Thoughtful Thursday – Literary Segregation

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Word Clip ArtLast year I conducted a poll on multicultural fiction. I had a number of published authors (about 40) from diverse backgrounds offer their opinions on the state of mutlicultural fiction in publishing.

One of the topics on which I polled authors was Literary Segregation, namely, the practice of shelving books based on the author’s ethnicity or race or on the content of the book. This is something that happens in a number of book stores. I can’t speak as to whether it happens at many libraries as in general, I have not seen it done in my local libraries, but if you are aware of the practice at such locations, please chime in.

The vast majority of the writers were not in favor of this practice. Many felt that it reduced their sales and limited their opportunities for cultivating new readers who were not multicultural. During a recent discussion at the RWA National Conference, this issue arose once more and the consensus of the group that participated was again that this practice hurt diversity authors.

What do you think about this kind of segregation? Do you go to such sections in bookstores and/or libraries?

There seem to be many bookstores with African-American sections. Do you see similar sections for Latino books?

Inquiring minds want to know!

8 thoughts on “Thoughtful Thursday – Literary Segregation”

  1. I like Gretchen’s idea. It shouldn’t be too hard to add to what they already have in those computers! I also agree that the books shouldn’t be segregated. I already have enough trouble trying to decide where to look for certain books in Borders or Barnes and Noble. They have so many catagories!

  2. Thanks to all of you for your comments.

    It is quite a daunting situation for both readers and writers. Without the sections, some new writers get lost in the mix unless publishers pony up the coop dollars to put them on a table or end dump.

    Being put in a particular section, however, could have a chilling effect on someone who may feel out of place in that section or that a book in that section wouldn’t appeal to them.

    I had a funny experience the other night at the mall. Walked into HOT TOPIC with my daughter who was looking for TWILIGHT t-shirts. The moment I walked in, every teen in the store looked my way and I immediately assumed a defensive body posture — arms wrapped around myself. Slightly tense since I felt that I didn’t belong there.

    When we left the store, I immediately relaxed and my daughter was quick to comment on how she had realized I felt out of place.

    Maybe like someone would feel in a store “ghetto” of only African-American or Latino or other ethnic authors.

    Food for thought and additional discussion, right?

  3. I don’t agree things should be segregated
    To find new authors, I often check out it says on Amazon then I go to Borders to find it.

  4. In B&N, I notice they have a section called Urban Fiction. Where they seem to lump all the African American books in. And I’ve seen this done in the movie section as well. It really pisses me off. If I’m looking for a book, I rather look for it by author or genre. Urban Fiction is not a genre!! Sorry to get so angry about it, it makes me hot thinking about it. I haven’t noticed what section they call Latino books. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing Urban Latino Fiction. It’s so ridiculous.

  5. If you’re specifically looking for latino, or african american written or flavored fiction trying to find it in the romance section would be daunting due to sheer numbers. On the other hand you might miss a buyer who would try something outside their cultural comfort zone if it weren’t located in a speciality aisle and instead in the regular romance or womens fiction aisle. (I hope that made sense).

    I have often been frustrated looking for a new author to read in the romance aisles. Sometimes it seems like because there’s so much there you can’t find anything. Like trying to find my car keys in my purse.

    Some of the mystery/suspense authors I like to read are located in that aisle and I forget to go check there because I’m so used to my “usual” haunts.

    Seems like booksellers would be doing us a favor if they would make a search tool available in the store. Instead of those “employee use only” devices you see hanging on the walls. Too bad Mr. Dewey isn’t still around. I’ll bet he could figure out a way fix it.

    Put something on the spines that says , latino, ethnic, african american, vampires, funny, black ops, regency, men in kilts, funny men in kilts, space men in kilts, latino men in kilts etc. That would help. I think Amazon has the right idea – If you liked abc, you’ll like, x, y, z. (I’m not sure how they know that…) But it would be hard to implement in a bricks and mortar store.

    And I’m one of those shoppers who somehow thinks that I’m incompetent if I need the help of the bookstore clerks. “I’ve been shopping on my own for forty some years now sonny! – Don’t need no help from you, you young whippersnappers!”

  6. This may be a double edged sword. Get known as a particularly ethnic author and do well, then try to move over to the general section…wow. It could hurt.
    Probably best to start in the general category for sure, but then you may exclude the ethnic readers.
    Either way, you’re bound to lose some readers unless you REALLY can cross over or attract attention to yourself and your books.
    Marketing is what seems to matter most.

  7. I’ve only seen sections for African American lit in Barnes & Noble and Borders. The only benefit is for the reader who is looking for an AA title but may not know the authors; therefore, they wouldn’t know where to look in the general fiction section. I’ve often heard from readers that they wished there was a Latino section so they could’ve found my books earlier.

    However, I think the biggest drawback to these sections is that readers might think that because they’re not African American or Latino that those books wouldn’t “apply” or “appeal” to them. Also, I’ve noticed that these sections are poorly stocked and not well-maintained by staff.

    There isn’t an easy answer. We could try to promote our books in Latina magazine, for example, but their book section is half of a page and the advertising rates are beyond most of our promo budgets.

  8. Our library puts books alphabetic by authors last name. There are sections for romance, drama, westerns, sci-fi and historicals. The WalMart puts them by series or by type (paranormal, romance, historical etc.) I have never seen them do it by race. No bookseller should separate by race or nationality. I would complain if they did so. Everyone has the same right to have their book judged on how well it is written, not the author’s ethnic background. That’s my view. Have a great day and hugs to all.

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