Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Oprah Winfrey: A Sponsor of African American Novelists

[By Kenton Rambsy]

There are many different ways to talk about the growing popularity of African American literature over the years. We can talk about Pulitzer Prize Winners such as Alice Walker (1983) and Edward P. Jones (2004). We could talk about the coverage of works by writers such as Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead in the New York Times Book Review. We could focus on writers such as Charles Johnson and Ishmael Reed who have received Guggenheim Fellowships.

We can even focus on a key figure like Oprah Winfrey, who is not a novelist but has nonetheless had an important effect on the reception of African American literature. Since 1985, Winfrey has been involved in several aspects of African American literature having been an actress, serving as a producer in movies adapted from black novels, and raising the visibility of black writers through her book club. Her popularity as a TV personality has helped generate broader interest in Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ernest J. Gaines.

Over the next week, I will present posts on Winfrey and how she has used her pop culture status to influence commercial reception of black novels and overall reception to specific authors.     

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