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Bowllan's Blog
Inside Bowllan's Blog

Writers Against Racism: Doret

Doret has always loved reading. She’s been a bookseller for almost 10 years and still enjoys connecting people
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with books they will love. When she started blogging at The Happy Nappy Bookseller over a year ago, she noticed that great books featuring people of color were being ignored. She hopes that the people who visit her store and/or blog can say that they understand reading diversity is a beautiful thing.

 

Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.

 

Growing up, I worried about many things but racism wasn’t one of them. I grew up in The Bronx; there were Black families, but it was predominately a Jewish neighborhood. I never feared being ridiculed because of my skin color.   Growing up I watched my dad read two newspapers daily, The New York Times and The Amsterdam News. His radio was constantly turned to WBAI. So I was well aware that racism existed. Following my dad’s search for information everywhere, I learned to seek myself out in books yet I never felt the need to limit my reading to Black authors. I do think everyone should have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the novels they read.

 

How has your search for self in fiction impacted you as a bookseller?

 

I used to hate having to go to the back of the bookstore to find books by Black authors. I know how it feels to be forgotten so I strive for balance, but there is only so much a bookseller can do. Customers aren’t going to buy books featuring people of color simply because I put them out on display. It would be nice, but it just doesn’t happen that way. Many times parents get book suggestions for their children from The New York Times, NPR, Al Roker’s Today Show Book Club, and other media outlets. While it’s nice that media sources are talking about children’s books, they constantly ignore novels featuring characters of color. And many customers won’t even consider titles that aren’t on those lists. 

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Another source for finding new authors or titles are school reading lists. I’ve only seen reading lists from schools in and around Atlanta, so I can’t speak for other cities. The lists I’ve seen generally lack diversity, but there are some exceptions. This summer one reading list had Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim, Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and a few other titles featuring people of color. One school-required book was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; on another list I spotted a Ruby Lu novel by Lenore Look. Unfortunately, the majority of the school reading lists don’t include many novels featuring people of color. 

 

A few weeks ago I was trying to help a Black mother find a book for her son off his accelerated reading list, which was several pages long. Half of the titles were dated; in the other half I couldn’t find a book featuring a Black protagonist. Did he have to read a book featuring a Black character? No, but it would be nice if he had the option. When I was trying to help another Black mother with a reading list, we noticed all the books featuring Black people were about the Civil War or slavery. There were about 5 or 6 titles total! Why a teacher would do this and think it was okay is beyond me. 

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There are so many wonderful books featuring people of color that have come out recently, but many aren’t given the much-needed exposure they deserve. For example, in 2008 Sundee Frazier won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It. I’ve only seen it on one reading list.   

 

In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?

 

I believe acceptance comes from understanding, and exposing readers to other cultures through literature is a great way to begin. Novels can introduce us to someone else’s reality and, in doing so, teach us something about that person. We learn that yes, there are differences among people, but in the end we all want the same thing.

Comments

  1. George Edward Staney says:

    “… but in the end we all want the same thing.” How simple yet how elusive! But we have to get out that message, that working together, understanding each other, appreciating each other, understanding differences, appreciating differences… and on and on will make us an even better society. Thanks, Doret! This was great.

  2. tanita says:

    I’m always abashed that it is SO HARD to find much in terms of African American literature. If you don’t what something that is a.) churchy b.) hard-knock/ghetto/gang related c.) historical, you’re almost out of luck. It’s exhausting, and I can imagine parents must just feel frantic sometimes. I very much appreciate booksellers like Doret doing the heavy lifting and helping young readers of color find books which represent their varied life experiences.

  3. Zetta says:

    I love getting an “insider’s” perspective! I hope those who predict the demise of bookstores are proven wrong, b/c we all need a helping hand when we’re looking for a good book. And Doret reads and reviews more books than anyone I know–DO visit her blog…

  4. LaTonya says:

    Thank you, Doret! If every time a black child wants to read a book by a black author he is given a book on slavery, war, oppression or poverty, how long before he’s turned off to books about African Americans? We really have to bring teachers, librarians, publishers and bookstores up to speed. Our children want fantasy, silliness, gore and adventure, and you can have that with a brown face. Writers know it. They write. The problem is the lack of support to publish these works and to promote that make it out of the slush pile.

    Well done, Doret. Don’t stop.

  5. Mayra Lazara Dole says:

    LOVE YOU DORET! Thanks for having a blog that constanlty exposes readers to diversity and different cultures. We desperately need more people like you and LaTonya in this world.

  6. The Brain Lair says:

    Always inspiring. Thanks for your recommendations and your encouraging words. Thanks for being their for parents! I wish our local bookstore had you!

  7. Doret says:

    Amy and Zetta, thanks so much for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful series. I don’t know when it will end but I hope it isn’t any time soon.

    After reading LaTonya’s feature the other day, and the books she listed in the comment box that should be added to reading list, I started to wonder why Agatha Christie is still required reading. Each summer 3 schools have one of Christie’s books as a required title. What relevance does Christie still have?

    Have a co-worker who goes into a serious fit about Christie because And Then There Were None was first published in the UK (1939) as Ten Little Niggers

  8. Ari says:

    I so agree that there is a serious lack of books on reading lists featuring people of color! If there are any, they are dated (although some are classics, anything by Raplh Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are fabulous in my book!).
    Thanks for sharing your experience, nice post!

  9. Rukhsana Khan says:

    Doret,

    What an interesting post!

    You didn’t mention Monster by Walter Dean Myers.

    That book totally blew me away, and it’s hard to blow me away!

    I would think it would be on every reading list!

    Rukhsana