Recently, I read an article in Forbes that listed the top 12 highest paid authors of 2016 and I must admit that I was highly motivated after reading it. Now, before I get to the meat of my point, I want to make the disclaimer that as an author, I write for the love of it. It has been a passion of mine since middle school. In college, I double-majored in English and Journalism. I began penning my first book in 2009 and since then I have seven publications listed on Amazon. Like I said, it’s a passion of mine.
However, when I read the Forbes piece I was moved by several ideas. One, I was reminded that the art of writing was not dead. I also learned the dividends could be lucrative if one persevered through the pains of slowly building a large reader base while attempting to convince millions why their book is the next best thing to read. James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Jeff Kinney rounded off the top 3 of that list with Patterson bringing in $95 million at the top position. Rowling and Kinney tied for 2nd at $19 million. Yes, seeing those dollar signs can motivate anyone and I’ll be the first to admit that I would love to reach that type of success one day soon as an author. However, there was another factor about that list that stood out to me. Not one person was of color.
I’ve always been one for a challenge. Call it the athlete and competitor inside of me that never dies. However, this particular challenge has been a long fight. Gaining recognition in the literary world as a black writer is not a milestone that comes easy. A few names come to mind of those who were able to crack that glass ceiling. The likes of Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and of course Langston Hughes all became renowned, successful authors. They have also inspired me to become a voice for this generation. Though being a voice in this generation means being able to adapt with the ever-changing flow of current that moves with pop culture.
In addition, the literary writing world has universally been an industry where not too many black men have ventured. Collectively, writing literature has not been the strongest point culturally for black men; neither has reading literature. You don’t have to look too far beyond the reading test scores in secondary schools across our country to figure that out. You also don’t have to look too far to see that there is a significant correlation between both reading and writing. This is why I am even more eager to create books that would attract minority teens and young adults to read more often; essentially sparking more minorities to write as well. My books are not limited to the black culture only, because I write material that crosses color lines, but I have put the responsibility upon myself to create reading material that would draw the interests of the African-American community as well as those in other cultures.
Times have changed. Many teachers are finding it difficult to engage students in reading altogether because the material is outdated and students find it hard to relate to. Is Shakespeare still relevant? As an author with an appreciation for literature, I would say yes, but only to a certain degree. A lot of the literature that we read when I was in high school and college was culturally biased. The only time I didn’t see it that way was when I finally took an African-American Literature class when I was a sophomore at the University of Miami. Like other artistic genres, literature is classified culturally to a degree and maybe those color lines aren’t mentioned out loud as often for the sake of being “politically correct” or “diplomatic,” but they still exist. This brings us to another hurdle.
Black writers don’t generate the support from their own people as do other writers because collectively, again I say collectively, black children and teens are not pushed to read in their home environment at a young age as much as their counterparts. Therefore reading is not perceived as a highly valued luxury as it should be. In turn, when it comes to writing books in general, unless we’ve had the blessing of establishing a large fan base of readers most of us authors are needles in a haystack screaming to be recognized for our works. Now, couple that with being black and the odds are even more against you. The Black community is extremely relevant when it comes to pop culture; particularly when it comes to fashion, music, and cinema. Those are areas where a lot of our youth are spending a lot of their money, or parents’ money for that matter. Henceforth, the companies that are leading in those particular industries benefit from the support of blacks worldwide. Look at the demographic in the lines outside the shoe stores when a new pair of Jordans drop. Point being, if literature generated the same popularity as some of these other industries, many more of us black authors would be seeing a lot more success when it comes to selling books.
Like music, literature appeals to different tastes. Black authors can and have created works that transcend the color barriers, but not on the same scale as black musicians. The number of African-Americans that have become successful in music far outnumber the number of successful African-American authors. Also, we have to call a spade a spade, according to the trends of pop culture, music has a far more attractive draw than literature. The average teen and young adult will spend more time streaming new music rather than searching for the latest read on Amazon or browsing books in the local Barnes & Noble. African-Americans have found much more success in music than in literature. When you consider how many black musicians have benefited from top record sales compared to those who have benefited from top book sales, the gap is largely disproportionate.
I believe much of that gap is attributed to cultural preferences. In a synonymous fashion, Literature is to arts & entertainment as golf is to the world of sports. You don’t see a lot African Americans in the game of golf. There are a few and only one name is relevant when it comes to African-Americans in golf and even he hardly embraced his black roots. In addition, because writing literature is not a genre that is embraced largely by African-Americans in this generation, particularly African-American males, it is important for those of us who are black writers to really embrace the craft. We have to take every opportunity to become better writers by honing our skill set, tightening up our grammar, making sure our editing process is meticulous, and learning how to market to our niche markets. As a Black male author, I’m figuring out that I have to work twice as hard in this industry to become relevant. It is possible, but it is a difficult mountain to climb.
Ultimately, when I see the success of other Black authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roye Okupe who are climbing the ladder in the writing industry, it gives me hope that I can join their ranks and help literature become a revived trend in pop culture. However, it will take some innovation, reshaping, and great story telling to create that type of atmosphere in a genre that has been slowly declining in the black community. However, I have faith that is about to change real soon. My hopes are to write books that will simultaneously bring a larger appreciation of literature back to the African-American culture and draw the readership of other cultures as well. At the end of the day, if the product is good the majority of people will support it and appreciate it, regardless of creed or color. One Love.
About The Author:
Chayil Champion is a graduate of the University of Miami where he double-majored in English and Journalism while competing in football and track as a two-sport athlete. Champion is the author of multiple genres including, YA Fiction, Juvenile Fiction, Christian Fiction, and non-fiction. His works include Affiliated, Going Pro, newly released Majesties of Canaan: The Goliath Project, and But He Said He Was a Christian. Download his books digitally on your tablet or buy the hard copies at Amazon today!