Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Letter For Oprah Winfrey (updated)

Dear: Oprah

Hello, my name is Doret, I have always loved to read. I currently work at a bookstore in Atlanta, GA. As you know dealing with the public is not always fun. Though there's something great about connecting readers with a book they will love. I get much joy from this.

I love the O magazine covers. The color choices and layout are always eye -catching perfect. You should feature the magazine cover team on Oprah, if you haven't already. There are always great books recommendations in O. Speaking of books

When I heard Freedom by Franzen was your most recent book club selection my first thought was noooooo. Oprah, like any one else you are free to read and love any book of your choosing. Though, I wonder why you'd pick a book by an author who doesn't need the attention nor probably wants it. I actually liked Franzen's honest unfiltered feelings about having Corrections selected as a book club pick in 2001 very refreshing.

Did you know 2002 was the last time you selected a contemporary female author? Sula by Toni Morrison and Fall On Your Knees by Ann- Marie MacDonald, where chosen that year.

Your website is very helpful and easy to maneuver, though somehow I still manage to miss the 2004 selection of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Please forgive me for not paying closer attention.

Since 2002 you selected 3 female authors and 19 males authors. I find it hard to believe you haven't found more female authors in the last 8 yrs living or dead worth highlighting. Literary fiction is not a male domain.

A man would never go so long without recommending something by a male author. I wouldn't want you to only select female authors. One of the great things about female readers, we are more open to reading outside of our gender. Please don't be fooled by my contributions to Color Online, a blog that focuses on female authors of color. My reading habits are very diverse. As you can see from my personal blog. I am currently reading How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu. It's amazing and I can already tell it will be on a few best of list at the end of the year.

Color Online was started by Susan in 2005 out of necessity, and there' s still a need for it. Just take a look at many of the best of book list of 2009 and notice how many women of color aren't on them.

Oprah, I just want you to please remember there are some great books by female authors that could do with a little attention. Like

Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis - The last half is amazing. One scene touched me so much I was crying so hard, I was choking. I haven't cried like that since the Book Thief or Kite Runner

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa - One of the best debuts and novels of 2009 but sadly it want unnoticed by many.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende - I've heard its amazing and I am looking forward to reading it. It was featured on NPR,

Or Wench by Dolen Perkin-Valdez - A wonderful 2010 debut that was featured on NPR this year.

Please feel free to stop by Color Online if you ever need recommendations for books by female authors of color. If you ever need children's suggestion feel free to stop by my personal blog.

Also there's a beautiful biography called Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo illus. by Lin Wang. Its the story of the first Chinese actress in Hollywood. It very interesting and informative. Every time I think about The Good Earth novel, I am reminded of the movie, then Shining Star. Anna May Wong auditioned for one of the leading roles and like all the other Chinese actors was turned down.

Oprah, I hope you have a wonderful last season. Do enjoy your trip to Australia. If you get to a bookshop check out Australian author Melina Marchetta. I highly recommend all of her titles. If I had to pick just one start with Finnikin of the Rock.



Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

Wow, a lot of this surprised me. I'm glad you're writing this letter, Doret. It obviously needs to be said. I can't believe that Oprah hasn't picked a female author since 2002. What a shame :(. I have to admit, on some level I'm excited to see Franzen's reactions to Oprah picking his book, but other than that, I agree with everything you have said in this letter. Well done.

Amy said...

Yes, such a great point. The other thing that bothers me about Oprah's picks is that she actually chose an author of color with Uwem Akpan's short story collection... but out of all the wonderful and amazingly talented authors on the continent and even within Nigeria, she picked the one book that is COMPLETELY negative and that shows only misery and suffering. Way to reinforce the stereotypes for so many people who might read this as it was her selection, but wouldn't normally go outside their comfort zone. Sigh.

Jenny said...

Great post!

And I'm glad to hear you recommend Wench... I have that on my nook WL!

Donura said...

Thanks so much Doret for saying what so many of us feel. I feel particularly strong about the fact that women of color get so little recognition. I actually started a book club back in 1993 because my nieces and their friends were waiting for the next Terry McMillan book to come out before they would pick up a book to read. I showed them the women on whose shoulders Terry stood to get recognition. We had wonderful exposure over the years to women of color and women from many countries. Zora, Toni, Isabelle Allende, Buki Emecheta, J. California Cooper, and the list goes on and on. Let's hope she hears you.

Mardel said...

Oprah has so much pull and is such a huge influence on many people's lives. Just one mention on her show or magazine is enough to catapult someone's book or name into stardom...or at least would give them so much publicity. I would love to see her recommend books written by women, AND books by a bigger variety of races. She has done a lot for people. But I kind feel like she misses some opportunites sometimes. On the other hand....It must be hard to choose when you have that much influence over people.

Doret said...

Lu - I was very surprised 2002 was the last time Oprah picked a female author but I doubled checked the book list more than a few times.

Amy -I agree. Say You're One of Them is a good selection for anyone who reguarly reads books by African authors. But not so much if a reader is stepping out of there comfort zone.

Jenny - Thanks, Wench is so good

Donura - 1993 and the years following where great for African American authors and we do have McMillan to thank for that.

Mardel - I think it would be hard to choose as well. No matter what Oprah does someone is going to be unhappy.

But eight years since the last female author should not go unnoticed.

Please keep the comments coming.

Tere Kirkland said...

(I think in 2004 she chose at least one book by a woman. Of course, it was written when my grandmother was a little girl...)

Sorry, Oprah, but some contemporary fiction would have been nice, too. And maybe a book by a Latino author who isn't already the most prize-winning author in Latin America.

What about exposing your audience to something they may not have otherwise been exposed to? Which, in many cases would be a book by a woman of color, since these books often receive much less publicity and attention than they deserve.

You could have used the book club to bring more attention to these overlooked authors and their wonderful books. Maybe that seems like an agenda, but there are certainly worse agendas a powerful woman could have than to introduce her vast audience to books that may resonate more with them and the struggles of their daily lives than Franzen's.

With influence like yours, you could have changed the way the country looks at books by black writers OTHER THAN Toni Morrison (who is doubtless a great writer, but who doesn't need the press). You could have shown publishers that white people WILL buy a book with a black person on the cover, written by a black author. You could have turned the entire industry on its head and left a legacy behind you that people would remember long after the memories of Tom Cruise jumping on your couch are gone.

Instead you chose not one but TWO Faulkner books in 2005, just like my high school A.P. English class did a dozen years ago. Very cutting edge.

What about all the contemporary authors whose books came out that year? Like Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go? Memoirs like Walls' The Glass Castle, or Didion's Year of Magical Thinking?

No, the only contemporary novels that get chosen are the ones that already have a ton of buzz. But I bet you wish you would have waited a little longer to choose A Million Little Pieces.

Perkins' Wench would be a great choice for a final book club selection. I do love Allende, and her latest, but don't think she needs the publicity as badly.

Great post, Doret.

Tere Kirkland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doret said...

Tere- It was 2004 The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I just updated the letter.

Jeannine said...

Now I'm usually the first to defend Oprah. I love her!!!!!!!!!!!!!! However I was also disappointed about her latest pick. Franzen was very rude the last time she picked his book so why choose him again. He was also getting lots of buzz before Oprah picked him, so he didn't really need her nod. It would have been great if she had chose an under the radar author. On her premiere show she said she asked his permision before announcing his book.Do you think she was just trying to get some closure or something? Anyway, I won't be reading the book. I will stick to those who need a shout-out.

Tarie said...

Excellent points, Doret!