Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Pedestal of Author

Yesterday, I received a sweet little e-missive from a fellow author. In it, she lovingly but firmly told me about the concept of The Pedestal of Author. Backstory: I've gotten mostly good reviews on Wind Follower. When I have gotten bad reviews, I let it slide. Everyone has an opinion. When I get a really, really, really bad review....where the reviewer obviously hasn't written the book....well, I actually try to defend myself. Which is a no-no in writing circles, I'm told.

Anyway, the concept of The Pedestal of Author now has me thinking. What do I as an author think an author should be? What do I as an author expect my readers to think of me? What do I as a reader expect an author to be?

In some cultures certain kinds of vocation and work are considered important or honorable or "great." Nice job if you can get it. For instance, teachers are generally honored in many cultures. Doctors and Actors are honored in the United States.

In the black community, there is always so much pride and joy in great achievers. When I used to work in the high school I thought this pride in greatness was a bit dangerous. Kind of like an ethnic Cinderella Complex. Poor kids didn't want to be regular folks with normal jobs. They wanted to be famous rappers, great singers, sportscasters. It was as if their lives had been so bad that they only way they could overcome it would be to be in-your-face-famous with tons of bling, ho's, boy-toys, etc. I totally understand that. (And yeah, I'm actually cool with all those women wanting to hook up with Flavor Flav or Bret on VH1. You gotta do what you gotta do to get by. And hey, nice job if you can get it. But most people aren't gonna be famous. Fame is so important in our society. The nature of fame is that some folks simply are....and some folks aren't.

But I'm an author. Plodding work, a work of endurance, a work that revolves around ideas. I'm not particularly famous, though. Although you'd think from the way some folks in the hood behave, I'm the hottest thing since Vanilla Chai.

Hey, I don’t mind representing. What really makes my day at signings, etc is the love and appreciation my people have for me. They’re glad that I – a Black Woman– succeeded. If they are little old ladies, they ask where they can buy my book. When I tell them “from any bookstore!” they just smile and rejoice with me. Yes, I'm in a bookstore! When I say it's not self-published, it's from a traditional publisher, they really smile. When I say the book has so many religious stuff in it and so many racial stuff in it, but a secular publisher published it, they shout, "Praise the Lord! HE is able!" As a culture we have seen so many failures and struggles, that many of us still have a genuine joy and appreciation for those in our culture who have succeeded. Poor folks in the hood -- even the white ones-- love the idea that I'm an author.

Yeah, I’ll admit it. I get all teary-eyed when some Public Service Announcement pops up which states, “A black man created this…” “A black scientist discovered that…” And, yeah, I’m glad when I enter a room of little old Black ladies and they get teary-eyed over me.

Should we try to keep the mystique of Author Greatness? Do I OWE it to my people to behave like a real author, someone who symbolizes wisdom, persevereance, polish....and uh, maturity? If I DO try, how long can I keep up with it? Will I be able to be that other person long enough until it becomes second nature? When it become second-nature, will I become a pill, a know-it-all, or an object of pride and a help to all who know me?

Lord, help my people to continue to do great things. I'm trusting you to help me write this new WIP. Amen.
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