Under The Covers:
The Popularity and Debate Over Black Erotic Literature Part III

Violet Bra by Shishy
"Under The Covers: The Popularity and Debate Over Black Erotic Literature" was written and published by Jenee Darden in 2006. Figures and stats are from 2006 and may be outdated today. The entire article has been broken up into a 3-part series for Cocoa Fly. THIS WORK IS COPYRIGHTED.

Click here for the Intro
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II





Pornographic or Erotic?


When “Erotique Noire” was first released, Martin says some black political groups criticized the book for including homosexual and bisexual black male characters and said that the literature enhanced stereotypes of black sexuality as lewd. Zane’s books share the same negative feedback. Some readers find her work derogatory, even more pornographic then erotic. A reviewer on Amazon.com commented that one of the erotica queen’s books “was “distasteful” and promoted “slut freedom instead of sexual freedom.”
This arouses the age-old question: what’s the difference between pornography and erotica?
“Pornography is sexual but it’s demeaning,” says sex expert Hilda Hutcherson. “There’s often violence and women are put down. Sex is not glorified as something that’s wonderful and pleasing to a couple. When you look at erotica, its two people who may or may not be married but are sharing a wonderful experience and there’s some beauty in that pleasure.”

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According to sexologist Dr. Samuels, pornography comes from the Greek word “porne,” which means whore. Eros, the Greek god of carnal love, is the root for “erotica.” But, Samuels says what’s erotic or pornographic is up for interpretation.
“It’s a difficult thing to define. But, like Justice Potter Stewart said, I can’t give the definition ‘but I know it when I see it,’” he says.

Editors like Carol Taylor and Zane decide whether a story falls under erotic before placing them in an anthology.
“Pornography is just straight sex and real erotica has some sort of storyline,” Zane says.
“The sex and sexuality in my books are in the language, the setting and the feelings the characters arouse in each other and the reader. That’s not so for porn,”
Taylor says. The “Brown Sugar” anthologies generally use more prose and have longer build-up to sex scenes.

But writer Preston Allen says works by Zane and other black writers are not very erotic, and definitely not pornographic. Compared to white erotic authors like the late Anais Nin and Suzy Bright, black writers’ ink is lukewarm. He says Zane’s relationship-based stories have “puritanical values” and black erotica is “tamed.”
“When African Americans write erotica or pornography they are way more conservative than anything you read in mainstream or white erotica,” says Allen. “Basically, all of our erotica are relationship stories with sex in it. “You read someone like Michael Hemmingson and you see the kind of f*cking people are doing.”

The Write Way

Some readers and literary critics have criticized Zane, saying her plots are repetitive and have no structure. While the sex on the sheets, barber’s chair, or parking lot scenes lack prose. One Amazon customer’s review of “Addicted” described the novel as “a true disappointment, unrealistic, with ridiculous slang, simplistic and predictable.”

Miriam DeCosta-Willis isn’t pleased with Zane’s format and similar methods that up-and-coming black writers are using. “Personally, it doesn’t say anything to me,” says Willis. “Most of it is very poorly written, the characters are not well developed and there is no plot. They’re formulaic: girl meets boy, boy cheats on her, etc.”

Reginald Martin would not comment on Zane’s work, but agrees with DeCosta-Willis’ opinion that the new generation of erotic stories are weak.
“You think you’ve read some great erotic writing when really all you’ve read is like the jottings from someone’s sex diaries,” he says.

Regardless what people think of Zane’s writing skills, the entrepreneur is laughing all the way to the bank. Colleagues say her signature writing formula and marketing plan are genius: create romance stories with graphic sex scenes for the core black readers’ market, young African-American women.
“Zane is popular because she tapped into the main vein,” Allen says. “The best selling [erotic authors] are people who are writing relationship stories and they are not afraid to put [characters] in bed.”
Willis doesn’t like Zane’s work but admires her business abilities.
“I applaud writers like Zane and others, they saw a way to make a buck and they made it very commercial,” she says.
“She knows her stuff,” says Strebor Books International author Laurinda Brown. “Zane is very professional and quick to recognize her mistakes and change them.”

As for what’s next to come of this hot genre, “Erotique Noire’s” Reginald Martin and Miriam DeCosta-Willis say the spark is fizzling.
“The future of it is shaky because it’s been done endlessly in the past 15 years. What we need is a thriving new market with an audience that renews itself every five to seven years,” says Martin.
“I think it’s a movement whose time has come and gone,” said Willis.

But Malaika Adero, senior editor at Atria Books/Simon & Schuster says she does not see the genre dying out anytime soon because of the increasing sales. Black sex-lit fans may determine if erotic authors still make their pages melt this year with the upcoming release of Martin’s third erotic anthology, “A Deeper Shade of Sex.” Carol Taylor wrapped up the “Brown Sugar” collection last winter with the fourth and final volume, but just released the first of a new series called “Wanderlust.”

Now a new wave of writers is making their way onto best-selling lists by intertwining erotica with ghetto, urban storylines. This genre, referred by many names, including “street books” or “urban fiction,” is flying off bookshelves. The difference between street books and the novels discussed earlier is that the stories center on the harsh realities of the inner city. Characters are drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps and gangsters. The authors use a lot of street slang and sex in the stories.

Noire’s “G-Spot,” has remained on Essence magazine’s best-selling list for months, and topped its paperback-fiction list in February. The gritty tale is about a 19-year-old woman who cheats on her over-40 thuggish boyfriend and sleeps with his younger son.

Yet, Zane still reigns in the black erotic world. Now a Mary Kay of the literature business, she implemented an independent sales representative program. According to her website, she has nearly 5,000 representatives selling her work and Strebor books. She plans to release a line of body products, clothing and adult toys. This fall she will bring her breakthrough novel “Addicted” to life on play stages through a 55-city tour. The novelist hasn’t abandoned her roots. She has a few of her own books set for publication.

As black erotica evolves and Zane’s empire grows, sex-lit’s life span is in readers’ hands. Whether one finds black erotic literature lewd or liberating, degrading or entertaining, one thing is for certain: sex sells.

Photo Cred:
Red Canna by Georgia O'Keeffe
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Comments

  1. Please use the "Name/URL" option when commenting. I don't care if it's fake.

    YOU DO NOT have to type in a URL.

    Thanks!

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  2. Really sounds like an interesting piece with very interesting characters and storylines.

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  3. I liked this post alot. I never read erotica, didn't even know black people wrote it til last thursday. my cousin bought me one called Eros comes in black satin by Lady eros. I was expecting a trashy book, but this lady writes pretty classy stuff! You should check it out.

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  4. Thanks for your comment Marny. I'll check out Lady Eros.

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  5. Really enjoyed this piece. Nice to know that I am not alone in my love of Erotica as a genre of reading, and I found the historical perspective to be very interesting. Thanks!~Imani True

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  6. Thanks Imani! It's great to know the history about something you love. Writing this has made me more appreciative of black authors and women authors. Good luck with your writings.

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  7. I found this so informative and really enjoyed reading it! I am a long time fan of Erotique Noire so it was interesting to read some of the history behind it. I would love to post a link to your article on my blog if that's ok with you...

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  8. Hey Jacque,
    You can post a link on your website just not the actual article. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  9. This is a great blog. Thanks Jenee for the great article. I agree about Zane, but she is a business genius. I think people interpret Erotica in different ways..... maybe in the way that reflects who they are. My type of erotica is reflected in the work of Dean Jean-Pierre. He is an up and coming author and I think he is going to be very successful. When I read his work,I am enthralled and my mind and soul are consumed. It is a wonderful, lasting feeling that seems so real. He gives me exactly what I want. (www.deanjeanpierre.com)

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  10. Hi Liz and Happy New Year. Thanks for reading the article. You make a very good point, "I think people interpret Erotica in different ways..... maybe in the way that reflects who they are." And I'll add on to that, it can reflect who or what they want to be. Thanks for reading and please share a link to this post and blog. :)

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  11. As a writer of erotica and the editor of a new experimental erotic anthology, I applaud this post.

    It's all about interpretation, but I've read enough of both to be able to see a distinct difference between porn and erotica. I personally believe that erotic stories have plots where characters have great descriptive sex, whereas porn is sex for sex's sake. It's all about tone, but as I (and other commenters) said, it's all open to interpretation.

    I don't care for Zane's work, but I am not mad at her hustle. She saw a need and filled it, and no one can fault her business sense. We should all be so blessed.

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  12. Hi Amaya,

    Glad you liked the post. Make sure to read parts 1 and 2. You've echoed what others have said they feel is the difference b/t erotica and porn. And there are some people who see them as the same. I agree that Zane is a heck of a business woman. I'm curious, what is your erotic anthology about? And why is it experimental? Are you bringing something fresh to the game. Also, since you write erotica, do you feel it has fizzled out in black literature? Or is it still a hot genre in your opinion? Thanks for your comment.

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  13. Jah love. Give thanks and praises for sharing these articles on black erotica in literature. I was an African and African diaspora literature major and I never really looked into the genre until I came upon the book Black Erotica in 1992. And this is really sad because I am extremely interested in doing academic work on the subject of eroticism, empowerment and the importance of differentiating between that and sex/pornography. I would like to see more of our scholars especially the feminists, (belle hooks) and womanist (Weems) and the race theorists (West) grapple with this issue. I feel strongly that we have to find ways to reclaim the black body because the suffering and assault has traumatized the bodily experience in profound ways. Let the healing and rejoicing begin. Blessed love.

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  14. Hi and thanks for your response! I'm glad you like the articles. I still love reading Erotique Noire/Black Erotica. I'm working on a project and hope to have some good black erotic news in the very near future. I agree with you about the trauma to our bodies and experiences. And yes, let the healing again. Thank you for the beautiful post.

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