The Obama Effect on Publishing
By Lori L. Tharps

The first time I noticed the question being asked, the victory parties were barely over, tears of joy were still being shed and Oprah continued to vibrate. Inquiring minds in the black literary community really wanted an answer: Would there be an Obama effect in the publishing industry?

People weren't talking about Barack Obama's own books, Dreams from My Father and TheAudacity of Hope, which both sold over 100,000 copies in less than one week after the election. No, the Obama effect that many authors of color, myself included, are hoping for is much more personal. Bernice McFadden, the award-winning author of Sugar and This Bitter Earth, posed the simple question on her blog: "Will a black president help me, a black writer?"

In the past month, those of us who make our living from the written word have started to ponder the possibilities. We are imagining the different ways the incoming president might inspire the overwhelmingly white publishing industry to get a clue about our stories. Obama has proved, after all, that readers of all races and backgrounds can take to non-mainstream literary portraits of the American experience. As McFadden told me: "The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has shattered the publishers' lame and tired excuse that white readers cannot relate to black literature."

In the world B.O. (before Obama), publishers seemed to operate under the impression that black authors appealed only to black readers. Even worse, that those black readers were interested only in books that involved a lot of sex and ghetto baby-mama drama. For the past decade, support for authors of color with literary ambitions, or even those who just wanted to tell a different kind of story, has been dismal.
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