December 5, 2012

Black Writer, White Characters: Too Weird?

I always get this look when I mention that I (as an African American woman) that I don't write urban fiction. You know the type they put in African American section in Barnes and Noble?

Yep. That's the one. 

It's not like I have anything against authors like Sister Souljah. Quite the contrary. I look up to these authors since they can write with the authentic African American voice. 

Even though some people forget that not all African Americans live this way (I timidly raise my hand), these are still stories that are important to our culture and are now valued.

However, I just don't write these type of stories.

Now will I say I will NEVER write these type of stories?


But as of right now, I'm not writing urban fiction. I like to write with European American characters (a.k.a. white characters).


One word: Suburban.

I've lived in the suburbs my whole life and pulling from my experience, it's just easier for me. It's not like I'm denying my African American roots or history. I'm just not writing stories about it. Yet.

Now, I will eventually write minority characters and in fact, I have inserted some minority characters into my stories. Specifically Angel Diaries and some short stories most recently.

And I will start a novel with a main character of a minority race. I just have to pull all of the information and write it.

Until then though, my main characters will be white.

Is that too weird that I write with white characters instead of black? Or should I, as an author, have the right to choose how I want to star in my novels?


  1. As a writer with African/Native American/White roots, I let my characters dictate who they are to me. So far, my stories have a mix of people that I'm used to--black and white skinned people or a combo of both. Incidentally, I have written a short about two Middle Eastern women, but their story and voice told me to write it that way.

    And speaking of Urban fiction--the title galls me on so many levels of which I won't go into right now. But...all my life I have read for story, not color. So if I can read a story featuring whites, why can't they read about people like me without a warning label, ie, Urban fiction or African American? I don't see books labelled White American Fiction. All this silliness about color needs to stop. And no, I'm not fussing at you, Larissa, my ire is directed toward the publishing industry and libraries. People of all hues miss out on many fabulous stories and movies because they are so color conscious. Blessings.

  2. Hello Larissa,

    I go by “T” and just like you I am an aspiring writer and book blogger, and I’m going to apologies ahead of time if this commentary seems long, that’s not my intention I’m just “passionate” on certain topics so sorry for the rant [laughs]. From time to time I’ll read outside my favorite genre, which is fantasy, and I often wonder to myself “will the audience see color or my story and take it for what it is?”

    When I was in high school, I had a friend who was writing a vampire story (featuring two main characters who are gay) and after I pre-read over what she wrote I then asked her “why aren’t your characters black?” and she referenced that she had a hard time picturing them to be so, since most fantasy stories predominantly feature white characters. Some of your readers think “well if you are black you’re into urban fiction” which isn’t the case, at all! The problem is with the audience visual (and bias) comfort zone on who they think should be portrayed in a story, movie, TV show etc. I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with the character Rue from The Hunger Games, and how it kind-of-but-not-really received negative light about her race.

    Speaking from the heart, it sucks that this literacy system is like that! Or again, maybe it’s the fault of the audience because, they’re a lot of black authors who write speculative (an overall term for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror) fiction. I think a lot of writers—like yourself, try to take the route you’re going into because they feel they won’t get any recognition. E. Van Lowe is the author of the Falling Angels Saga, although he’s black and his characters are white he doesn’t have that many stats. You have writers such as Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston, Ben Okri, and Nalo Hopkinson who are critically acclaimed book authors and are very well respected in the literacy community. Along with N.K. Jemisin who won the World Fantasy Award. Oh, you also have Desiree Day, Lexi Davis, and Michelle Janine Robinson who wrote More Than Meets the Eye—my favorite by the way.

    But hey, if you feel you should have white characters and nothing but, then that is your decision. Personally, I would go an equal amount of multiculturalism within the characters because a lot of authors don’t do it. Or you can describe everything but exclude the characters race. I just feel you would be cheating yourself if you did only white characters, you obviously posted this because its been mind boggling to you as for me. Well I hope I help in a way, but this is ultimately up to you at the end of the day. But it all comes down to whether or not if you’re a good writer.

    For those who don’t know, I’d like to add that there’s a difference between African-American and Urban literature.
    1.) African-American literature features characters that are predominantly of African descent, and it can cross-genre from historical, contemporary, and speculative fiction.
    2.) Urban Literature typically focuses on characters that are from the hood and it profound usage of explicit languages, sex, and violence. Some don’t care to read this specific genre because they feel it’s nothing but a stereotype and false portrayal of African-American, but in all respects it touches heavy on survival skills—in a rather dystopian sense.

    1. I know I already commented but are you familiar with L.A. Banks? She's a black author and a NY Times Bestseller of the "Vampire Huntress Legend" Series. You also have Tananarive Due who wrote "My Soul to Keep", by the way Stephen King commended her for it. Brandon Massey. I know I talk to much lol.