Mat Johnson: Debating Black Books

Mat Johnson continues to offer some interesting arguments and definitions on his blog, this time in a posting about the differences between high and low culture and their respective relationships to the marketplace.

Of interest is that he puts his reasons for trying to start a dialog at the end of the posting (which I include below). But the essay is worth a look, if only for his willingness to lay out the kinds of demands different kinds of writing have not only for their readers, but also for their writers.

Why I’m Bothering

Another thing that has come up repeatedly, from emails and other responses, is why I’m even bothering to trying to have a critical dialogue at all. For those that wonder, here is a list of my intentions for this dialogue:

1. To create an understanding of the difference between highbrow and lowbrow art in the African American community, and for an intellectual space for both of them so that they might better co-exist.

2. To make aspiring literary writers aware of the pitfalls between them and their goals.

3. To foster inter-community discussion about the current direction of African American literature.

4. To bring a discussion about quality of writing to the black commercial fiction arena.

5. To turn these resultant discussion into an anthology to be published by my new imprint, Niggerati Manor Productions ($39.95 hardcover). Then to come up with a nationwide speaking tour, charging college campuses another $8-12,000 a pop to have a live debate on their campus (think Carl Webber versus Edward P. Jones). Next, I’ll spin that off into a reality show on BET where 10 writers live together, struggling to get published, but one team is commercial and the other literary. We’ll kick one off each episode, with the tag line “You’re a hack!” This show will of course be hosted by LeVar Burton, the winner being published by Niggerati Manor Productions with us retaining the movie rights (because let’s face it, it’s all about the movie rights). Then it’s just sit back, and let the revenue streams pour in.

Now, dear reader, it’s time to test your critical thinking skills. Which of the above statements is false?

Frankie Y Bailey reports …

… on her blog that her new book is done. It is the latest in the series of Lizzie Stewart mysteries by the UAlbany professor in the school of criminal justice.

Sorry to have been away so long. I have been busy with the final copyediting of You Should Have Done on Monday. The manuscript is now on the way to press. (Imagine me jumping up and down).

Here’s what Publishers Weekly says:

Criminal justice professor Lizabeth Stuart investigates her paternity and her long-lost mother’s checkered past in Bailey’s fourth mystery (after 2003’s Old Murders), a story rich in history if not suspense. Raised by her grandparents in Drucilla, Ky., Lizzie never knew her mother, Becca Hayes, who abandoned her at birth. Now 39 years old and on the verge of engagement to her boyfriend, police officer John Quinn, Lizzie is especially determined to understand her past. With help from Quinn and PI Kyle Sheppard, she connects her mother to Chicago gangster Nick Mancini, who was stabbed to death in 1969. After 22-year-old Becca, who was Nick’s girlfriend and the chief suspect, disappeared without a trace, musician Robert Montgomery confessed to the crime. Decades later, Lizzie’s effort to track down the key players in this drama takes her from her home in Gallagher, Va., to Chicago; Wilmington, N.C.; and finally New Orleans. New readers might wish for more character development, but series fans should be pleased.

Value of unimportance

In grad school, one class got into a debate about a published comment that art was meaningless, meaning it was a thing outside commerce and utility. This seemed overly idealistic, or maybe only true in the eyes of the creator. And it seems Jonathan Lethem has stepped into this debate in the Boston Globe with the statement about his latest book “You Don’t Love Me Yet” as being “a profoundly unimportant book.”

Here’s a bit from The Elegant Variation:

According to a Q&A between the Boston Globe and Jonathan Lethem on Sunday, Lethem says You Don’t Love Me Yet is “a profoundly unimportant book.”

What does it mean for a book to be “unimportant”? Surely not “Don’t even bother to read it, it’s that unimportant.” I have a hard time believing he’d have bothered to write it. The interview gestures at a definition of “unimportant” that belongs to Nabokov: literature serves no social function, only provides artistic delight. But that’s a form of importance, right? To me, that’s one of the primal important things. I haven’t read You Don’t Love Me Yet yet, so there’s no insight here, but so what if it’s not original, or educational, or politically conscious. Those aren’t the only requirements for relevancy. If it’s about “language and life and the impulse to make art [and evoke] feeling in the reader — laughter, embarrassment, yearning,” well, those things are important, no? Maybe the quote was cut off. I’d like to believe he said, “It’s a profoundly important book for being a profoundly unimportant book.”

POLL: How Do You Discover Books?

hey, reader, check out this quick and easy poll and Media Bistro. The poll through Tuesday, March 13. Go here:

A new blog!

The New York State Writers Institute has just launched a blog, run by its director, Donald Faulkner.

It’s still in the early stages, but give it a look. It is sure to be a great supplement to the quality slate of authors NYSWI always bring in.

The URL is:

Nothing sells like controversy

The AP’s top-notch books reviewer and writer Hillel Italie reports that the Newbery Award-winning children’s book that has started a controversy about the word “scrotum” — The Higher Power of Lukcy — has climbed the sales ranks at

His story is here.

The blog Media Bistro weighs in on it here.

All about the NYTimes Book Review

The Elegant Variation has all the links you need about:

Everything you ever wanted to know about the New York Times Book Review but were afraid to ask.