Sunday, June 19, 2011

Black Book Trailers & Publishing History: Scott Poulson-Bryant's The VIPs

It's been hard for me to pay closer attention to the conversations about Kenneth Warren's book What Was African American Literature? in part because the new directions and innovations taking place in the contemporary publishing histories of black writing have been so wonderfully distracting.

There's novelist Colson Whitehead on twitter; poet Treasure Williams on facebook; and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates blogging for The Atlantic. I've just started trying to say something about that powerful sonnet sequence that Nikky Finney produced; Evie Shockley's the new black; and Kevin Young's Ardency. Finney's, Shockley's, and Young's volumes of poetry are all notable achievements for different reasons.

Oh, and then looking back not too far,, many of us, have to write more about what it was we witnessed with Aaron McGruder's moves as a writer from The Boondocks as comic strip to The Boondocks as cartoon.

So there was much to consider already. And now there's this: black book trailers.

A month or so ago, I stumbled onto a book trailer for Scott Poulson-Bryant's upcoming novel The VIPs. There are now four book trailers for Poulson-Bryant's book. The trailers appear on youtube, and I first became aware of the vids through tweets and retweets on twitter.

Poulson-Bryant's book is hardly the first African American novel to have a trailer. A few years ago BookVideosTV uploaded a video of Colson Whitehead discussing his novel Sag Harbor as he walked around the town. Perhaps that Whitehead video was a trailer? Yeah, it was. 

That video certainly served to build interest in the author and his novel.

The trailers for The VIPs function in a similar way, and these are even a little more enticing and artfully designed.  Check out the first one in the series.

The carefully paced linguistic texts in the early seconds of the video sets the drama. 4 Old Friends. 1 Stranger. 1 Question... "Which one of you bastards is my father?" 

The somewhat mysterious sounding background music also helps push the anticipation along. Folks who know their hip hop history will recognize the song as "Affirmative Action" by the rap group The Firm, which also included artists Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature. AZ, the voice we hear in the trailer, was speaking the intro to the song. 

That whole "dropping knowledge about the game before the music really starts" approach displayed by AZ has been a staple in rap for years. It works really well, I realized, for the purposes of this specific book trailer. "This is what they want, hunh?" asks AZ. "Time to take affirmative action, son," he says as the words "a novel / by Scott Poulson-Bryant" appear on screen.    

As a movie and rap fan with interests in technology/afrofuturism and publishing histories of black writing, you have to know that's a small yet special moment for me seeing that convergence of trailer, words on a black screen, rap music, and the presentation of a literary artist.

The music and name Scott Poulson-Bryant operate as useful cultural signifiers. For one, the music marks and situates the trailer and by extension the novel as African American. Some audiences will recognize Poulson-Bryant's name; he's a veteran and widely respected music journalist, especially in the areas of hip hop. For the uninitiated, the trailer will perhaps raise interest and curiosity as good trailers are designed to do, right?     

Notably, a book trailer like those for The VIPs makes an appeal through words, moving texts, and culturally distinct music, thus tapping into multiple senses. Two of the later trailers in the series include the opening music from "Papa was a Rolling Stone" by The Temptations. Given the subject matter of Poulson-Bryant's novel--a protagonist trying to figure out "which one of you bastards is my father?," that song is a humorous and fitting match for the trailers.     

Admittedly, those trailers for The VIPs have increased my interest and anticipation in Poulson-Bryant's upcoming novel. I'm also intrigued with the possibility that more black writers will use book trailers to get the word out about their novels, collections of short stories, volumes of poetry, and even scholarly books. In the case of the The VIPs, the trailers attempt to appeal to folks beyond the traditional book buying public.

1 comment:

SPB said...

yo man thanks for the shout-out. Nice piece!