Expand Your Horizons As a Black Writer

By: Tia Love

Writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is the modern version of storytelling. Back before writing was a cultural necessity, storytelling was a simple way to pass on cultures, belief systems, information, and so much more. Storytelling not only had the power to divulge necessary information, but it could change lives, as art is prone to do. Now, writing has taken the place of storytelling, and there are literally “stories” about everything.

As a young black girl, growing up in the ghetto, I read everything I could find. It started with Dr. Seuss at the age of 3, and I graduated to more intriguing works like those of Alfred Hitchcock, Gwendolyn Brooks, and J.K. Rowling (I, too, had a thing for Harry Potter) as my vocabulary and comprehension grew. Reading so many books that spread across so many different genres gave me a wealth of ideas for my own novels, poems, and short stories. As a writer, although I enjoy writing the things I know from my experience and my culture, I always try to challenge myself to step outside the box and write in different genres. Or write in a different subcategory in my main genre, which is urban fiction. I expanded my horizons so that my writing won’t ever be boxed in by a singular defining component.

Now I have to get real with all of my black writers and advise you all to EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the quality of black writing. As we are both black and writers, we are always looking to connect with other black writers. We both joined a community of black writers in a group on Facebook and were both disheartened to find that the quality of writing most of them were presenting centered around one general theme.

Sex, drugs, and money.

This has become the focal point of urban fiction. Gone are the days where urban fiction detailed the many lifestyles and stories of an urban setting, to be replaced by writers that only want to tell the stories of the hurt, heartbroken, and promiscuous. If writers are today’s storytellers, what are we giving life to when the only stories we tell about our culture consist of the most basic components of urban life?

Join the ranks of Zora Neale Hurston, Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Ntozake Shange, Octavia Butler, Ralph Ellison, and so many more. Don’t succumb to a low standard that society set for you. Tell the stories that REALLY matter. Fifty years from now, when the youth are picking up books from this time period written by you and me, what are they going to learn about the lives we lived? What part of our culture and how you perceived it are you passing on every time you put the pen to the paper?

I try to fashion myself after Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights every time I write. I want to leave behind pieces of me and where I come from and our ways of life. What are you leaving behind?

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