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Lit for chicks of color: a girls' guide to desirable reading.

Walk through any chain bookstore, and you're likely to be bombarded with alluring titles and brightly designed covers in a special section: chick lit. It's the publishing phenomenon that has developed over the past decade of romance literature for women. Suzanne Ferriss, co-editor of the first academic anthology to critically examine chick lit, Chick Lit: New Woman's Fiction, says the genre is a force to be reckoned with, "not simply a marketing ploy." Ferriss and co-editor Mallory Young argue that chick lit is the most recent manifestation of historical trends in publishing relating to a "resurgence of interest in literature for women, by women" whose roots date back to the nineteenth century and authors like Jane Austen. Chick lit's growing popularity reflects the interests and power of the majority of the book-buying public: women, 70 percent and on the rise, to be exact.


With the mushrooming demand for and popularity of chick lit in the past five years, sub-genres including titles for and by women of color have emerged. While the chick lit phenomenon was arguably ignited in the early '90s by Terri McMillan's Waiting To Exhale, it has been in the past three years that chick lit for women of color started producing significant numbers of titles. Unfortunately, the publishing houses' eagerness to tap into the market of professional women of color has watered down the caliber of literature being produced for and by women of color. Far from the days of books like Waiting To Exhale that address substantive issues with cultural accuracy in an accessible way, titles like Playing With Boys by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez and Cara Lockwood's Dixieland Sushi are among the latest to capitalize on cultural stereotypes and bad cliches. These titles represent the ugly side of chick lit: formulaic and representative of stereotypical images of women of color from the horrible Asian grandma driver to the sexually-repressed Latina mother. Though not an industry standard, there are publishers who make a concerted effort to steer clear of this trend. Karen Thomas, founder of the five-year-old Dafina imprint of Kensington Books, requires that the titles she publishes that fall under the "chick lit," "girlfriend lit" or "urban lit" genres be empowering to women.

Despite the undesirable literature currently being mass-produced in the chick lit genre, quality literature for women of color with themes of romance and cultural and social issues continues to be produced. Albeit with significantly less frequency than the popular and easily marketable chick lit, these novels offer well-written stories about the experiences of women of color, from immigration to sexual abuse. Both Abha Dawesar's Babyji and Jill Nelson's Sexual Healing tell compelling tales of sexual awakenings that simultaneously tackle complex issues like gender roles, female sexuality and Western colonial influences on notions of sexuality throughout the world. Also worth reading is Let It Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz and Highwire Moon by Susan Straight about Latina women with themes ranging from sexuality to mother-hood to immigration. Unlike the formulaic and trite chick lit, these novels employ imaginative perspectives in their storytelling that promote the continued growth of literature written for and by women of color.

Babyji by Abha Dawesar (Anchor 2005)

Setting her tale in Delhi, Dawesar tells the story of one young woman's sexual awakening. Anamika embarks on a journey to explore her sexuality and finds both women and men to help answer her questions about life and love. Seamlessly woven into the plot is Dawesar's commentary on Western colonization of India, queer identities, gender roles and binary notions of sexual identity.

Sexual Healing by Jill Nelson (Agate 2004)

Who could resist a story about two women with vision and entrepreneurial acumen and the brothel that emerges from the fruits of their labor? Their bordello for women offers a no-strings-attached option for dissatisfied Black women who are single, married, dating or otherwise: attentive and attractive men with expertise in the bedroom. Nelson's cheeky style is laugh out loud funny while still emphasizing the meaningful friendship between the two protagonists, Acey and Lydia.

Highwire Moon by Susan Straight (Anchor 2002)

Straight tackles many pressing issues in this heart-wrenching story about a Mexican Indian immigrant mother and her daughter and their simultaneous journeys to find one another after being separated for over a decade. Following the mother, Elvia, on her journey to locate her daughter, immigration issues like border crossing, coyotes, vigilante border patrol and the life of California migrant farm workers are addressed in great detail. As Serafina, the 15-year-old daughter in the story, searches for answers about her past, she struggles with her multiracial identity and racism from family, friends and peers. Straight weaves the intricate stories of mother and daughter together in a compelling story about love, loss, family and home.

The Almond: The Sexual Awakening of a Muslim Woman by Nedjma (Grove 2005)

After first being published in France and then being translated into eight languages (including English), this semi-autobiographical erotica by a North African Muslim woman has finally made it to press in the United States. Nedjma wrote her groundbreaking story in response to both extreme U.S. and Muslim fundamentalism in the aftermath of September 11. Taking on the culturally taboo topic of sex within the Muslim world was Nedjma's way of trying to break long-lasting stereotypes and portray realities of sex and sexuality for Muslim women and men.

Desilicious: Sexy. Subversive. South Asian. (Arsenal Pulp Press 2004)

This collection of stories, poems and personal essays edited by The Masala Trois Collective offers a glimpse into South Asian sexualities, working to both stimulate and arouse their readers and dispel myths and stereotypes at the same time. The collection attracts a variety of readers: the romantics, the crude and lewd, men and women alike, queer and otherwise. These passionate stories are artfully crafted to leave you waiting for more.

Master Han's Daughter: Tales Of Depraved Neotokyo by Midori (Circlet Press 2006)

Midori calls upon her experience as a former professional dominatrix to tell erotic sadomasochistic tales in her freshman effort as an erotica fiction author. With stories that combine mystery and desire, set in "futuristic Tokyo," this collection makes for an exciting, sexy read. Midori also published a nonfiction book of essays about all things erotic called Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink Educational, Sensual, and Entertaining Essays (Daedalus).

Quixotic Erotic by Tamai Kobayashi (Arsenal Pulp Press 2003)

Tamai Kobayashi, born in Japan and raised in Canada, writes exquisitely erotic stories about love between women with themes to entice readers with a diverse assortment of fantasies. From steamy office sex to sci-fi fantasy, Kobayashi's lesbian erotic tales are sure to make anyone blush. Her work has also appeared in Best Lesbian Erotica 2003 (Cleis) and Getting Wet (Women's Press).

With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn (Arsenal Pulp Press 2005)

This new anthology of lesbian erotica, edited by Trish Kelly and Amber Dawn, includes many talented women of color writers like Suki Lee (Sapphic Traffic), Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Nalo Hopkinson and more. While no two stories are alike, they all successfully arouse different aspects of sexual play and fantasy. The stories are able to capture moments on the continuum of sexual experiences and celebrate femme sexuality.

Let It Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz (Simon & Schuster 2005)

This family drama follows the members of the Colon family through their experiences as first and second-generation Dominican Republic immigrants in New York. From Esperanza, the mother full of hope for her children and working multiple jobs as a domestic worker to pay off the debts of her dead husband, to Bobby, the teenage boy struggling to stay out of trouble in their Washington Heights tenement, each character offers insight into the ups and downs and unfulfilled promises of life as an immigrant family.

Megan Izen is ColorLines editorial and marketing intern.
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Title Annotation:culture
Author:Izen, Megan
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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