Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To Have or Not to Have: An African American fiction section

I shopped for Terry McMillan’s Getting to Happy a few weeks ago. Initially, I had a hard time finding the book. My first instinct was to go to the fiction section but it was not there. I only found it after scouring the bookstore and making it to the African American fiction section. That experience did not stand out for me at all---that is, until I read the book.

After reading the novel, I could not see how it needed to be in any other section than fiction--perhaps, women’s fiction but fiction nonetheless. The novel dealt with menopause, divorce, children, adult children (a whole other ball of wax) and friendship. I struggled to see how those things were strictly African American in nature.

The only thing in the book slightly unique to African Americans may have been the feelings toward Hurricane Katrina and George Bush during that time. Not much else. But even with that, I don’t see how it qualifies as African American fiction because as with any other novel what you see on the page is unique to the group of people you reading about--not all people. Yes, obviously other people can relate hence the book sales. But any novel gives you an experience unique to the group of people on those pages. Not all African Americans hated George Bush because of Hurricane Katrina just like not all teenagers experience the same YA story.

Perhaps, some books qualify as African American fiction. It just seems to me that it should take more than the mere presence of African American characters---who experience the same things as any other group of people. I’m thinking books along the lines of the works of Alex Haley.

So I ask you, how do you feel---as a reader. Is there a need for an African American fiction section or not? Do you find it helpful because it tells you what to expect when you buy the book? Or do you think the topics are relevant enough to women’s fiction that it does not need a section all its own? Do you think all books written by African Americans should be in the African American fiction section or only certain ones dealing with issues unique to African Americans?


  1. I've never been a fan of the "African-American" fiction section. I think it limits a book readership.

    A lot of wonderful books I've read I've stumbled upon doing book browsing of the general fiction shelves. Books that I never would have sought out.

    This is what I think happens with books that are put in the AA section --- they can get overlooked by potential readers.

  2. Thanks for your input. I agree that it limits the readership. Just a book being in that section might make it unapproachable for people who aren't AA. When in reality, it's actually quite the opposite. Getting to Happy is a perfect example of a book found in the AA section that many people other than AA can relate to. I mean, who over the age of 40 can't relate to menopause, adult children and---unfortunately for a lot of people--divorce. Thanks for the comment.