Monday, July 27, 2009

Change? Not so much.

Forty-nine years ago next month, Rafer Johnson became the first African-American to captain the U.S. Olympic team, and the first African-American to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies.

I didn't know that until last week.

Something else I didn't know until last week: Justine Larbalestier protested her publisher's decision to put a long-haired white girl on the cover of Liar even though the protagonist is a short-haired African-American.

Justine lost.

David Maraniss' Rome 1960 - which, by the way, features a black man on the front cover an a black woman on the back - makes it pretty clear that Johnson's prominent position was all about propaganda. Sure, he was a great athlete - he won gold in the decathlon - and he was respected by his teammates, and he was a leader, and the story of the 1960 decathlon pretty much sums up the Olympic ideal - but what really counted with the people in charge was creating the image above.

It was an attempt to drown out Cold War criticism of the ongoing segregation in the U.S. - never mind that Wilma Rudolph and her teammates couldn't stop to use a real bathroom when they traveled to meets back home. And the fact that an American observer wondered what his compatriots would think about a "colored boy" leading the team? An anomaly. The Soviets were telling lies.

At the same time, the International Olympic Committee accepted South Africa's claim that there simply weren't any qualified athletes of color in the country, and that was the reason the South African team was whites-0nly.

It's easy to read about the 1960 Olympics and wonder how much has really changed when the Carl Brandon Society still has to issue open letters like this. It's easy to say the Liar fiasco isn't really a surprise.

But what comes next?

I don't do the buying at my store, and I don't have much influence with the buyers. (I don't even buy all that many books myself, thanks to the whole working-at-a-bookstore thing.)

I can't be a writer of color myself, but I can make a conscious effort to bring attention to writers of color here. I was a Latin American studies major; it's not like I have a shortage of works to draw from.

I can pay attention to the conversation, and take part.

And then we'll see what comes next.(The 1960 Olympic marathon was also the first to be won by an African runner, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. He ran the race barefoot because his running shoes were giving him blisters. He won the gold medal again in 1964.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Writers of color

Borrowing this list from Color Online, via The HappyNappyBookseller. X means read, # means on the TBR list, and ! means loved.

Susan’s Unofficial List of Great YA by or About Women of Color:

1. When Kambia Elaine Flew In From Neptune by Lori A. Williams
2. Every Time A Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia
3. No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia
4. Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia
5. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (X)
6. The House You Pass On The Way by Jacqueline Woodson
7. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (#)
8. From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson
9. Sold by Patricia McCormick
10. Heaven by An Na
11. The Parable of The Sower by Octavia E. Butler (!)
12. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (#)
13. Persepolis by Majane Satrapi (X)
14. The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon (!)
15. Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (!)
16. Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis (#)
17. A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (#)
18. Down To The Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
19. Don’t Get It Twisted by Paula Chase
20. Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson (!)
21. Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper
22. Kendra by Coe Booth (!)
23. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (#)
24. Does My Head Look Big In This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah (X)
25. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
26. Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim (X)
27. The Meaning of Conseulo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
28. In The Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (!)
29. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (!)
30. First Part Last by Angela Johnson
31. Pemba’s Song by Marilyn Nelson
32. Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan
33. M + O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin (#)
34. Lucy The Giant by Sherri L. Smith
35. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (X)
36 Throwaway Piece by Jo Ann Hernandez
37. White Bread Competition by Jo Ann Hernandez
38. Across A Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande (#)
39. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
40. Ash by Malinda Lo
41. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

It's hardly a comprehensive list of the writers of color I've read and loved, let alone my ever-growing TBR list, but it's a start.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blog Love

I admit it: I have a blog-crush.

Instead of fluttering my eyelashes and flipping my hair and waiting to see if he noticed me, I keep checking for the next post at the Abbeville Manual of Style. And the latest post is why.

This is what I've wanted to say to all the "but I want my cheap e-books now" complaints, only I hadn't figured out the words:
Let’s be clear, however: even if they are slow to accomplish this, an unchecked spree of digital book piracy will be a failure of law enforcement, not of business innovation. Customers do not have the right to steal goods that they can’t obtain as cheaply or conveniently as they might prefer... You could also have invested in a portable CD player and suffered the inconvenience of carrying a little extra weight, because that was the legal option. You didn’t have to steal music any more than we have to go shoplift from Gristedes right now because their prices aren’t as low as we might like, or because they won’t offer the convenience of, say, delivering groceries to our office this minute.
Personally, I'd like this dress in my size with a zero knocked off the price, but I'm not going to whine about not getting it - and it would be utterly baseless for me to do so.

So mwah, Abbeville. Thanks for being the voice of reason!