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Am I Black Enough for Publishing?

What does it mean to be Black?

For those of you who aren't, being Black is not something one can really explain. It's not something you can understand or emulate (no matter how some will try) but something intrinsically glorious and traumatic in equal measure.

It's a shared experience of tightly braided hair, flavoursome foods, church on Sundays, sleepovers with more cousins than beds and mothering your rowdy younger siblings.

girl getting hair braided

It's also people mispronouncing your name, asking where you're really from and being told you 'speak well', as though the possibility of that was completely unfounded.

The above can be experienced by other ethnic groups of course, but for the sake of this post, we'll focus on the Black experience and more specifically, the Black literary experience. Even more specifically, my Black literary experience.

I grew up in South London with my parents and younger siblings and as is the case with many of you, I was big on books and reading but this wasn't something revered in my household or my life. My mother was always supportive of my interests but how this was nurtured once I went to school and beyond, was very different to how many of my non Black friends were. This didn't bother me as much when I was younger but as I grew up and my White friends became editors and authors and agents and book publicists, I wondered what I was missing why I was never aware of these opportunities. Once I found the social circles I wished to be a part of, I found that while I had been Black on my life lol, I was suddenly not Black enough for the spaces I now found myself.

Publishing, largely, has a very specific space in which they wish Black authors and their stories to sit. If it's Non-Fiction then there are endless titles about racial injustice, political struggle and how to make money. For Fiction, the pools are even smaller with those same themes made the focal point, but add some magical creatures and call it Fantasy. However, there is another space I wanted so desperately to find kindred spirits but found myself unable to: the Afro Centric space.

silhouette of afro

At its core the Afro Centric space is 'focusing on or influenced by Africa or cultures of African origin'. For someone of Caribbean origin, I found myself wondering where that left me if I was unable to relate to or engage in content that was primarily focused on ideals that I'd grown to find tiresome. In addition, couple this with the African American experience, then I was once again out of the loop. I couldn't relate to police brutality or gun crime in urban areas etc.

Now, let's not let the internet fool us into reading things that were not said and jumping to conclusions. In no way do I mean or suggest that these types of stories are not important, worthy or beautiful. We need more Black stories and creators of all avenues to be present online and in publishing and there is a space for them that is completely deserved.

However, what I personally struggle with, is the feeling that if those stories are not my stories or those experiences are not my experiences, then where does that leave me? If the only Black stories that are picked up are ones of tribal based race wars, then where does my wolf shifter political drama sit?

Simply put: Am I not Black enough to be a considered Black to mainstream publishing as well as my own people?

Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone opened doors for Black Fantasy in a big way when it was released in 2018. It opened up Black Fantasy stories to the mainstream that had largely not been done before and helped shine the light on stories much like it. As such, what followed was an outpour of Black stories that all featured the same tribal elements. Looking to make their own coin from this formula, publishers rushed to print and books like The Gilded Ones, Raybearer, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, Blood Scion, The Blood Trials and Beasts of Prey were on our shelves in a short span of time. While Black creators have worked tireless to keep the momentum of this going with TikTok hits like Legendborn, I struggled to find Black stories whose plot points didn't focus on some element of their Blackness. In Fantasy less so because the worlds mostly consisted of primarily Black inhabitants, but where there were other skin tones present, there was always something to highlight where being darker or lighter or from some ambiguous Southern place, was an issue and I grew very wary of this.

book cover for wolves of duty

For this reason, it was so important for me to not have a person on the cover of the Excellence Wolves series because I didn't want it to be dismissed or picked up for one reason: that it's a Black book. I wanted Wolves to be picked up on the merit of the blurb, story interest, author appreciation, anything other than just because its Black. It's wonderful that we support each other and we should continue to do so. There is nothing wrong with supporting someone you relate to because of a certain criteria. However, doubt crept in and I began to worry that my book might be liked solely for that reason and not the actual body of work.

I did not and do not want to write stories where my skin is an anomaly and more importantly, why should I have to? Someone will scream, well, you don't have to. They'll say, if those stories aren't for you then just don't read them. While simply not reading these books wouldn't be helpful towards supporting Black creators so therefore makes no sense to say, my concern is not those stories not being for me. It's the fact that if we continue to create stories that are primarily for a niche group or dare I say stories that become repetitive, then how do we ever expect to be included in mainstream publishing on an even footing? Again, people will say, white stories are allowed to be repetitive. We've had a million variations of ACOTAR in the past year alone. And that's true. What's also true is that we don't have the luxury of failure.

If one White book fails, a million others will get another chance at success.

If one Black book fails, we all fail.

This post isn't to highlight the unfairness of mainstream publishing towards Black stories, but more so to highlight my own pain when trying to establish myself in spaces that I don't feel included. Ironically, these are spaces that feel so focused on Blackness that the actual stories are forgotten or made secondary. It's the electing Obama effect but with books lol. African Americans came out in droves to vote for him, just because he is Black, policies be damned lol. What I find disparaging for myself is not feeling a part of my people in the bookish world simply because I don't make a pointed issue of being Black. Maybe this is all my fault and I just need to find my Afro-Centrism and roll with the punches. Or, I could stay true to my stories and see how far I get.

My overall point, is that Black stories shouldn't be Black stories but simply stories that feature Black people.


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Thought-provoking post. I hope the Wolves duology gets the visibility it deserves based on its merit of being a great story that is well written.

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Thank you so much! That means a lot. You helped it be what it is and I appreciate that to no end! x

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