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The Power of African American Authors




We are lucky to live in a society in which most of us have access to libraries, little free libraries or bookstores. We have the option to read audiobooks, e-books or physical books. And, as an avid bookworm (and bookdragon becuase why be just one when you can be both), I could not be happier about that. But, as a mother, a reader and a bookseller, I also see that we still have areas that we need to do better.


Creating stories to be loved by others or that share knowledge about something we are passionate about is a dream for many and, it can often feel like we have an over abundance of authors ready to provide us with information and stories. But what if I said that wasn't exactly the case?


According to wordsrated.com, in the years of 2015-2019, only 1-2% of writers succeed in getting their works published. Is that lower then you expected? Yea, me, too. And, even though, the percentage of white authors have lowered to 7.48% sine 2010, and the number of African American or Black authors has risen by 0.87% (wordsrated.com), these authors only represent 5.93% of authors. When you look at these numbers, it's no wonder many of us need to actively seek out black and African American authors to read consciously. It's no wonder that many of our family libraries are dominated by white authors, after all, white authors seem to dominate the author's club.


So, you may be asking me, why is this an everyone problem and not just a "them" problem? And, yes. It is a problem. Because, if you're like me, you never had to think about or search through the shelves seeking out books that represented you or helped you feel seen. People like me (and I'm guilty of this, too) tend to grow up taking it for granted that we will see ourselves in the books we read and in the authors we love. We become so used to it, in fact, that we don't realize the power that we find in that and we tend to become blind to the fact that not everyone has that luxury.


At the risk of stating the obvious, everyone deserves to feel seen and heard. Everyone deserves to have a voice and dream. What we can't forget is that, for many of us, those things are sparked through stories like the books we read and hear even before we are able to read ourselves, and those stories are more important then we cold ever imagine as a child. By seeing ourselves represented in the stories we experience, or self-image, sense of belonging and cultural awareness are all directly impacted. We tend to seek out stories that can see ourselves in, sparking imagination, our self identity and inspiring us to dream big and work hard, because it's possible to achieve our goals, just like those in our favorite stories.


By experiencing stories told by members of our own community, we reserve the opportunity to explore our own cultures and people while furthering the values, beliefs, challenges and successes of those who came before us and those who living today. We are taught what is expected of us, what is possible, what can only be dreamed according to society. We derive strength and hope from others whom we relate to.


In cultures that are rich with tradition, this becomes incredibly important, as those stories help to pass along the tradition of one generation to another. For example, the African American and Black communities have a strong history of oral traditions, created as a means of preserving their cultures, historis, struggles and lives even when they were refused the basic rights to learn to read and white. By passing stories down through word of mouth, they could share, teach, relay and even keep alive the culture, history, experiences, values, lessons and heroes who were not just important but essential and beloved by those who had the honor or hearing and telling them. The importance combined with the deeply-rooted rhythmic patterns, poetic elements, call and response style come together to form immersive and engaging experiences that can not just teach the next generation but also open important conversations.


These narratives woven together by members of the community the story is about, provides an authentic patchwork of experiences and realities faced by the members of the community, giving a voice to it's members and preserving cultural heritages that prove essential to life lived at that time in history.


Our modern works are no exception to the rule, often infused with the beaty of oral storytelling while providing an account of society of today and how the culture and the author fit into that society.


Combining all of these factors together allow black and African American readers to see themselves in stories of success, celebrate history told not just by one side of the events, but multiple sides. These works create a form of call and response even today and allow the black community to not just see themselves but give them a voice in a world that doesn't always like to listen. They allow a community to see themselves in many facets of life and leaving their mark on the world. And we need that. We need people to stand up and leave their mark to make the world better. It even helps readers engage and become invested in the stories and, maybe, with more inclusion, we'll see an increase of readers.


Now, hold on. Sure, we don't all identify as part of the same community. My kids are white. Not all classrooms are majority filled with those who identify as black or African American. These books, these stories are still incredibly important. One more time for those in the back. THESE STORIES TOLD BY MEMBERS OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY ARE IMMENSELY IMPORTANT TO US ALL. When we read stories told by members of other cultures, we not only have the opportunity to learn about that culture in very subtle ways and very big ways, we increase our cultural understanding. We become more informed about other people. We have the opportunity to hear the stories of others and learn form them, forming a better understanding of their experiences through authentic sources. They give us the chance to become more cultural aware as well as an opportunity to open conversation, ask questions and better diversify our own communities.


The power of seeing ourselves in our stories not only validates our experiences and gives us a platform to better understand those around us no matter what we look like. Not only does it provide so many healthy and important benefits to those within the same communities, it allows those who are not to learn and grow as a person.


And that's why we need more. Why we rave about black and African American authors during the month of February and why we get excited when new or more black or African American authors make their way into the spotlight. They have the power to change the world in ways we can only imagine and that's pretty amazing if you ask me.


Share the love. Who are some of your favorite black or African American authors? What genres and age groups do they write for? Tell us in the comments.



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