“I think it’s about authenticity,”
February 13, 2015 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Don't Judge A Book By Its Author by Aminatta Forna [The Guardian]
‘I have never met a writer who wishes to be described as a female writer, gay writer, black writer, Asian writer or African writer’ … Aminatta Forna on her frustration at the book world’s obsession with labels and identity.
posted by Fizz (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Related: Death of the Author by Roland Barthes [wiki]
posted by Fizz at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2015


Much of that argument I remember reading here as well. Storytelling is about pushing your boundaries. We insist on writer credits, but it would be interesting if we had more anonymous books and then after reading them based on their merit find out who actually wrote it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:26 PM on February 13, 2015


MeFi's own anonymous?
posted by XMLicious at 8:39 PM on February 13, 2015


The best novelistic examination of this particular focus on the perceived "cultural identity" of a writer informing their work I've read is Erasure, by Percival Everett; the protagonist (a sort of authorial stand-in) is a black professor of English literature and author of literary novels who's bemused and frustrated at seeing his books shelved under "African-American Fiction" in bookstores, so he writes a pastiche of "Native Son" chock-full of ghetto stereotypes and African-American vernacular...which to his horror finds a publisher and is nominated for a major award.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:23 PM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Really thought-provoking piece, thanks.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:52 AM on February 14, 2015


That odd feeling that you've read an article months ago, but the byline insists that it was published yesterday... ...then I remembered that I had accidentally stumbled upon a fascinating talk on the same theme, while aimlessly flipping between channels late at night. It looks like this article is adapted from that talk, so after a bit of Googling, here's Aminatta Forna's keynote address at Stockholm Literature 2014, for those who prefer to see and hear her talk about this.
posted by effbot at 7:38 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the struggle between author and audience, author loses. Customers like categories because it simplifies the task of finding what they want. Hard cheese if the author can't deliver a categorizable product (and under category, we can include Author as Brand), but there it is.

As to expectation, well, my mind went to Kazuo Ishiguro. If Ms Forna had a problem with the NYC bookshop, it was probably just a matter of her, despite the many awards and nominations, not being high enough profile, even after the in-store appearance. Books are misfiled in bookshops all the time. Again, too bad, but it's nothing personal. The shop would love nothing better than to sell more copies of her work.

it would be interesting if we had more anonymous books and then after reading them based on their merit find out who actually wrote it


Given how obscure most authors are these days, they might as well be anonymous. Though the evil in me enjoys the idea of big names being humbled by public indifference.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:35 AM on February 14, 2015


Excellent article. My perception is that the publishing industry makes wild assumptions about what will sell, and authenticity is simply among them.
I certainly wish they had passed on Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. His attempts to recreate the experiences, dialect and feel of blacks from oakland was insulting at best.

In my own reading life, i find it more and more difficult to separate the author from the subject, especially when the subject is an emotionally fraught experience, trauma or is rooted in a particular ethnic experience.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's true. No one wants their writing categorized and relegated to the "Other" fiction ghetto. Nothing could be a bigger slap in the face to a person's ambitions than to have their art reduced to "social commentary." And of course it mostly happens to those with marked as opposed to unmarked identities. These are people whose work will never be part of the Western or any other universal canon because their work has to be considered literature in the first place and not "imaginative essay expressing discontent and anger." If you've read one, you've read them all.
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:15 AM on February 15, 2015


Books are misfiled in bookshops all the time. Again, too bad, but it's nothing personal.

I'm sort of curious what the initial sortings/filings are usually based on, though: In most bookstores there's probably no way for the staff to know the contents of all the books they carry. Is the sorting done by eyeballing covers when they arrive at the shop or by referencing the subjects list on the copyright page or do they come pre-sorted by publishers or what?
posted by psoas at 4:13 PM on February 17, 2015


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