Literary segregation?

Lila Byock writes (in email):

Your MLK Day post reminded me of my recent trip to Borders. There, while attempting to max out my gift card, I noticed a smaller, secondary shelf within the Literature section devoted to “African-American Literature.” This is where a shopper would need to look if she wanted to find Edward P. Jones, for example, or Zora Neale Hurston, or ZZ Packer. No hope, in other words, of any Paul Auster fans discovering James Baldwin next door.

It made me curious about the qualifications for inclusion on that particular shelf. Would you find Chinua Achebe there, or is it exclusively for Americans? Might white writers be included if their fiction is chiefly concerned with African-Americans? Or is it merely that old criterion — “a single drop of negro blood”?

In any case, the whole endeavor struck me as quaint at best, and at worst, a creepy kind of cultural segregationism. This was in Hyannis, MA, by the way (not the northeast’s most diverse small town), and I don’t know if the shelf represents a chainwide policy.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.