July 15, 2009 / 2:35 PM / 10 years ago

BOOK TALK: Carleen Brice on bridging racial divides

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Author Carleen Brice is on something of a book publishing crusade, attempting to get the message across to readers that black American fiction isn’t just for black American readers. It is for everybody.

Her first novel, award-winning “Orange Mint and Honey,” was about a relationship between an African American woman and her mother, but it could have been any mother and daughter.

Her new “Children of the Waters” deals with half-sisters of different races — one Caucasian, the other African American — who are separated as children before reuniting as adults.

But the question of racial identification is simply a launching point for a story that delves into family secrets and multi-dimensional characters.

Denver resident Brice, who operates a blog called White Readers Meet Black Authors and who in December orchestrated National Buy a Book By a Black Author and Give It To Somebody Not Black, talked to Reuters about “Children of the Waters” and bridging the racial divide in publishing.

Q: You recently wrote an article for the Washington Post in which you said that in publishing, the accepted wisdom is that books by black authors should be marketed to black audiences first; after that, hopefully, they crossover to whites.” Why?

A: “In publishing, companies tend to do what they have already done successfully. “Waiting to Exhale” was very popular with black readers, then white women started to read it and it crossed over. The powers that be tend to follow what works before. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot of things that might have been successful off the shelf.”

Q: What do you do to change that marketing strategy?

A: “Try to get people to talk about books — to get a dialogue going and keep it going is important. I want book publishers and sellers to be in on that process. People need to pick up a book off a shelf and see that it’s a story about two women or two sisters (not two black women or two black sisters). People who like to read about family relations and dynamics will read that book.”

Q: Is “Children of the Water” such a book?

A: “It’s a book that’s about two women who find out they are related. Even though race plays a part, it is about their relationship. The issue of adoption and how many people are looking for birth parents — that plays across the board. One character is not really open to knowing about her birth family or feeling close to her birth family. The other is, and feels a need to connect and they work through that.”

Q: The book is somewhat based on your own life in that your sister in-law was biracial and separated from her half-sister. As an adult, you discovered you have a half-sister. How did your own experience lend authority to the writing.

A: “One character is bi-racial but identifies as black. But there is another, younger character who can’t make that choice. He feels he’s both. But we don’t have to choose, there are lots of different ways to be in this world ... When I read “Dreams From My Father,” President Obama wrote that he felt he would be perceived as a black man ... I think that’s one big difference in generations. Now, a lot of people are saying, ‘I’m not one or the other.’ I wanted to get across the idea that there are lots of different ways to be, and I wanted to show those ways.”

Q: While race is a big part of “Children of the Waters,” there are family secrets, hidden pasts, multi-dimensional characters, which sound like good summer reading.

A: “That’s one of the things I really want to get across. Every family has drama and secrets and people who get along and people who don’t. I can’t imagine there’s anything in the story that somebody would say, ‘I don’t understand that.’ Families are very much alike no matter where you come from ... It doesn’t matter what color the storyteller is. If you like family stories, you’ll like this. If you like mysteries and thrillers, you are going to like Walter Mosley as much as James Patterson.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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