After reading my debut novel, a
white colleague chided me for placing it in the multicultural Christian
fiction category. She loved the book and thought I was limiting my
readership by labeling it. She raved about how the themes were
universal and that the book could be a blessing to women of any color.
I enjoyed her compliments, and I wondered if she would have ever read
my book if she didn’t know me personally.
I belong to a predominantly
white church, and several church members have enjoyed my books and are
eagerly awaiting my next release. They frequently comment that they
benefit from learning about African American culture through my work.
They agree that the themes are universal and that my work shouldn’t be
labeled Urban Christian. Once again, I find myself wondering if they
would have ever bought my books if they didn’t know me personally.
In spite of the strides we’ve
made, this country is largely segregated and unfortunately most
segregated on Sunday mornings. It’s the same with what we read, watch
on television, see at the movies. I have to admit that before becoming
an author and understanding that I need to read widely to write better,
I pretty much stuck to African American authors. People do what’s
comfortable and familiar.
Since joining the American
Christian Fiction Writers, I’ve taken pleasure in many authors I may
have never been exposed to before, simply because I developed
relationships with them personally. I’ve gotten e-mails from fellow
ACFWers who have enjoyed my work and who may have never picked up one
of my books had they not met me at a conference or online.
How do we encourage people to
read across cultural genre lines? To step out of their comfort zones to
explore and enjoy other cultures?
A more difficult question was
asked by my colleague and church members: Why am I “limited” to the
multicultural Christian genre? I published with Urban Christian, a
division of Urban Books/Kensington because it seemed impossible for me
to break into the CBA. That’s probably more a function of my being an
“edgy” writer rather than a multicultural one.
Honestly though, I can easily
count the number of African American writers in the CBA and either know
them personally or at least have an online relationship with them. My
African American writer friends and I often discuss why proportionally
so few African American Christian fiction writers have met with success
in the CBA and why many successful African American Christian fiction
authors are published by ABA houses. Is it an author’s choice, or like
me, did most feel like they had no choice but to go with an ABA house?
In considering publishing with a
CBA house, an African American author must ask certain questions: Will
the publishing house know how to market my book? How can I ensure that
my books will be displayed in the African American section of the
bookstore rather than tucked back in Christian fiction where my readers
often won’t venture? Will my editor understand why I choose certain
phrases, scenarios, characterizations, etc., or will I constantly be
explaining myself? The list goes on and on.
Bottom line, we have to find
some way to bridge cultural gaps in Christian fiction. God’s desire is
for us to be one, to walk in unity where there is neither Greek nor Jew
and where cultural lines no longer separate us.