Book segregation

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

Does it matter that Percival Everett is black? Or that Richard Powers is white? If they’ve both writing about black/white relationships in America, should they both be in African-American fiction? Should Booker nominees and winners Alan Hollinghurst and Sarah Waters be in Gay and Lesbian sections, or shelved in the Literature and Fiction section?

A bookseller friend has in the past had local authors coming into the store and voicing unhappiness about where their books are shelved — particularly writers who happened to be gay and lesbian. Some were insulted to be placed in the “Gay and Lesbian” section, as though this were a way of saying, “You’re not very good, but you’ll find readers here.” Others bristled at being excluded from the Gay and Lesbian section, who they viewed as their primary audience.

Earlier this week, Lila Byock wrote in with her own reader’s experience of literary segregation. I’m with Lila in believing that while well-intentioned, it’s a bad idea to create special sections for fiction written by and about certain groups. As a reader, I’m disturbed by the implications of an “African-American” section and a “Gay and Lesbian Interest” section, with a separate “Literature” section in another section. Whose “literature”? Our identities shouldn’t be the boundaries of our interests, should they?


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