Creative video. And why don’t black people write?

“What writing is for Jewish people, is making music for black people,” said my old Jewish High school classmate Ab a long long time ago.

His statement suddenly came to my mind while seeing a creative book video (see below), which I spotted on the blog De-cluttering my Mind

But is he right about black people? Of course there are lot of black writers out there. UK's Zadie Smith (picture), France's Marie NDiaye and my all time favorite, the American James Baldwin. I remember I had to defend my choice of Baldwin on my English literature list. Baldwin was not considered “literature”, at least not on my high school in Amsterdam.

Back to classmate and Jewish encyclopedia Ab. He added. “The reason why the influence of Jewish people in Hollywood is big, is also because there are many Jewish writers. We create are own heroes. That’s why black people don’t get Oscars.“

This reminds me of the global discussion about the underrepresentation of black people in the movies, and about the problems of black actors on ‘white’ stages. About these problem a black producer once said, “we need black writers who write black stories so we can create are own heroes in plays and films. “But,” he added, “ you need quantity to get quality.” I forgot to ask what he was implying.

But I refuse to believe that what writing is for Jewish people, is making music to black people. If that’s true then black people will be chained to Hip Hop videos forever, and the rest of the planet will create their own stories and transform them into block buster movies.

Chuck D once called Rap music the black CNN. I think I’ve heard enough ‘black’ news by now, I would like to read some of it on paper for the change. And the oral history thing? It’s just another way of saying that we don’t read books.

Back to the video: the video is of course what story writing is all about: creating a reader’s experience. The moment you open a book you must feel as if you were sitting in a train heading west. You see the smoke of locomotive, feel the bumpy railway and hear the train conductor saying: “ tickets please.” Yes, I tried!

And for the one who wants to be a writer, here’s the cliché tip from the writers wannabe class: Read Tsjechov! Read some of his short stories here.

And Ab? He started a Klezmer band. So he was wrong after all.


  1. you clearly need to do more research. Jews run the business side of Hollywood but they aren't many movies with Jewish subject matter. There are bookstores of nothing but African American books in America, maybe in your part of the world you feel black writers are lacking but that is not the case. There are way more other factors into play, I can write a 20 page paper on that. You need to do your research, he wouldn't dare say that to an african american.

  2. Anonymous thanks for the comment. I wanted to share some youth experiences regarding to literature and black writers.

    Of course, the statement about the Oscars was stupid, the race factor was left out entirely. But believe me, I have heard more stupid remarks from teachers about black Americans. They weren’t racist, they had tons of books about the civil rights movement.

    You're right that there many bookstores full of books about African-Americans. In Europe there are also may bookstores about African-Americans, but also about Africans and people from the Caribbean. But the discussion was not only about books in general, but also about novel writers. In that period there were more Jewish novel writers then black novel writers.

    My classmate’s statement was a response of my statement about the involvement of Jewish people in the slave trade in the Caribbean. So this was his part to be “honest”. I don’t hope this looks like some kind of an anti-Jewish story. This guy was a friend of mine.

    But what is a ‘black’ writer? A writer who happens to be black and writes about life in general, or a black writer who writes about black life? In most discussions I had about this subject this always seems to be mixed up. The producer I mentioned just wanted a black writer, not a black story.

    My personal opinion is that there ought to be more black writers of the first category, but somehow being black means that you are only marketable if you write about crime, poverty, hip-hop or racism. That’s why they love novels like "Push” in the Netherlands, It reflects their view of black American life.

    To end. My Jewish classmate had a stereotype European view of black America. Because I have African-Americans in my family, I know that many aspects of black American life are not shown in the European media. But even I need an update once in while.

  3. When you talk about black writers, it also depends on what you mean by black writers. Are you talking about people of colour generally or are you specifically refering to Afro Americans or Afro Europeans or native Africans?

    On the whole I think each people have their unique experience in regards to writing. I'm a native African and I can tell you that for a native African, it's difficult to get anyone out here to want to even look at our manuscripts. I've met countless talents that get told to first have their books published in their native countries before they try making a career of it here in Europe.

    The publishing world in Africa is another story altogether, so these artists are forced to ditch their passion for a secondary career. Your article provokes my thoughts but I cannot really respond to it without writing a whole article about the matter.

    The baseline is THERE ARE loads of great writers of colour out there, both published and unpublished, but before we define their worth in the publishing world we must take a closer look the history of publishing and sho's calling the shots. Things aren't always what they seem.

  4. Hi Naan,

    Interesting comment. I was thinking about black writers in Europe, the US and the Caribbean when I wrote the post. I still have broaden my view on writers in Africa, so thanks for mentioning it.

    I agree with you that the publishing world decides what who they want to publish. The Afro-German writer Noah Sow told me that in Germany the big publishing companies only “allow” black writers to write about child soldiers and other “African” topics.

    Since you and the poster Anonymous are telling me that I have to look a bit further, maybe it’s time to visit a black bookshop.

  5. I agree with Naan 100%, I believe we can try to do something as Afro-Europeans to show the world that we are worth something. We can change the way the society think of Africa and Africans, instead of allowing the everlasting stereotyping suck us up. I know many people have started that target... Happy 2010!

  6. There are alot of black writers out there, they just don't get promoted, because what they are talking about white people in England don't want the whole world knowing, there is more to black UK writers than Zadie Smith in the UK there used to be a black publishers called X Press that published black writers talking about the real UK experience for black people. I have a list of a few black writers in the UK you should check out. Victor Headley, Couritta Newland, Alex Wheatle who recently won a MBE, Karline Smith, Mike Phillips and Gareth Joseph. There are tons of black writers in the US, like Sistah Souljah, but the orignal in the UK is Olaudah Equiano

  7. Chico-Rei, I know. I think I have to correct this.

  8. Placing continental Africans, Afro-Europeans, Afro Caribbean & African American writers under the umbrella of 'black writers', I think that indeed, there is a rich and extensive body of 'black' literature. I will say though, that as far as the modern age is concerned, it seems as though 'black' literature has declined since the independence and black power movements of the black world and the post colonial years. It just doesn't seem as though our generation is turning to the written word to express the infinite nuances of our experiences.Is this the result of an inequitable and discriminatory publishing system or is it the reflection of our consciousness? Oral history keeping has long been one of our race's precious traditions but we are also the inheritors of a rich written tradition. If only the custodians of the great libraries in Kemet and Timbuktu were alive...they would set us straight!

  9. This lady is a fool. Tyler Perry is a black American that has made hundreds of millions of dollars. HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of DOLLARS.

    Outside of maybe the Harry Potter author, who else beats Tyler Perry?

  10. Good point The Kush and Kemet Revue. Personally I think we have been putting all our energy into writing about and fighting against "The System" and lost the creativity to imagine in the process. I think it's hard to write a Harry Potter story if you are part of community that’s more in need of writers who write about the daily injustice and the “Black experience” than writers who write fictional stories.

    But I am optimistic, the black community as a whole is in transition. We travel, cross boundaries and move forward in life. Eventually it will express itself in the stories. Thanks for the comment!

    And no Truth, I don't think she is a fool just because she has a different taste and opinion than you.

  11. Tyler Perry, a BLACK AMERICAN, TOPS the list in HOLLYWOOD.

    So, this black American is the highest paid man in Hollywood. And who said black people don't write?

  12. The author of "Grey's anatomy" is a black woman BUT the main character on the series is played by a white woman! that's not really a question of of having more writer, it is more a question of who rule the showbusiness in the country you are evolving, I think.

  13. also the author of "Terminator" and "The Matrix" is an African America and not only they stole the story from her but in addition to that all characters turned white on the screen (even though Laurence Fishburn has a important role in The Matrix)

  14. Sanza, learned something new today. Thanks!

  15. I just stumbled upon this blog and I agree with the first poster you really need to do your research.

    "But the discussion was not only about books in general, but also about novel writers. In that period there were more Jewish novel writers then black novel writers."

    I'm not sure what period you're referring to but just off the top of my head, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Naylor, Yusef Komunyaka, Edwidge Danticat, Seffi Atta, Helen Oyeyemi, Chimamanda Adichie, Binyavanga Wainaina, Yvonne Adhiambo, bell hooks, Olufemi Terry, Bessie Head, Zakes Mda, Charles Mungoshi, Mariama Ba, Octavia Butler(an amazing sci-fi writer)- all black writers from different parts of the world who write about life in general. and those are just the ones I can think of at the moment, there's tonnes more.

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