On Monday evening I accepted an invitation to an advance screening of the movie Rendition. As I joined the queue outside the cinema, I was browsing through a copy of Sunday's Daily News, when a headline caught my eye. "An Angry Book Flap", it read. According to the snippet, Terry McMillan (author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back) and Karen Hunter (Pulitzer Prize journalist) were 'feuding' over a forthcoming publication. Ms. Hunter is currently at Simon & Schuster, where she heads an imprint.
Now, remember, I am obsessed with trends in the publishing industry. For a little over eighteen months, I've been diligently working on an anthology, tentatively titled Eloquent Delivery: 150 Great Speeches by Female Activists and Political Leaders, from Cady Stanton to Chisholm to Clinton -- and amassing a stack of rejection letters in the process. Next on my 'to do' list are biographies of three legal luminaries -- Attorney Cora T. Walker, Judges Jane Bolin and Constance Baker Motley. But getting your work published can be a game of hit-or-miss. In addition to the marketability and quality of the project, timing plays a critical role. If your work is not what an Editor wants at that particular moment in time, then you're out of luck.
As it turned out, the nature of the exchange between Ms. McMilllan and Ms. Hunter had nothing to do with any of Ms. McMillan's writings. Rather, the focus was on Balancing Act, a book Ms. Hunter has co-authored with Terry McMillan's ex-husband, Jonathan Plummer. (Ms. Hunter also co-authored Confessions of a Video Vixen with Karrine Steffans, and published Why Black Men Love White Women on the imprint that bears her name at Simon & Schuster). In an email, published with her permission on www.thumperscorner.com, Ms. McMillan took Ms. Hunter to task for her choices in literary projects/publications.
Truth be told, I am not a fan of tell-all memoirs, dishing dirt and airing dirty laundry in public. I am a history buff and an avid reader of biographies. I am a loyal follower of Ron Chernow, Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCollough (who, by the way, happens to be published by Simon & Schuster). Needless to say, I was unfamiliar with the titles co-authored or published by Ms. Hunter. So, in an effort at self-enlightenment, I made a beeline for the nearest Borders. My findings left me with a deep sense of loathing and my constant refrain was, "you published that?!"
In Balancing Act, a novel by Jonathan Plummer, there are striking parallels with the real life he led with author Terry McMillan. The protagonist, Justin Blakeman, is living in his native Jamaica, when he meets Tasha Reynolds, who is vacationing on the island. Tasha recruits Justin for her modeling agency, but soon their business relationship turns personal. "Their crazy, volatile bond -- littered with dark influences from their pasts, complicated by ambition, and fueled by insatiable passion -- is as combustible as relationships can get. And when Justin discovers a hidden hunger for a male model, the stakes are higher than ever". Goodness gracious, you got that published?!
In Confessions of a Video Vixen, Ms. Steffans recounts her experiences in the video/music industry working with artists such as Jay-Z, R. Kelly and LL Cool J. According to a book description on Amazon, Ms. Steffans's "journey is filled with physical abuse, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and single motherhood -- all by the age of 26. By sharing her story, Steffans hopes to shed light on an otherwise romanticized industry and help young women avoid the same pitfalls she encountered -- and if they're already in danger, she hopes to inspire them to find a way to dig themselves out of what she knows first-hand to be a cycle of hopelessness and danger." Excuse me, but you got that published?!
In Why Black Men Love White Women, author Rajen Persaud asks the following questions. Why do so many high profile black men date and marry the most ordinary white women? Why do so many other black men desire and covet the company of white women? And why does this subject deeply touch so many people of both races? Do we really need to dedicate 288 pages to explore a topic as mundane as this? By this time I could no longer contain my exasperation. Oh no, Ms. Hunter, you published that?!
In an email posted on Thumperscorner (dated October 5, 2007) Ms. McMillan voiced her disdain for the establishment of and trends in so-called urban imprints. She wondered, 'why hasn't Walter Mosely or Edwidge Danticat or Barak Obama or Terry McMillan or Jamaica Kincaid among others ever [been] offered our very own imprints?" Ms. McMillan pointed to a number of Black bookstores that are refusing to sell such books. Ms. McMillan also pledged her support, along with other Black literary organizations, book clubs and fellow writers, 'to make opinions known, to aid in making clear to the public just how demeaning these books are and what it means to our community". At the end of it all, I found myself siding with Ms. McMillan in this exchange.
There is no disputing that sales and profit margins are critical factors editors consider when taking on writing projects, but these elements must be balanced against some measure of literary merit and redeeming social value. A book, while entertaining, can also be enlightening. To think previous generations produced writers the likes of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Paule Marshall, Octavia Butler, among others. Now shelves in bookstores are filled with titles such as Pimpology: the 48 Laws of the Game and Is the Bitch Dead, or What? How did we end up here? Moreover, what can be done to stem the flow?
In the meantime, I plug along with my anthology, confident that someday soon it will find a suitable publishing home. It probably will not be Simon & Schuster, since theirs was the first rejection letter I received.