I was re-reading the “What’s Hot in Black Romance” entry on Monica’s blog when this line in the interview with author Maureen Smith caught my eye:
“SMITH: Unfortunately, there are many people who won’t read multicultural romances because they don’t think they can identify with the protagonists.”
If this is true, that’s pretty damn sad because many romance readers enjoy historicals, and I think the average middle-class white (or in my case, light khaki) woman has a hell of a lot more in common with the average middle-class black woman than an aristocratic English girl living in 1811. People snapped up Memoirs of a Geisha when it came out, and man, talk about immersing yourself in a foreign culture, right? And The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is told from the perspective of somebody with Asperger’s Syndrome, ferchrissakes. And let’s not even get into how popular SF/F is, with its preponderance of characters who aren’t even HUMAN.
So the whole “I won’t read black romances because I won’t be able to identify with the characters” excuse doesn’t sound quite right to me.
I wonder why black genre fiction tends to be invisible? Actually, why is genre fiction so WHITE in general? I mean, I can name several literary lions who are Not Lily White: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Chinua Achebe, Ralph Ellison, Rita Dove, bell hooks. I can also think of other authors of literary fiction who come from various ethnicities, and these are names just off the top of my head: Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong-Kingston, Gail Tsukiyama, Banana Yoshimoto, Arundhati Roy, V.S. Naipaul, R.K. Narayan.
For romance authors, Marjorie M. Liu is the only recognizably Asian name of the lot that I can think of. Wait, hang on, just remembered: Karen Harbaugh and Shana Abe are part Japanese. And then there are a host of black romance authors, of course, most of whose names I’ve learned of through Monica’s blog: Donna Hill, Reon Laudat, Leslie Esdaile, Brenda Jackson, etc. Can’t think of a single black, Asian or [insert ethnicity of choice here] SF/F author, nor any for mysteries and thrillers, though I haven’t read extensively in the last two genres.
Anyone have any good theories on why minority authors (and characters, for that matter) seem drastically under-represented in genre fiction? If they’re not under-represented, why are they so low-profile? Any recommendations for good genre fiction (not just romance) by authors who are Other Than Anglo?