Oprah Winfrey: A Sponsor of African American Novelists

[By Kenton Rambsy]

There are many different ways to talk about the growing
popularity of African American literature over the years. We can talk about
Pulitzer Prize Winners such as Alice Walker (1983) and Edward P. Jones (2004).
We could talk about the coverage of works by writers such as Toni Morrison and
Colson Whitehead in the New York Times
Book Review
. We could focus on writers such as Charles Johnson and Ishmael
Reed who have received Guggenheim Fellowships.

We can even focus on a key figure like Oprah Winfrey, who is
not a novelist but has nonetheless had an important effect on the reception of
African American literature. Since 1985, Winfrey has been involved in
several aspects of African American literature having been an actress, serving
as a producer in movies adapted from black novels, and raising the visibility
of black writers through her book club. Her popularity as a TV personality has
helped generate broader interest in Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and
Ernest J. Gaines.
Over the next week, I will present posts on Winfrey and how
she has used her pop culture status to influence commercial reception of black
novels and overall reception to specific authors.