Sister Souljah, Jackie Collins: The Book Briefing
In dozens of novels written over a decades-long career, romance writer Jackie Collins has clearly observed the role of sex and power in Hollywood. She has written incisively about abuse in the industry and empowered female characters who have found liberation in a male-dominated world. She was brilliant and prescient – and overlooked in literary circles by those who called her work airport junk.
Like Collins, many authors who write mainstream novels, especially those whose readers are predominantly female, and even more those whose readers are black women, are sidelined despite their wide appeal. Take Sister Souljah’s influential book Coldest winter ever, which has sold over a million copies and has been loved by a generation for its nuanced portrayal of its protagonist’s community. Today, the work is relegated to the realm of the “lit street” and rarely considered a classic of American literature. Or, look at the work of Jennifer Weiner, a masterful storyteller whose books are often dismissed as lacking in artistic merit. Critics have even attacked the literary merit of Pulitzer Prize-winning Donna Tartt on the basis of her popularity. A few crowd-pleasing authors escape this trap. Elena Ferrante is perhaps the most notable example, garnering intense loyalty from fans, who sought to defend her name several years ago after her publisher released tongue-in-cheek “chick” style book covers. lit “for his works. But many more popular writers are ridiculed than defended.
Taking a genre or a work for the general public seriously means recognizing the discreet know-how of its pages. Collins and Sister Souljah’s books, for example, slyly analyze the very institutions that aim to undermine them. Romance author Eric Jerome Dickey took a lighter approach. Her novels draw striking portraits of black women experiencing love, desire and joy.
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Jackie Collins at her Beverly Hills home in 1995 (CNN Films)
The soft radicalism of erotic fiction
“To read a [Jackie] Collins’ novel, like about half a billion humans, is that sex and power are inextricable. No one harnessed the dynamics of the two as cleverly at the end of the 20th century as she did.
Anthony Barboza / Getty
The original bad bitch of literature is back
“Sister Souljah’s books challenge readers and critics vested in a specific vision of literary ‘black excellence’. Some black authors and booksellers bristled, sometimes sadly, with the mass-market appeal of novels like his.
Joshua Lott / Reuters
When women’s literary tastes are deemed less worthy
“Many of the novels that sell well are mainstream genre readings – romance, mystery, etc. – that travelers buy at airports or that shoppers grab the discount tables at Walmart. Many novels which do not selling well, meanwhile, are of the kind discussed in high profile publications.
The subtle genius of Elena Ferrante’s bad covers
“While Ferrante’s covers are definitely trite, there’s not much about them that’s genuinely condescending. There are no flowers, no martini glasses, no shopping bags on Ferrante’s blankets, no high-heeled condescension. There are just pictures of women doing things that women, in fact, do occasionally: standing still, holding children, being on the beach. And yet, the very image of women doing things now seems illiterate, even to female readers.
The work of Eric Jerome Dickey is a master class in Black Joy. (Yola Monakhov / The New York Times / Redux)
Eric Jerome Dickey Made Black Women Feel Seen
“Dickey’s characters – bold, intelligent women who ooze sexuality and vulnerability – navigate interpersonal conflict using dialogue that crackles with authenticity… By presenting his characters’ struggles as valid, he asserted that the struggles of mostly black women reading it were equally valid. “
About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she reads next is The other black girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris.
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