Right now I'm reading Leaving Cecil Street by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. I'd just finished reading her Blues Dancing about a week ago and Tempest Rising before that, and between reading these three stories, and then thinking about other Black Women's Fiction writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, I realized something. It's rarely a happy story. There is just so much pain discussed and shown and seen, especially on the part of black women, that I just feel heavy and want to cry. And then I think, is that all of our stories? Is that it? How we're not loved enough, or we're used too much, or we're ignored, or we're spotlighted for all the wrong reasons. We easily stray, we stay on the wrong straight-and-narrow? And to think that was what was only offered up until almost thirty years ago when Black romance really started taking off.
Let it be known I appreciate Ms. McKinney-Whetstone and Ms. Morrison and Ms. Walker and Ms. Angelou, etc. I do, and I like how they write, and I loved Blues Dancing almost as much as I loved Tumbling, but I think my current personal space is making my reading of Leaving Cecil Street so hard. I just . . . I want these black women to not only be loved, but to love themselves. And the reason why I appreciate these stories is because often, so very often, we don't as black women, and it shows us that. So when I am reading about these husbands, who love their wives as they say and the author says, straying, or these dirty old men preying on little girls/women (which is particularly notable because someone on an online group put forth her personal theory that little black girls are rarely seen as children, but just small adult black women, and I can't say I disagree with that), or women abusing other women because it's easier to hurt someone else than to deal with the pain you feel yourself, especially because you were never taught how, I just . . . I'm nodding and trying to hold tears at bay and wondering when will it be our turn as a people, to allow ourselves to feel loved and be loved and demand more than what we've been getting. And no, the answer is not "forget black men" and "black men are dogs" or whatever other reasons you hear to rationalize outdating (on both sides). It may not start with us, because we are children when we learn how the world operates, and it takes a long time to unlearn some things, but it does end with us. There has to come a point where we just say "stop" and "no more." I think all the women I've mentioned above allow their heroines to get there, but to watch that journey to that point, breaks my heart, especially when, in many ways, it mirrors my own.
I didn't really discover black romance until Brenda Jackson and reading Surrender. I didn't appreciate it then, either. I was still in high school, I was more fascinated with interracial fiction, especially after reading Sandra Kitt's The Color of Love, so while I thought it was a good story, I set it off to the side because I wanted to read more interracial fiction, especially since they were the types of stories floating around in my head. Fast forward to the beginning of this year and Wild Sweet Love by Beverly Jenkins, and then it was on and popping. I rediscovered Brenda Jackson, became introduced to Gwynne Forster, Francis Ray, Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill, Gwyneth Bolton, Dyanne Davis, AlTonya Washington, and practically inhaled Beverly Jenkins. And I even realized Ms. Kitt wrote more than just interracial romance (see, Adam and Eva), and that she was the first to write for Harlequin. Thank God for these women and their books and the many others who are breaking out onto the scene, or else it would be nothing but heavy reading for black women. And maybe, another part of my hesitation for black romance was because my main readings of black women authors were those heavier tomes, and I was not trying to have any more of that during my "leisure" periods. And, to an even sadder extent, because I didn't see any of that in my own life or on my own television, I thought it was more fictional than even interracial romance. At least Zack and Lisa had a kiss; and Winnie and Christian dated each other. There was no black couple like that in my everyday life, even if I had cousins who were in good marriages.
So now, here I am having published four times, three interracial stories and one AA story. Having completed five more, all of which are interracial, and I am struggling with one story that is completely women's fiction and two stories that are both interracial and aa. As the heavier books show, love, romance, relationships are far more complicated and messy than romance books show, but romance books let you feel that happiness and joy that everyone needs, especially black women. I write both, and apparently in the same story lol. I write both because I need both--I don't want nothing but heaviness in one story and nothing but light in another. I want to run that gamut of emotions, I want to feel . . . everything a human being could feel, everything a black woman doesn't usually allow herself to feel. I want to own that pain that I try to ignore, and I want to own that joy that I try to deny. And maybe that goal makes it difficult to place me with publishers or agents, but my counselor yesterday asked me who is my audience. I didn't answer her for a moment, because I knew it was an incredibly selfish one. I write for me. I am my audience. And something one of my writing instructors back in college says still stays with me now, even if I found that class personally such a struggle--the most personal story is often the most universal.