Audience is an essential component of any commercial enterprise.
African American writers often operate in a murky water when it comes to audience. Who is the real audience for African American writing? For those authors of urban fiction, like those initial originators of hip-hop, the audience is an African American one. For many others, especially those educated in the Post-Civil Rights era in PWI's and white educational institutions, it is difficult to figure out exactly who we are talking to.
The conventions of the English language and the navigation of the literary tradition of the West demand we become experts in the tools and trades of the white audience. The binary is an illusion, and their truly is no such thing as black and white; but the world of business and corporate institutions is full of illusions. Decisions in that world are often made on the prominence of a particular illusion in a particular time.
People like me, who received MFA's often found ourselves in rooms where we were one of two, or one of three African Americans. How does the confrontation with these demographics shape the writer's consciousness and influence the perception of the writer's perceived audience?
Authors are fond of suggesting craft trumps audience. If somoeone doesn't understand you, they lack the attention, discipline and knowledge of the skill. Craft can become a code for the smug, wine and cheese world that sustains artists in this country. But there are other examples. Recently, I have been studying Master P. "Bout it, Bout it", is an alternative.
While we study the craft under the guise of a universal audience, rarely do we discuss how the tactics and strategies used to communicate become nuanced in relationship to particular aduiences. We leave those questions to the publishers, Hollywood, and the people who will ultimately make us rich and famous-if we are good enuff.
Black Arts was not simply about producing Black Art under a Black Aesthetic; it was also about producing and distributing Black Art out of a community's limited resources. Third World Books represents this trend well. Part of Black Arts was-Master P sell my records out of my trunk. The seriousness of the trend is the same one used by urban authors today. Urban Authors and much of hip-hop use the infrastructure of White publishers and distributors to maximize profit after having already negotiated their worth with a Black audience(Though industry growth changes this dynamic). It is a model in stark contrast with those writers who eventually become connected with the (white) literary establishment.
To deny this reality of audience is to deny the fundamentals of communication. Communication operates as an extension of expression with the distinction of focusing attention on the receiver of the message. This is not to say one who expresses themselves has no sense of who they are expressing themselves to, but it is possible for someone to express themselves with little or no intent directed towards the audience. Sometimes I just gotta say what I gotta say and I don't give a F*** what people think. In these instances the performer is a wanderer without destiny, what happens to the message is out of their control. Take it as you must..
Of all the concepts the Black Arts Movement brought to the table, the idea that African Americans should actually seek to communicate with a Black Audience is perhaps the most profound. Mind you, it is profound in the same way, self determination for colonized people is profound. It simply gives a theoretical framework to an original expression of the African American reality. The great black creations are most often produced for a black audience who is capable of acknowledging the greatness without the Academics and Christopher Columbus Discovery Crew. While the techniques and tactics of communicating with the Black Audience have never been settled upon, the intent is a good one. Stephen Henderson's, Understanding the New Black Poetry is an excellent example of technique and craft utilized for the Black audience. Directing our work towards a Black audience forces us to engage the unspoken of our own community; and resolve issues our people have confronted (often in silence). Work crafted for a Black audience builds the consciousness and ability of our own community to communicate that consciousness with one another and collectively solve problems.
The analysis is not nationalist but, instead, rooted in the fundamental structure of America. African American culture has a different set of perceptions and influences that are reflected in our consumer decisions, interests, and preferences.
Not to long ago, a well respected poet informed me that poetry belongs to the rich. While my definition of hip-hop alone contradicts this, I understood the concept perfectly. Rich by definition here can mean majority white. Whether I agree with his statement or not, we both can acknowledge the statement as the expression of an intent in reference to audience. Each and every writer is allowed the freedom to choose where his or her work is directed. The work of crafting a text towards an audience includes knowing the conventions, current trends, history and experiences of the intended audience. This is part of craft and contains the secret to the great capacity for African American invention in the arts in this country. Black Artists have African American culture as an added context to reconcile with European/Western/American conventions. The reality of that context is what a black audience will think when they hear it. Do y'all feel me? The secret black culture, craft and conventions (often undocumented in the text, but flowing through the community) often leads to innovation that become jazz, rhythm and blues, spoken word, and hip-hop.
The point is to simply acknowledge who you are writing for. Trust me, anyone who publishes your book or poems asks the same questions. Ask the questions: Who is most likely to read this work?, Who are the readers of the publication?, What will be the trajectory of my career based on the audience I write for?
Free Black Space