What Borders Bookstores Collapse means to the Black Community

Borders closing means Black writers lose one of their primary outlets

Everything in life has a racial angle, and the closing of Borders bookstores nationwide is no exception. The bookstore that was attacked in a 1999 issue of Mother Jones for putting all books by Black authors in an “African American” section is now lamented for closing and the irreparable damage this will cause to struggling Black writers who saw 30 percent of their overall sales from Borders book segregating practices:

“The closing of our local Border’s store really is bittersweet to me,” says Afro-American Book Stop owner, Michele Lewis. “I feel for the employees who will lose their jobs in this tough economy.”

The news is sad not only for employees but it also delivers a blow to African-American authors, according to Lewis.

“Most Borders across the country have pretty large African-American sections, so I’m concerned about the future growth of African American titles, authors, books, etc.” she says. “Roughly 30 percent of the total amount of book sales for African-American authors come from Borders, so a number of our authors will no longer get publishing contracts. There are only about one-fourth of Afri­can-Ame­rican bookstores acr­oss the country that were in business 10 to 15 years ago that are still open today.”

 Black writers are grieving over the failure of Borders, primarily because it was one of the only brick-and-mortar venues that grouped books targeted at the Black community together, making it easy for Black people to find and everyone else to avoid. What will people do without Borders?

Get a Nook, Kindle or iPad and upgrade to the 21st century. What will Black writers do without Borders, a company whose practice of grouping Black writers together in one section was attacked as racist but helped account for 33 percent of many Black authors overall sales?

As we learned from Finding Forrester, the next great American novelist is going to be a Black person. Sadly, most Black fiction is ignored by white readers. Our guess is that ghetto, hip hop and urban fiction isn’t jiving with the white audiences, who consist of easily 85-90 percent of the book buying population (walk into a Barnes and Noble and count the minorities you see; those meandering around aimlessly for warmth don’t count).

Jesse Jackson Jr. attacked technologies such as the iPad and Kindles as the reason for unemployment in Illinois, saying:

It seems as if no one can figure out why unemployment is so high in this country except for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. who is blaming the iPad for the country’s joblessness.

Jackson, himself an iPad owner, expanded on his statement by pointing to the recent bankruptcy of Borders Books.

“Why do you need to go to Borders anymore? Why do you need to go to Barnes and Noble? Just buy an iPad and download your book, download your newspaper, download your magazine,” the Congressman said.

Everything in life has a racial angle. The closing of Borders is no exception. Where does Black literature go with the loss of one of the biggest sellers of books by Black authors? As we learned long ago in AP English, Things Fall Apart.

That some book stores segregate books by the race of the author makes literature that one group desires easier to locate; conversely, it makes it incredibly easy to pass over unwanted tripe.

The regrettable failure of Borders means that another venue for Black writers must be located that can carry the heavy burden of filling 1/3 of their sales.

What really needs to be stated is this: ghetto culture is being rejected by most people. Any Black writer capable of putting together a cogent sentence is pushed beyond his abilities (what’s Jayson Blair up to these days?) in the name of diversity.

Black writers have made no footprint in literature, unless said Black writer is pushed for merely being a Black writer.

An essay was published that we took great interest in that asked the question, “Why are there so few Black Supervillains?

The answer is simple: so few Black writers have made an impact with their writing and literature, save for those who write about racism, that no one has bothered to read their work unless forced in some literary class in college or high school.

Why should the onus fall on white writers to create Black supervillains or, for that matter, any Black characters?

An enterprising individual could work to help fill the void that Borders bankruptcy presents to Black authors. Our suggestion is someone creates a WordPress or Blogspot Web site and recruit the top-writers of Black literature (whoever they might be) and work to convince Black readers to upgrade to Kindles, iPads, or Nooks. The price might seem steep, but digital books are much cheaper than the deadwood variety and much easier to transport on an e-reader.

Our other suggestion is write about something that appeals to people other than “the Blacks.” Black writers who rely on Black readership alone have a small audience. It might seem like a natural market, but this strategy impedes growth.



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