Saturday, December 1, 2018

Black men writers and the New York Times

New York Times Style Magazine

I've been writing about black men writers, individually and as collectives and cohorts, for quite some time now, so I was fascinated by this recent article, photo shoot, and video project, "Black Male Writers of Our Time," in the New York Times Style Magazine. The project highlighted 32 novelists, poets, playwrights, and a short story writer. It was something to consider that the Times managed to gather such a large group of distinguished black male writers together in the same place.

Ayana Mathis, who wrote the lead article, used "black male," "black men," and "African American men" interchangeably as descriptors throughout the piece. The presentation of so many writers from a shared demographic in a major publication is uncommon and important. Literary art is one of those fields where creators are often recognized in a one-at-a-time manner. Thus, the presentation of a group of writers really stands out.

I thought it was somewhat odd and disappointing that the only question that they had the men respond to, at least in the videos presented, was who they viewed as one of their favorite black women writers. The celebration of select black women writers in that way was not the main problem. Instead, what a missed opportunity to avoid documenting and showcasing what the assembled group had to say about their own work.

But maybe that kind of framing emerged from some attempts to address concerns of various audiences.

Over the last several years whenever I've given presentations on black men writers or when I've submitted an article on black men writers, I've noticed a pattern. White men, white women, and black women tend to ask me to talk more about black women writers. Black men, by contrast, tend to ask me to talk more about a wider variety of black men writers. Perhaps the Times was caught up in something like that as they anticipated appealing to various groups.

Black men writers and creativity, 1995 - 2016
The absence of "black men writers" in dissertations

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yeah, I believe S.A. Williams (if I am not mistaken) calls it the separatists tendency. It seems as though there is a concerted effort to address structural occlusion of black women writers from the terrain and black men writers have been identified as the main culprits. Folk are "interested" in how much we have "changed" since our days of R. Wright and the "entrance" of Morrison--that's how I understand the situation. Just the same, my dissertation focused upon contemporary black male of the few.