Terry McMillan | Critical Essay by Malcolm Jones Jr.

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Terry McMillan.
This section contains 535 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Malcolm Jones Jr.

Critical Essay by Malcolm Jones Jr.

SOURCE: "Successful Sisters: Faux Terry Is Better than No Terry," in Newsweek, Vol. 127, No. 18, April 29, 1996, p. 79.

In the following essay, Jones discusses the popularity and influence of McMillan's fiction on the publishing industry and other African-American writers.

Like James Michener and his generational epics and Tom Clancy and his techno-thrillers, Terry McMillan created a new literary genre with her upbeat novels about contemporary black women. Then she went those other writers one better: she created an entirely new audience to go with her genre. Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, a Philadelphia literary promoter, claims that for African-American women desperate for something to read, McMillan's "books have replaced dates in the '90s."

Waiting for McMillan to publish another book, readers pleaded with booksellers for anything similar. "I'd say, 'Read Bebe Moore Campbell'," says Clara Villrosa, owner of Denver's Hue-Man Experience bookstore. "They'd come back wanting more. I'd say, 'Read Tina McElroy Ansa, read Connie Briscoe.'" All these writers began publishing after McMillan, and like her they steer clear of writing about racial problems, concentrating instead on the problems of contemporary African-American women. They also send the same messages: "Girlfriend, you are all right," and "Men, hmmmph!" Briscoe's Sisters and Lovers (1994) sold more than 100,000 copies in hardcover and 325,000 in paperback. Her new novel, Big Girls Don't Cry, has 100,000 copies in print. Ansa's Ugly Ways (1993) sold 92,000 hardcover copies. Excited by these figures, the overwhelmingly white American publishing industry is going to ever-greater lengths to tap the black audience. In June, for example, Knopf will publish 150,000 copies of Push, a gritty first novel by black poet Sapphire for which Knopf paid a half-million dollars. Even E. Lynn Harris has more than 152,500 copies of his current best seller, And This Too Shall Pass, in print. Commenting on the unlikely success of a black male who writes about bisexual love affairs, Villarosa says, "When you're a female reader and you want love and a contemporary voice, you don't quibble so much about the other."

In the wake of Waiting to Exhale, publishers began to realize that black readers and white readers are reached in entirely different ways. "That review in The New York Times is not going to sell books," says Lloyd-Sgambati. And forget booking your author on the morning TV talk shows. "At 8 in the morning, most African-Americans aren't watching TV," she says. They're on their way to work. "So radio's a better way of getting the message across." Villarosa works with black sororities and has booked readings in churches. "So much depends on the connection to the community," she says. "The biggest thing with us is word of mouth."

Noting the black community's tradition of "looking to books for wisdom and solace," Will Schwalbe, editorial director at Morrow, argues that anyone who mistakes the sort of books McMillan writes as just beach reading for blacks has undervalued their importance. For these readers, a book "is not a throwaway form of entertainment. It's a vessel of culture," he says. Or as Lloyd-Sgambati observes, a generation ago, "most African-Americans who were reading were probably reading a Bible." Their grandchildren are reading the likes of Terry McMillan. To them, it's gospel.

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This section contains 535 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Malcolm Jones Jr.
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