From Agate’s Zach Rudin, sales and marketing coordinator: We have another special offer for you. For the entire month of February, we’ll be offering discounted prices on ebooks from our Bolden imprint, which is dedicated to African-American fiction and nonfiction. This week, Denise Nicholas’s Freshwater Road is $2.99 and Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s Becoming Dad is only $0.99. In the coming weeks, different titles will be offered at steep discounts on our site, as well as on the sites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and more.
We work hard to promote awareness of great African-American writers all the time, and we appreciate the support of our readers and friends. People enjoy reading and finding new authors, and one of the benefits of being an independent press is that we get to play an important role in that process. We’re proud of the books we publish and feel they contribute to our culture. However, companies like Heineken are also proud of their product, enough so to slap a Black History Month-focused ad for the Dutch brew on a bus and unabashedly parade it around major urban markets.
The gap between the negatives caused by brazen ad displays and the positives produced by increased focus on African-American culture causes tension every February. In the wake of 2009’s presidential inauguration, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker put forward the idea that “Black History Month has come to seem quaint, jarring, anachronistic…suffice it to say that the nation of Tiger Woods, Oprah and Barack Obama no longer needs a Black History Month.” In 2005, Morgan Freeman told Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black History is American History.”
This year, PBS will be airing a documentary during Black History Month titled More Than a Month by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman, as a part of the Independent Lens series. The documentary, as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Merlene Davis explains it, follows Tilghman as he “crisscrossed the country for a year exploring the good and bad aspects of having a month dedicated to the history of black Americans.” Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune writes that Tilghman “finds the commercialization -- not to mention the shift of focus away from actual history -- simultaneously amusing, puzzling, and disturbing.” Jeff McWhorter of The New Republic, in a New York Times video interview with Glenn Loury of Brown University, proposes that the month has outlived its usefulness.
So for us here at Agate, the question “Why have this sale?” begins to blend together with the ongoing debate “Why have this month?” Naturally, there are counterpoints to the above arguments against Black History Month, as eloquently expressed in an NPR interview by Dawn Turner Trice of the Chicago Tribune, and even as a direct retort to Tucker by Pamela Reed in the Daily Voice.
Black History Month is unique in that it is both a celebration and commemoration. Observing Veterans Day, a commemorative holiday, doesn’t preclude us from honoring those who served our country during the other 364 days of the year. Likewise, the ideals of Christmas ask that we spread good will to all mankind throughout the year, not just in anticipation of getting more presents underneath the tree.
While Black History Month is clearly a holiday of greater complexity in terms of how it is observed, it’s similar in that it is a specified point on the calendar that reminds people of its message. It is difficult to constantly feel the same front-of-the-mind reverence for service-people day in and day out that we do on Veterans Day. We attempt to give thanks for our blessings every day, but having a holiday to appreciate all that we have serves to emphasize rather than replace.
Holidays exist to deliver a message; they’re a reminder for us to learn about and to observe the day’s significance. Whether the message is ideological, spiritual, or memorial in nature, we insatiably consume information regarding the holiday’s subject matter before and during its observance. Today, in America at least, nearly every holiday acts as a vehicle for, yes, consumption.
As a publisher, this reminds us of another debate, namely the question of how people want to consume their media. There is an emerging rivalry between physical and electronic books, and the cultural conversation about ebooks is contentious. From authors like Jonathan Franzen, Maurice Sendak, and more who staunchly oppose the medium, to retail juggernauts like Amazon that want to be your one-stop shop for all types of books, the debate is not getting any less heated.
In our view, how people choose to consume media or information should be up to them. We love being able to offer print and ebooks, as they both have their virtues. Similarly, having a month that celebrates black history (even if it also raises many troubling issues) is a welcome complement to the understandable if undesirable pattern that sees great expressions of black thought and writing too often occurring in response to insensitive, widely panned hypotheticals.
We hope that you enjoy this offering of discounted Agate Bolden ebooks for Black History Month. We hope this might, in some small way, get more people engaging with African-American literature and culture. We hope that you continue to read and enjoy our newest releases, our forthcoming releases, and our many other print and ebook titles by exceptional black authors. We hope that Black History Month can be a time (not the only time) when we pay extra attention to the uniqueness of black history and culture. If you need an example of the month's value, ask Nikky Finney why she’s celebrating the bare arms of black women. Or ask Jesmyn Ward, another National Book Award winner, whose first novel we proudly publish, why she thinks Black History Month feels like a miracle, an act of defiance, like hope every February.