Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Author in the News!: William Henry Lewis

Big up to our man William Henry Lewis, author of Pen/Faulkner finalist I Got Somebody in Staunton, for landing a NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) grant. You can read about the prize here, or just read his statement below :

Author's Statement:
This fellowship comes at a time when I am just beginning to unearth the raw material for a suite of books I've wanted to write for some time. The fellowship will provide me smoother access to research opportunities and resources in a way that was not possible before. More to the point, in all of my years of preparing to write this sequence of books, it has only been very recently that I realized a foundation and craft approach that was suitable for this work. I am most grateful that the NEA fellowship serves not only as a confirmation that my work is starting from the right place, but also as encouragement to push that work to a destination I have been imagining for many years. Many, many thanks for an honor that humbles me and challenges me to create more than I could on my own.

Sooooo, hopefully we'll be graced with some new William Henry Lewis publications soon. No pressure. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Sale Now

Three of our titles have hit the shelves this month:

WASHINGTON: THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN CAPITAL by Bound for Canaan author Fergus M. Bordewich. The book just garnered the front page of the Washington Post Book World reviewed by non other than ubercritic Jonathan Yardley.


The book examines the backroom deal making and shifting alliances between our Founding Fathers and in doing so pulls back the curtain on the lives of slaves who actually built the city.

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

You can also see Fergus interviewed in this video on the HarperCollins site:


They say you can't fight city hall, can't fight corporations, just plain ol' can't fight "the man" in general. But Margie Richard did. And she won, getting Shell Oil to relocate she and her neighbors out of Cancer Alley in Southern Louisiana.

You can watch a video of the case on YouTube.

Now out in Paperback:

The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell.

When I was about nine years old (go figure) I began watching the Young and The Restless over summer vacation, right about the time Victoria Rowell made her first appearance as the character Druscilla Winters. But the real Victoria has a compelling story of growing up in the foster care system which you can read about in The Women Who Raised Me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Author of the Week: Edward P. Jones

I wish Edward P. Jones had more books. But because he only has three, I find myself reading everything I can that has been printed by or about him. I read his blurbs, I read his foreword for the new edition of BLACK BOY. I am planning to read his introduction for Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril.

As I always tell people whenever I engage in my Edward P. Jones evangelism, there are plenty of clever fiction writers out there, but the work of Edward P. Jones is truly a lesson in what it means to write from the heart.

Below are some links to a handful of his interviews, profiles, and check out his speech at the 2007 Pen/Hemingway ceremony. Whether with a few words or an entire novel, Edward P. Jones will always make you think, or at least furrow your brow and say: "Hmmm, I never really thought about that in that way." So be warned, you may prematurely age, from brow furrowing.

Five Questions for Edward P. Jones in the NY Times Sunday Magazine.

A profile of Jones' Washington DC.

A terrific interview on After The MFA.

Ever wonder what the "P" stands for? Read this Small Spiral Notebook interview.

On NPR's Fresh Air.

Okay. By now you should get the point. Edward P. Jones is cool, if you didn't already know.

Black Books In Controversy: There's no such thing as "Too Literary"

Here's a headline for you: Street Fiction Doesn't Sell. At least not beyond a handful of authors that I can, literally, count on one hand. While there appears to be an abundance of so called "street fiction" titles, by and large the majority of these authors haven't succeeded in getting real traction. I know. I have access to sales figures and personally asked buyers at Barnes and Noble, Books A Million and Borders if recently there'd been any breakout street fiction authors beyond the "brands." They said no.

There's no such thing as "too literary." Something can be too literary for someone's list, i.e. If I publish mass-market romances and you send in a Faustian-inspired interpretation of modern black life in the Gullah Islands. But by and large publishers are always looking for quality works of fiction no matter the color of the writer. It's just the nature of the business that it can sometimes be like searching for a needle in a haystack. And, as always, art is subjective.

So this brings me to the subject of street fiction's effect on black literary authors trying to get published. I don't really think an editor would read a manuscript they loved and say: "Oh, only hardcore drug and sex novels are selling, so I'm passing."

Sometimes people ask me what they should write about. I often respond: "I don't know." Because I don't know what story is in you. That's should be the most important consideration, not the ill-conceived perception that only a certain type of book is selling.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Welcome to the inagural list of posts for our blog, which includes the kick off for some of our regular features including the "Author of the Week", "Black Books in Controversy" and "Books are Perfect for Every Occasion!" I hope you find the site engaging and interactive and please check back for weekly updates. Thanks for looking! And don't forget to particpate in our poll.

Black Books in Controversy: African American Interest Sections

Type the words "African-American" or "black" along with "bookstore sections" into any search engine. You'll most likely pull up a litany of blog posts, articles, etc. likening the the existence of shelf space designated for titles by black authors to everything from "book segregation" to "literary apartheid."

It's a never-ending debate among booksellers, customers, publishers and authors. "Will only black people buy my book if I'm shelved in the African-American interest section?" is definitely a question that I've been asked more than once.

But here are some facts about the two biggest superstores:

Barnes and Noble with the exception of a few outlets, doesn't shelve its African-American fiction separately. That's right, general fiction titles are lined up in alphabetical order regardless of the subject matter, or the author's race. Barnes and Noble does however have an African-American non-fiction section.

Borders does group both black literature and non-fiction titles together, a move they made back in the 70s when instituting an African-American interest section was considered a fairly progressive move. (Two of the more nuanced looks at the issue can be found in this WSJ article and on lit blogger Maud Newton's site.)

Many superstores will argue that having an African-American interest section allows customers interested in those titles to find what they're looking for more easily, and crosslisting all African- American titles would be overly complicated.

But can being shelved in a particular section really hurt a book's chances? I don't think that if someone walks into a bookstore and asks for Beloved or a serious work of non-fiction such as Medical Apartheid and is directed to the African-American interest section that some sort of invisible barbed-wire will prevent them from making the purchase. Still, it's a sensitive issue. And understandably, some people take issue with more literary titles being shelved along side more commercial fare.

But enough of my rambling. I turn this now over to you good readers of this site. Perhaps if enough votes come in from the poll at the bottom of this page, I will send the results to the superstores, letting them know that the people have spoken.

Next Week's Black Books In Controversy: Street Fiction--why it doesn't prevent literary authors from getting published.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Deborah Johnson: Author of the Week!

I've decided to kick off our Author of the Week feature with Deborah Johnson author of The Air Between Us, a "Secret Life of Beesesque" novel set in small town Mississippi at the dawn of integration.

Deb's submission was the first MS Word document I read as an Amistad staffer that turned into an actual book. In addition to posessing charming characters, a compelling plot with a mysterious twist you'll never see coming, and a gorgeous, florid setting (those in need of a more objective opinion may read this review from The Washington Post) the book has a highly intriguing back story, which you can read in this Behind the Book Piece: Read Me!

The original title of the novel was Ghost Surgeon. Which references a term used for black surgeons who performed operations during the 50s and 60s and on into the early 70s, when medicine was more personal and there was very little confidence in the skills of a black physician within the general populace. The attending physician would be with the patient as he/she went under the anesthesia, so the white patients woudn't know they were going to be operated on by a doctor of color. Deb's own father was one of these "ghost surgeons" in Omaha, Nebraska.

Yes, this little known practice belongs in the category of one of those smack you in the face types of racism that well, you just wouldn't know about unless it happened to you. A bit like what happened to me when I tried to get a job teaching English in Asia a few years back. If The Air Between Us sounds like it might be up your alley, I do hope these words encourage some of you to check out this heart-filled novel.

Next week's subject: The collected interviews, essays and speeches of Edward P. Jones.

Books for Mom...

Women are big readers. And as most mothers are women, a book makes for a perfect Mother's Day present...even it arrives a little late because mothers know how to forgive.

For fabulous mothers who never leave the house in flats:
Always Wear Joy by Susan Fales Hill

For mothers who dream of island vacations:

From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and her Island by Lorna Goodison
(released originally in Canada, it won that country's largest non-fiction prize, and we all know our good friends to the North have excellent literary taste.)

For expectant mothers:

The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy: by Kimberly Seals Allers

This delightfully written, informative book along with Kimberly's achingly cute collection of maternity clothes and babywear almost make me wish that I was with child! (Just kidding).


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