Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Publishing Books, Extending Conversations: Colson Whitehead, Randall Kennedy

As someone with interests in African American publishing history, I've had a good time following the conversations and reception related to Randall Kennedy's book The Persistence of the Color Line and Colson Whitehead's novel Zone One. Both books have received an unusual amount of attention, especially for works by African American writers.

Among other things, I've been fascinated about how actively involved Whitehead and Kennedy have been in extending the conversations related to their works. The release of their books has given them opportunities to participate in presentations that go beyond the specifics of their books.

For Whitehead, the pre-publication marketing of Zone One led several publications to organize interviews with him, and those interviews provide him the occasions to elaborate on what he had in mind while writing and to discuss a variety of other topics. He's done interviews with Harper's, NPR, The Atlantic, Think Progress, USA Today, and other publications. Those interviews, along with many more reviews of his novel, raise the chances that readers will buy Zone One. However, the coverage does more than raise sales.

For one, the extensive coverage provides readers with more insight and public opinions on Whitehead's work; witnessing dozens of reviewers discuss a common work by a black writer is somewhat rare these days. In addition, the interviews highlight Whitehead's thinking processes about the composition of the novel; aspiring writers and literary critics will find those aspects of the interviews especially useful. Finally, the coverage of Whitehead's novel has been shaping or at least contributing to a broad conversation about what it means for a leading author of literary fiction to embrace a genre like horror focusing on zombies.        

Randall Kennedy's The Persistence of the Color Line received a relatively high number of reviews, and just as important, he has been a guest contributing writer for CNN, The New Republic, and The Root. He has also done interviews, including with Southern Public Radio, NPR, and The Tavis Smiley Show. Kennedy's writings and interviews display a thinker with expansive knowledge about race, legal history, and American culture.

So far, he has weighed in on the fallacies of Toure's book about Post-Blackness, the error of Obama's critiques, why black folks have good reason to disfavor Herman Cain, and the "grievous price" of folks not vetoing Clarence Thomas 20 years ago. Each of those pieces, not to mention the works' collective function, assists in elevating conversations about race in America. 

Following along with the conversations associated with and extending Whitehead's and Kennedy's works has given me useful additional materials to read and consider even beyond their actual books.

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