If you follow Colson Whitehead's and Edwidge Danticat's writing, then you've never had to wait too long for them to produce new novels, short stories, or essays. They seem to regularly release new works. But perhaps that level of productivity from "serious" literary artists is uncommon.
In this week's NYTIMES, the book reviewer Dwight Garner has a piece where he pleads with leading novelists to write "smaller novels and more of them." Garner focuses on literary novelists such as Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen, but I've been thinking for a while about the amount and rate of output offered by black writers.
It's worth noting that publishers often dictate when and how much a writer can publish. I imagine that are some writers out there willing and wanting to publish more and quicker, but their publishers might determine that they should wait. In addition, it's possible that some really prolific writers don't have a publisher or a publisher that's willing to put out all of their work.
But then, there are probably others who have a green-light but are taking their time to produce. I imagine there are quite a few readers ready and waiting for new books by Edward Jones and Toni Morrison, right? Readers are definitely waiting and ready for another offering from Alice Walker and Charles Johnson. And Gayl Jones. And ZZ Packer.
Back in the day, readers likely wanted more novels from Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison, though Hurston's and Ellison's Invisible Man have been wonderful contributions to literary and cultural traditions. In addition to the popularity of Richard Wright's Native Son and Black Boy, part of what made Wright such an important writer was his outstanding productivity.
I wonder what productivity has to do with the successes of Colson Whitehead and Edwidge Danticat. How much has the release of books by the writers every few years over the last 10 years contributed to their importance and visibility on the literary scene?
Perhaps issues associated with productivity--what it means, how authors and publishers control it, how it's influenced by critical and popular reception, etc.--deserve more of our attention in the study of black literature and publishing history.