Saturday, July 24, 2010

Comments on "Urban fiction boosting the book industry"

Some responses on Facebook to my previous blog, "Urban fiction boosting the book industry?" What do you think?

Posted by Melodye Micere Van Putten
>Definitely falling off the cliff... In the mainstream bookstores under "Black Authors", that is all you see... you have to search for classic, intellectual or truly notable authors. Aka, "ghetto lit", is not progress!

Posted by Threefifths Tes
>So would you call Books like C l a u d e B r o w n Manchild in the Promised Land.

Or Piri Thomas book Down These Mean Streets.

>Posted by lisa@nowrisebooks No, Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land doesn't glorify thug life. His book is autobiography, non-fiction; thug literature, ghetto lit, refers to fiction--works of the imagination.

In Manchild, Brown describes the gangs and street life he actually experienced, portraying what violent and criminal activities he and his young cohorts engaged in because they were rebellious and/or lacked constructive direction from adults.

Brown dedicates his book to Eleanor Roosevelt because, as I recall, she was instrumental in establishing the reform school he was "sentenced" to as a juvenile delinquent. The perils of gang life, undirected youth, reform, redemption, the need for government and society to provide the resources to help youth live up to their potential, these are the overarching messages in Manchild. Ghetto lit -- the few I have read or read through -- doesn't point the way out of that life; it resigns itself to living within the gang and violent street life, perhaps only escaping in death.

Ironic you mention Manchild because I decided a few days ago to re-read it after about 35 years.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Urban fiction boosting the book industry?

I'll have more posts on my visit to the Harlem Book Fair last weekend, but I wanted to make this quick note about urban fiction, which was abundantly represented--or overrepresented--at HBF 2010.

This afternoon I sat in on a webinar that focused on the impact of independent publishers on the U.S. book market. Jamie Carter, a representative from the data group Publisher Alley (a division of the pre-eminent book wholesaler Baker & Taylor) talked about sales trends among books produced by independent publishers. One trend she noted was that sales were ranked high enough among urban fiction to make it a top-selling category among independent publishers on the Baker & Taylor list (for the period between Sept 2008 through June 2010.) Carter said the fact that urban fiction titles ranked highly on the Baker & Taylor list showed that it has potential in traditional venues.

Carter went on to say that she had heard anecdotally that urban fiction, also known as "thug literature," was popular, especially in the New York area, and that a lot of it is sold from the trunks of cars. Urban fiction is underserved by traditional publishers and represents an opportunity for market expansion, Carter said, to my dismay.

This news from Baker & Taylor adds to my disappointment with the abundant representation of urban fiction booksellers at the HBF, which I will blog about on a later post. I am still sorting my thoughts out about the enthusiasm I could feel by seeing so many Black writers and publishers entering the industry, on the one hand, versus the discomfort with the quality of the content and morality of the story lines of their books, on the other hand. Or am I just judging books by their covers? No, I have read a few of these books. I am struggling with my own extreme points of view as profound as, "judge not lest ye also be judged" versus "this has got to stop!" Leaning towards "this has got to stop." What do you think?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thanks to all

Thanks everyone who participated in the Now Rise Books sales promotion coinciding with the Harlem Book Fair 2010!
Hope you are enjoying your good reads.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is Racial Justice Passe? - HBF 2010 panel

Good discussion on topic, "Is Racial Justice Passe? Barack Obama, American Society, and Human Rights in the 21st Century," from panelists Yohuru Williams, William Jelani Cobb, Peniel Joseph, Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Paul Butler, and Steve Clark.

Williams was on point when he said that we need to provide young people with the history and give them the love and support to take the baton in activism; Joseph was clear in saying that President Obama is connected to the Black Power movement; however, he can't be held accountable as an activist, such as Malcolm X--he is not an activist, but he can be held accountable in his role as president.

Many props to Gloria J. Browne-Marshall in particular for asking how will we know how much justice is available if we don't read The Constitution to find out what is possible, what is afforded to us as citizens. Browne-Marshall said we need to take the criminal justice system apart; how much justice do we have? Think about it, she said: "I certainly don't have enough!"

Sorry the promoted booksigning after the discussion didn't come off. Where were the books?

Couldn't find Browne-Marshall but did catch (pictured above) Yohuru Williams, Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power and the Black Panthers in New Haven and Peniel Joseph and his book, Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. Met Yohuru when he was promoting his book in New Haven a few years ago--good brother.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Look for me at the Harlem Book Fair 2010 - Catch our sale 7/17 thru 7/19!

Preparing to go to the Harlem Book Fair 2010, July 17th, Harlem, NYC, 135th St. and Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave.) Want to see various panel discussions with historian Peniel Joseph, children's book publisher Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, author Yohuru Williams (Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven), Wes Moore, The Other Wes Moore and many others.

Check back with us at the end of the day tomorrow -- Now Rise Books will run a special sale for HBF attendees--and anyone who orders our books online by midnight, Monday, July 19th!

Look for us at the Harlem Book Fair tomorrow! Have a great day!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What is the first book you read that most closely reflected what was familiar in your own life?

Maya Angelou (DevotionReader Copyright 2009)
I read a lot of books as a child, but it was not until I was 14 years old that I first "heard" the cadences and sauciness of one of my relatives speaking loudly to me from the page. It was in the dramatic monologues of several poems in Maya Angelou's collection, JUST GIVE ME A COOL DRINK OF WATER 'FORE I DIIIE. I remember hearing the familiar speech of my Aunt Thelma in two poems in particular, "When I Think About Myself," and "No Loser, No Weeper," and I was floored.

Just Give Me a Cook
Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie
Although I was reading the lines of those poems for the first time, the words were drumming a familiar beat in my chest as if someone were also speaking them from somewhere deep inside me. At the same time, I also thought someone was speaking the words behind me, and I even shifted a little to look over my shoulder. It was my Aunt Thelma that I heard saying those words, though she was nowhere nearby. Her talent for elocution was marked by her winsome ability to bend and stretch syllables, taking the listener on a rollercoaster ride of high and low pitches, punctuated by sharp endstops on words she spoke in emphasis. As long as what she had to say ended with everyone feeling in good spirits, listening to Aunt Thelma was a cautious delight when I was a child.

"The tales they tell sound just like lying" is a line from, "When I Think About Myself." I read the eight words intellectually, but in my head I heard Aunt Thelma perform them with attitude. I heard her draw out the word, "tales," in two or three beats longer than it routinely takes to speak that word, then at the end of the line her voiceover bleated out the words, "just like lying," in three overemphasized beats like James Brown's horn section at the end of a number. Aunt Thelma's personality, already submerged inside me, had taken over my reading of the poem. I knew it was her because I was too reserved as a teenager to show out like that.

I wondered, "did Maya Angelou know Aunt Thelma?" How could she have so faithfully transcribed Aunt Thelma's personal style into these poems? 

Not too long after thinking intently about this, I realized that Maya Angelou was not transcribing just my aunt. Ms. Angelou had captured a certain personality, a certain cultural sensibility present in the Black community, especially as expressed by some women, and one that could be traced from the South, to the North to the West, and even across generations. And this was an important revelation for me because it was the first time I recognized that my family, the persons in my family, were part of a living and dynamic cultural fabric, and that by virtue of that connection, we, the Parker family, were not only an individual unit but in some way we typified and exemplified some of the traditions and cultural norms of Black Americans.
From that time on I read history and literature with an understanding that some of what I was reading about Black folks could be found in the stories or expressions of members of my family, and that I could learn some of these things by just by sitting around the kitchen table listening to my grandmother, my mother and my aunts talking. I felt connected to a society whose outlines I had not seen so clearly before, threads of my African American cultural heritage connected directly to my family. It was powerful; it gave me a sense of belonging. I felt that the commonality in my culture was an inheritance. 

Since that time I have even more deeply valued the power of literature and history to contribute to learning about myself and my culture, and how I am linked with other African Americans and Black folks dynamically across the Diaspora. The history and literature also gives me a background and platform to discuss experiences with folks of other races, and from which to find understanding even if our experiences are different. That is what I gained when I found something that was familiar to my own life while reading a book.

Monday, July 12, 2010

President Obama takes the high ground

Our featured title this week is Best African American Essays: 2009. The caption below the book cover image is a quote which comes from a piece in the book, Stanley Crouch's essay, "The High Ground":

"[Barack Obama] is in the business of acting as though e pluribus unum is the connecting foundation upon which all necessary change must be built, and his supporters obviously agree with him."

The quote referred to Barack Obama's performance during the 2008 presidential campaign. Even during the campaign, however, candidate Obama had to address the race issue, as a result of attacks brought on by his close association with his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Now that he is in the White House, do you think that President Obama is acting on the same principle of this government, e pluribus unum, "out of many, one"? The excoriation of Mr. Obama by the Tea Party, the disrespect of Joe ("You lie!") Wilson of South Carolina, the unrelenting attacks by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, among others, demonstrates that we are not living in a post-racial society, so is it possible for President Obama to be the post-racial president?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Many thousands gone ...and still going

I was pulling packing slips this morning; one was for the book, Many Thousand Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. The economic injustice of slavery is enough of a travesty--multi-million dollar revenue gained by slave owners and the government over centuries in exchange for food scraps and pocket change, if any monetary compensation was paid at all to us. But what is also insidious about slavery is the contemptuous attitude that Whites developed for Black people over the centuries. They equated the menial economic status of Black people with our value as human beings, and made the moral error of degrading us, in their minds, to a status less than human.

Today, the attitude of contempt toward Blacks lingers among many White people. That was the context on January 1, 2009 in Oakland, California, that allowed White policeman Johannes Mehserle to pull his gun and shoot to kill a Black man, Oscar Grant, who was lying prone on the ground surrounded by Mehserle and other policemen. To compound the injustice, the all White jury propped up Mehserle's lame excuse that he thought he was firing his taser gun instead of his department issued weapon.

That excuse is blatant disrespect for the law--it says the law (as well as common sense and any professional self-respect on Mehserle's part) is void where it may result in a penalty against a White person for assaulting a Black person. That excuse echoes the sentiment expressed by (Supreme Court Justice) Roger B. Taney in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, 1857, in which Taney said Black people were of an "inferior order" so much so that "they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Taney's opinion promotes anarchy as it relates to Black people in America.

But what shall we do about it today?

Cut out the buffoonery that we waste time consuming from the radio and tv and the movies, and give our children a clearer idea of what they are up against, for one. Also, in our homes, communities and churches, teach them the legacy of dignity, self-determination and achievement modeled by Tubman, Delany, Douglass, Truth and others during the dreadful period of enslavement. Our children must know that we didn't take it without protest. We must maintain the same attitude of agitation against injustice today in order to combat residual notions of Black inferiority.

Of course, it is not easy; the history is painful to recall. But living through those periods was not easy either, and many thousands gone did what they had to do in order to move succeeding generations that much closer to achieving economic opportunity and and social equality.

Face the truth of our past, and the wretched condition we lived under due to the wretched moral state of the people who oppressed us. But also, glean the inspiring stories about our struggle; raise those as our standard, and let's make more inspiring achievements to motivate the generations coming after us.

That's the greater aim I have in establishing Now Rise Books, to see improvement in our present state and greater possibilities for our people to live holistically sound lives, even if the social climate does not improve. I believe the social climate will improve, actually, as Black folks look at our past squarely, call it what it was, and begin to heal from the past. I know of at least one grassroots effort, the Community Healing Network, that is dedicated to bringing about that healing among Black people--check them out on Facebook.

Finally, the poet Margaret Walker called us out on a lot of our "stuff" in her poem, "For My People," but near the end of the poem, she sums up Black folks' well-meaning struggle as one rooted in the concept of social equality, to improve not only our own lot but also "to fashion a world that wiil hold all the people all the faces all the adams and eves and their countless generations..." (emphasis mine).

In the last verse, Ms. Walker issued a call to action that I took to heart and that has laid the foundation of what I am doing as a bookseller and writer encouraging our folks to learn our history. Walker wrote:

"Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace by written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth, let a people loving freedom come to growth, let a beauty full of healing and strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control!"

Thursday, July 8, 2010

raising the rates

The Post Office has proposed a hefty rate increase, more than a 20% increase in media mail, as I understand it. That's the wrong move at the wrong time for those of us who send small parcels--books--at the standard rate. I buy plenty of books online, too, so I'll feel it on both ends. Looks like the cost of pursuing a well stocked home library may increase a few nickels. Oh well, it's back to basic cable... .

What it's about at now rise books

Hello everyone. Welcome to Now Rise Books blog! I am Lisa, the creator of the blog and owner of the bookselling business, Now Rise Books. Like many of you who have landed in this space, I am a lifelong book lover. I've created this blog to talk about the books that I handle in my business (awesome!), to elaborate on the power of books to change lives, to promote individual empowerment and social justice through literacy, and to encourage gaining knowledge of history (in order to understand the present and influence for the future) through reading, research and writing.
I love books that fit across a diverse spectrum of genres and periods, and I especially find my interests satisfied by the tremendous selection of used books available. I sell used books. You can view my Now Rise Books storefront on

In fact, I started bookselling about 20 years ago by pulling titles from my own home library to sell at fundraisers for church and at a community college where I taught. I was delighted by the many readers who came to my table and were thrilled to pick up old favorites they had not seen in years, such as Manchild in the Promised Land, Native Son and A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich.
I was smitten by the bug to sell used books for the sheer joy of seeing folks reconnect with ideas that had represented a meaningful experience for them through the written word. I kept selling at venues for a while, then a few years ago, officially established Now Rise Books to sell "new and quality used Black books." I am a diehard bibliophile, and can buy a book in almost any condition, but I know not everyone wants to. So, in my business, I stipulate "quality used books" which I define as a book whose condition should not obstruct its capability to be read.

"Hello?" you say. Have I noticed a few developments in the book world, such as e-books and e-readers? Yes, I have. Perhaps the handwriting is on the screen, so-to-speak, and the shelf life of a tangible used book is limited more today than ever before. I don't know; do you? Tell me what you know.

As you get familiar with this space (and I hope you will), you'll notice that Now Rise Books blog reflects my longtime interest in the history and literature of African Americans, and the history and literary contributions of African descendants in the Caribbean, in Great Britain and France, in particular. Love the historians and cultural commentators, Lerone Bennett Jr., John Henrik Clarke, Asa Hilliard, Paula Giddings, Cheik Anta Diop, and loved being introduced to and reading Drusilla Dunjee Houston.

Some writers whose works I revere are James Baldwin, also Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, and Gwendolyn Brooks--yes I am drawn to poetry.

There are many more writers, editors and publishers who have my deep interests, as well, such as Arna Bontemps, Dorothy Porter and Arnold Adoff; Naomi Long Madgett, Haki Madhubuti, Peniel Joseph, Annette Gordon Reed; Black Classic Press and Beacon Press; Random House and Regnery; Janice E. Hale-Benson, Jim Haskins and Just Us Books, to name just a few.

My other reading interests include literary criticism, British writers such as Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Henry James; Romantic poets, Coleridge and Keats; books on writing, especially non-fiction, journalism and public relations writing; biography/autobiography and children's books!! I pick up old readers, you know, published by Ginn, Scott Foresman, and earlier series, too, like the McGuffey's readers. I am especially interested in how books impact our society, shape our cultural attitudes, particularly texts in the classroom. Serious issue for me.

I'll keep commenting here on my bookselling, on publishing, and discussions with readers. I invite you to read, respond to my comments, pose questions, share your perspectives on books and their impact on you and our world.

Talk to you later...