So I was reflecting after being attacked by some of J.R. Ward’s fans, admins, and moderators on her message boards about the difference in readers’ minds between literary fiction and other types of genre fiction. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, since when I decided I wanted to write for a living someday when I was a child.
Since my experiences on J.R. Ward’s message boards are the most recent, she is the author I will use as an example.
One of the arguments launched at me when I seriously critiqued Ward’s race, class, and gender issues in her Black Dagger Brotherhood series was the idea that this paranormal romance/”urban fantasy” (questionable) series was not meant for literary criticism on the academic level. They claim that it is FICTION and NOT LITERARY FICTION, and that constitutes the difference between the two. Is there really a difference?
I would disagree with that.
Seeing as how this white author is crossing into dangerous racial territory with her characterization and portrals of “The Moors”, her appropriation of rap culture and by extension Black culture, and her own admission that she “enjoys” rap, I think this very much needs to be discussed on the academic level. Ward has been defended by her fans and message board staff for partaking of her 1 st Amendment rights and engaging in fictional/creative and artistic license.
As a white, supposedly privileged woman who “work[ed] in healthcare in Boston and spent many years as Chief of Staff of one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation” (quote taken from www.jrward.com, author profile), what responsibility does she have to her readers of color, particularly her Black readers? Doesn’t she have the responsibilty of not appropriating their culture and stereotyping them under the guise of “artistic license”?
Most people would ask why I’m taking a romance novel so seriously. Its not “literary fiction”, Ward’s fans say. To that I would ask them to consider the stereotypes being propagated about Black people in Ward’s portrals of Trez and iAm. Then I would ask them to ask themselves two questions: Is it okay to marginalize and stereotype Black people in the white imagination then put it on the page? What really gives an artist, especially a white writer in my opinion, the “right” to do that and who gave them that right?
Because Ward’s series falls under paranormal fiction and not “literary fiction”, I should ignore her racist/racialized portrayal of Black people and appropriation of Black culture through rap culture?
I would argue that all forms of writing are important and if we want to move towards a more socially just society and towards an idea of global justice, then we need to stop discounting one form of literature or one form of art as more important and worthy of criticism, consideration, and praise than the next. In our communities, then we, as a nation, need to make a move towards an understanding that no one person’s “right” to “fictional”, “creative”, and “artistic” “license” should propagate racism and sexism and the maginalization and oppression of a peoples in any arena of literature and in American society as whole and beyond.