Sister Souljah, Jackie Collins: The Book Briefing

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In dozens of novels written over a decades-long career, romance writer Jackie Collins has clearly observed the role of sex and power in Hollywood. She has written incisively about abuse in the industry and empowered female characters who have found liberation in a male-dominated world. She was brilliant and prescient – and overlooked in literary circles by those who called her work airport junk.

Like Collins, many authors who write mainstream novels, especially those whose readers are predominantly female, and even more those whose readers are black women, are sidelined despite their broad appeal. Take Sister Souljah’s influential book Coldest winter ever, which has sold over a million copies and has been loved by a generation for its nuanced portrayal of its protagonist’s community. Today, the work is relegated to the realm of the “lit street” and rarely considered a classic of American literature. Or, look at the work of Jennifer Weiner, a masterful storyteller whose books are often dismissed as lacking in artistic merit. Critics have even attacked the literary merit of Pulitzer Prize-winning Donna Tartt on the basis of her popularity. A few crowd-pleasing authors escape this trap. Elena Ferrante is perhaps the most notable example, drawing intense loyalty from fans, who sought to defend her name several years ago after her publisher released tongue-in-cheek “chick-style book covers. lit “for his works. But many more popular writers are ridiculed than defended.

Taking a genre or a work for the general public seriously means recognizing the discreet craftsmanship of its pages. Collins and Sister Souljah’s books, for example, slyly analyze the very institutions that seek to undermine them. Romance author Eric Jerome Dickey took a lighter approach. Her novels draw striking portraits of black women experiencing love, desire and joy.

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Jackie Collins at her Beverly Hills home in 1995 (CNN Films)

The soft radicalism of erotic fiction

“To read a [Jackie] Collins’ novel, like about half a billion humans, is that sex and power are inextricable. No one undermined the dynamics of the two as astutely at the turn of the 20th century as she did.

Hollywood kids, by Jackie Collins
📚 The world is full of married men, by Collins
?? Fortunate, by Collins
Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, directed by Laura Fairrie


Anthony Barboza / Getty

The original bad bitch of literature is back
“Sister Souljah’s books challenge readers and critics vested in a specific vision of literary ‘black excellence’. Some black authors and booksellers bristled, sometimes sadly, with the mass-market appeal of novels like his.

?? Coldest winter ever, by Sister Souljah
?? Life after death, by Sister Souljah

woman eating ramen and reading

Joshua Lott / Reuters

When women’s literary tastes are deemed less worthy
“Many of the novels that sell well are mainstream genre readings – romance, mystery, etc. Many novels which not selling well, meanwhile, are the kind discussed in high profile publications.

?? the goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

book cover

Europe editions

The subtle genius of Elena Ferrante’s bad covers
“While Ferrante’s covers are definitely run-of-the-mill, there’s not much about them that’s genuinely condescending. There are no flowers, no martini glasses, no shopping bags on Ferrante’s blankets, no high-heeled condescension. There are just pictures of women doing things that women, in fact, do occasionally: standing still, holding children, being on the beach. And yet, the very image of women doing things now seems illiterate, even to female readers.

?? My brilliant friend, by Elena Ferrante
?? The story of the lost child, by Ferrante
?? The days of abandonment, by Ferrante
?? Fly home, by Jennifer Weiner
?? Mare, by Mary Gaitskill

Eric Jerome Dickey

The work of Eric Jerome Dickey is a master class in Black joy. (Yola Monakhov / The New York Times / Redux)

Eric Jerome Dickey Made Black Women Feel Seen
“Dickey’s characters – bold, intelligent women oozing sexuality and vulnerability – navigate interpersonal conflicts using dialogue that crackles with authenticity … In calling the struggles of his characters valid, he asserted that the struggles of mostly black women who read it were also valid. “

?? Mr. Suleman’s son, by Eric Jérôme Dickey
?? Sister, sister, by Dickey
?? Friends and lovers, by Dickey
?? Cheaters, by Dickey

About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she reads next is The other black girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris.

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About Marcia G. Hussain

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