and bittersweet relationships. However, with balance and versatility in mind, I continued to provide more subjective titles like; A Do Right Man, Single Mom, Sweet St. Louis, Diary of A Groupie, and Pecking Order.

I never viewed any of these books as something outside the norm of American life. My characters all speak English and do the normal things that Americans do; work, eat, sleep, dream, love, share family time, and so on. But for obvious cultural reasons, there was never a strong belief that White Americans would ever become an audience for my books.

Even after publishing five straight New York Times bestsellers; For the Love of Money, Just Say No!, Leslie, Boss Lady and What They Want, from 2000 to 2006—including an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Work of Fiction in 2001—I could never count on White Americans as readers.

“It’s a black thing. White folks wouldn’t understand,” right? However, I thought books were supposed to make us understand, or at least shed some new light on the subject. It is still true that white people just don’t care about black lives, unless they are somehow included in it, often as a stereotypical villain from the pits of hell, or an amazingly colorblind hero from the clouds of heaven?

In fact, it seems to me that White Americans only select to read black books that continue to focus on the crippling history and effects of slavery and racism., where a black community’s response to white people is the main subject.

Like… really? Even in year 2019, white folks need to be the center of discussion in the book for them even think about reading it?

Do you know how many books, short stories, magazine articles, stageplays, television series and movies I’ve read or watched about white people with not one black person included in the story—let alone become the center of it?

Hundreds! But if we asked that same question about black stories to White Americans, what would their honest answer be, and the key word is honest?

I’m sorry to ruffle any feathers here at Author’s Lounge with my first blog article, but isn’t that what great writers are supposed to do, make you read, think and respond to something you may not have thought about before? Otherwise… what’s the point of even writing a blog?

So yeah, I’d like to know. Can a white reader enjoy a black book… that doesn’t have any white people in it, and is not focused on slavery or racism?

I would love to read your honest comments…


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