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Kiese Layman: You Are The Second Person

Layman considers the differences between what's marketable from what's possible @ Guernica. You know that any resemblance to real places, spaces, people, time, or things is purely coincidental.

Alone, you sit on the floor of your apartment thinking about evil, honesty, that malignant growth in your hip, your dead uncle, letters you should have written, the second person, and stretch marks. You’re wearing an XXL T-shirt you plan on wearing the day your novel comes out. The front of the T-shirt says, “What’s a real black writer?” The back reads, “Fuck you. Pay me.” You open your computer. With a scary pain in your hip, you inhale, force a crooked smile before reading an email from Brandon Farley, your fifty-four-year-old black editor.

“The success of your book will be partially dependent on readers who have a different sensibility than your intended audience,” he writes. “As I’ve already said to you, too many sections of the book feel forced for the purpose of discussing racial politics. Think social media. Think comment sections. Those white people buy books, too, bro. Readers, especially white readers, are tired of black writers playing the wrong race card. If you’re gonna play it (and I think you should) play it right. Look at Tarrantino. He is about to fool all these people into believing they were watching a black movie with Django. I guarantee you that whiteness will anchor almost every scene. That’s one model you should think about.” “Also, black men don’t read. And if they did, they wouldn’t read this kind of fiction. So you might think of targeting bougie black women readers. Bougie black women love plot. They love romance with predictable Boris Kodjoe-type characters. Or they love strong sisters caught up in professional hi-jinks who have no relationships with other sisters. Think about what holds a narrative like Scandal together.

“In 2012, real black writers make the racial, class, gender, and sexual politics of their work implicit. Very implicit. The age of the ‘race narrative’ is over, bro. As is, the only way your book would move units is if it Oprah picked it for her Book Club. That’s not happening. Oprah only deals with real black writers.”

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