Back then, over 15 years ago if you can believe that, some of the hottest African American male authors in the market were the late great E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey, Colin Channer, Omar Tyree, and Marcus Major. These men, most of them at the time being in their 30s, wrote stories with strong female characters; these stories focused on the tangled web of relationships and love.
These men were our male equivalents to Terry McMillan, who had women all over the country Waiting to Exhale -- with her book and eventually, the movie.
I will admit, I LIVED for Eric Jerome Dickey and every book he released almost two decades ago. Sister, Sister; Friends and Lovers; Cheaters; and Milk in My Coffee were my first forays into his writing, and I loved how much I could relate to the women portrayed within the pages and the struggles they lived through. I often wondered, How does he manage to get into the female psyche so well? But, he did, and so did the others.
Today at BRP, we ask the question, WHERE ARE THEY NOW, and we take a brief look at the goings on of Dickey, Channer, and Tyree. Are they still, as author Nelson George stated in 2000, “the literary equivalent of the great R&B love songs”?
Eric Jerome Dickey’s career is still as bright as it was in 2000—if not brighter. The author of over 30 novels, Dickey has found himself on several bestselling lists, such as The New York Times, USA Today, and ESSENCE; has been nominated for and won awards for his works; has appeared in anthologies, such as New American Library’s Got To Be Real: Four Original Love Stories; and has traveled coast to coast and overseas in promotion of his works.
Dickey, like so many of these men, is multi-faceted and -talented as his work goes beyond novels and short stories to include his six-issue miniseries of comic books for Marvel Enterprises featuring Storm from X-Men. Dickey has also, in a way, found his career coming full circle, too. As stated in his bio, in early 1998, Dickey revised a screenplay he had written earlier titled Cappuccino and had it directed and produced by Craig Ross, Jr. The movie “made its local debut during the Pan African Film Festival at the Magic Johnson Theater in Los Angeles.” Movies return to his career as his novel Naughty or Nice has been optioned by Lionsgate Films.
Amazon! They call themselves the Blackbirds. Kwanzaa Brown, Indigo Abdulrahaman, Destiny Jones, and Erica Stockwell are four best friends who are closer than sisters, and will go to the ends of the earth for one another. Yet even their deep bond can't heal all wounds from their individual pasts, as the collegiate and post-collegiate women struggle with their own demons, drama, and desires.
As the women try to overcome-- or give into-- their impulses, they find not only themselves tested, but the one thing they always considered unbreakable: their friendship.
In 2000, when asked about writing for the ladies, Channer stated, “Women make love with words, and my language is very grounded in the rhythms of poetry and wordplay and metaphor.”
Channel’s language is still grounded, and many critics have not only praised him for his use of language, but also have compared him to the likes, especially in his novella, The Girl with Golden Shoes, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mark Twain, and Bob Marley. Critics have said that Channer writes characters (like his heroine in The Girl With the Golden Shoes) as “too real, too genuine”; that Channer “is clearly in the business of helping to make great literature”; and that Channer is a “gifted storyteller.”
For his debut novel, Waiting in Vain, the Washington Post Book World stated that the love story in the book is interesting, but Channer transcends that to develop “strength of characterization and the clear redefinition of the Caribbean novel — in which the discourses of post-colonialism have been usurped by the creative assurance of reggae’s aesthetic — a quintessentially modern aesthetic that has finally found the kind of dialogue between popular music and art that we have not seen in a long time.”
And that aesthetic has not left him throughout the novels and short stories published and the myriad of literary ventures he has taken part of since 2000.
Channer's 2009 short story collection, Passing Through, spans the early 1900s up to modern times; its stories trace the intersecting lives of travelers, expatriates, and local folks in ways that shock, illuminate, and reveal. From the American photographer who finds her world disturbed by new forms of love and lust, to a charismatic priest confronted by the earthly perks of fame and stardom, the diverse mix of characters are united by the universal search for love and understanding—a challenge on an island simmering with issues of politics, power, and race.
To know Flyy Girl is to know the NYT best-selling author, journalist, lecturer, poet, screenwriter (and so much more!) Omar Tyree. This was THE book for so many readers, to include me. In regards to contemporary urban novels, it is a classic, and many cite it as a novel that spawned the urban/street lit genre. Tyree was and still is a literary force to be reckon with. In his early 20s, he self-published and marketed his first three books, selling over 25,000 copies under his publishing company MARS Production, and a few short years after that, Simon & Schuster came calling, offering him a two-book deal for with six-figure advance.
Since then, he has publishes nearly 30 novels, written stories for several anthologies, won dozens of literacy awards, and has spoken on subjects, such as art, business, community, culture, education, and entertainment. Tyree’s Flyy Girl trilogy has been optioned for a feature film production by Code Black and Lionsgate Films. Actress Sanaa Lathan is attached to the project.
Tyree's The Flyy Girl trilogy (Flyy Girl, For the Love of Money, and Boss Lady) follows a young African-American woman coming of age during the 1980s. Obsessed with the material world, Tracy Ellison falls into a cycle of gratuitous sex and heartbreak.
We could debate if these three talented men actually wrote/write "romance" in the traditional sense, but we would--by reading their earlier works and some of their current projects--probably agree that their novels featured strong African American women who moved through their lives while dealing with careers, men, relationships, love, marriage, betrayal, and sometimes, even, happily ever after. And that might not be a traditional romance novel, but it's definitely a novel that is geared toward a female audience and provides that audience with a lot of the feelings they receive from having read a traditional romance.
It's not easy to write a good relationship story. It's not always easy to write a strong female character--and that's for a female writer. It could have been so easy for these male authors and others to fall into the trap of writing stereotypical female characters, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of their readers, but they succeeded in creating, at least for the reader, living, breathing, real women who love hard.
Have you read romance novels or relationship novels that feature African American women and are written by men of color? (Tweet) If so, who? Which books would you recommend? If not, check out these three authors and Google to learn about others!
|Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website.|