Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Black Boys Don't Read

One of my favorite writers is Omar Tyree. I own several of his novels and have been reading him since the early 1990's. I was driving to get some coffee this morning and he just happened to be on the radio. Of course, he was pitching his latest novel and discussing something close to my heart. The literacy or the presumed lack of it among young black males. He said that he was trying to write children's books aimed at black boys but, he was having trouble getting his publishers to back him. He said that the presumed notion of most publishers is that young African American males don't read and on this presumption alone, nothing was ever geared towards them.

This troubles me because I'm going to assume that little white boys equally don't like to read. They don't like to read what is put out there for them to read... which is nothing. What I'm saying is that males in general aren't catered to in the literary world at any age. Give them something to read that they are interested in when they are young and they will read. Once they start reading and begin to like it, they will gravitate to other things. This is not just black boys but, little white boys, Hispanic boys, Asian Boys, and what have you.

It angers me though that black boys (and in the larger sense black people) are labeled as non-readers. Part of this theory was destroyed years ago when authors like Omar Tyree, Terri McMillan, Bebe Moore Campbell, and Walter Mosley found a market in the black community for their early works that turned into ca$h money cows for publishing houses. My wife and I began reading and collecting books by African American authors around that same time.

My own love for reading came from both my mother and my grandfather. They read to me as a child and this made me want to read and enjoy going to libraries. It probably also led to me wanting to write my own stories. The first serious book that I read was the Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read it for "Negro History week" when I was in the 7th grade and read it again when I was a grown man, around the same time that Spike Lee made the movie with Denzel Washington of the same name. That book had a profound effect on me and it led me to read Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Eldridge Cleaver, and most of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. I haven't stopped reading since.

I'm not saying that every black child, male or female, is going to read as much as I do but, they will read provided the material that is put in front of them is interesting and speaks to them. If they are going to go on to college and higher learning, reading is going to be a must so, they might as well begin at the formative ages.

I applaud authors like Omar Tyree because he wrote some children's books aimed at young black males and he told his interviewer that he was going to get them out there if he had to publish them himself. After all, that's how he got started. Do any of you remember an underground classic called "Fly Girl" that was set right here in Philadelphia, PA that got passed around from barber shop to hair salon back in the late eighties? That was Omar Tyree's first project and he sold it out of his car. By the time Simon & Schuster picked it up and published it in 1993, every black person of a certain age in Philly had already read it. Now, that's publishing hip-hop style.

Much respect for Brother Tyree for standing up for the next generation.


Attorneymom said...

Keith, my fellow Aries. I am back.

Keith said...

@attorneymom- So glad that you are!
The blogging world needs you!

James Perkins said...

I have several of Omar Tyree's novels..I have much respect for him.

Toni said...

I was one of those girls who read the "underground" copy of "Fly Girl" I was 20 years old in 1988, when one of my girlfriends passed me a copy of it..I've been reading
His books ever since.

Sunflower said...

I've seen many of Omar Tyree's novels, but I must confess..I have never read or owned one of his books..Based on your endorsement,I'll check him out.

Angie B. said...

Omar Tyree- I love his books and he's pretty fine himself..He can get it in so many ways-lolololol.

Raven said...

Keith, Keith, Keith...*heavy sigh* Two years ago I sent a little something to a lit agent. She responded by saying that while she thought what I was doing was good, but targeted toward the wrong group. My group: young Black females.She said there just may not be a market for it. I believe if you give options...they will read. In my house as a child, reading was right up there with eating. BUT...my options were Sweet Valley, Taffy Sinclair and things along those lines. So I said I would do something for the young girls coming up after me. NO LOVE! I guess I will hustle from my car too. I have several of Omar Tyree's books. The first one was Fly Girl. I love that book. I think it should be mandatory reading for high school girls...and their dad's.

Anonymous said...

I have 3 of Omar books: "Fly Girl", the sequel of Fly Girl, "For The Love Of Money", and "Leslie".

My son is 3 and I read to him every night. I picks a book off his bookshelf for me to read. I want him to go up loving to read.

Opinionated Diva said...

My mom raised six girls and her nephew. All of us girls like to read...but not him. He has always preferred to watch TV or play video games. I find this is the case with most Black males that I know. They'll read a newspaper, but not a book.

Makes me wonder if this is also the reason there are so few black males in the blogosphere.

Keith said...

@Opinionated Diva-It is said that women are more verbal than men and so it would stand to reason that they would have more of a love for words than most guys. Then too, a lot of it is socialization..
Reading a book is seen by some, the knucklehead faction of society as being a feminine thing, just like getting good grades and speaking correct english is seen as
a "white thing", again by the knucklehead faction of our society.
You make a good point about males being outnumbered in the blogosphere.

crys said...

hmmm i hadn't heard of omar tyree either. BUT - this post is on point and reminds me that maybe i don't read enough to my son - he's 4. we would both rather watch tv than read a book in the evenings when we're unwinding from our day - but yeah...enough of that...

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Reading is FUNdamental, but YOU know I feel that way, with a BA in English.

I don't read a lot of fiction and tend to be a bit of a book snob, not really into contemporary novels. These days I read mostly non-fiction and biographies. America doesn't read. If they did they would know that Audacity of Hope is pretty much Barack's platform ( for all those that say he has none or they don't knwo what he stands for).

I have a serious love for one Ms Toni Morrison that developed when I was a Freshman in college. I also love Baldwin and Wright. DOn't forget Invisible Man another classic (my copy is so tattered and torn).

One of the perks of living up here is being able to read on the way to work! I have to agree with Raven I think if you build it they will come, I wish everything wasn't always so dollar driven. Either way I applaude Mr. Tyree and maybe I will stop my snobbish ways and see what Fly Girl do. *lol*


ZACK said...

Most would blame video games as the culprit. Others would attribute such a trend to sports. But honestly, it is because black males aren't being given the tools at school or at home to be good readers. It's more than sounding out words that makes somebody a good reader. He or she must COMPREHEND what's going on and be able to analyze literary techniques.

And like O.G., I am more of a non-fiction dude (as a blogger) than I am with fiction.

Maybe if Omar Tyree told more stories about what young black boys like, he might be able to build a strong following. If he needs marketing ideas, Omar better holler at me! :)


12kyle said...

I have always have a love for reading b/c I always wanted that mental stimulation. Like most things, that desire to read is started at home. I'm instilling it in my sons right now

CurvyGurl said...

You're so right, Keith. The love of reading is started in the formative years. My dad started handing me the comics when I could barely read, then we moved to other sections of the paper and that habit has continued. It's up to parents and other family members to encourage kids and young adults to read, especially material that's not only interesting but also imparts some kind of knowledge/lesson.


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