African American Authors – Finalists but Not Winners

The winners of the National Book Critics Awards were presented in New York City on March 8, 2012.  Although there were five African Americans nominated, none became a winner. I believe, however, that some of their books may become notables in the future. This observation is based purely on my choice, and favorite books read this year. For instance, Manning Marable (now deceased), a Columbia scholar gives the reader a memorable and detailed account of the life of Malcolm X in this book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. But, he also walks us directly into alleyways and great stages of Malcolm’s life never mentioned before. This book is “the product of more than 10 years of work and draws on Malcolm’s letters and diaries; the results of surveillance conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department; and interviews with Malcolm’s contemporaries, including Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, whom Marable talked to for nine hours.” (NY Times, Sunday Book Review) I agree with The San Francisco Chronicle, it “hails this book as a masterpiece.”

Another top read from the list of African American Finalists is Harlem is Nowhere A Journey to the Mecca of Black America. The title is an offshoot from a “1948 essay wherein Ralph Ellison describes “nowhere” as the crossroads where personal reality meets the metaphorical meanings attached to people and places.” The author, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, a Harvard graduate and Fulbright Scholar in the United Kingdom moves from Houston to Harlem and begins researching Harlem’s iconic lifestyle. She talks to citizens of the area and discovers how influential Harlem was in the 1900’s. Her many visits and talks with those in political meetings, restaurants, funeral homes, neighbor homes, parades and demonstrations, and the homeless gave her the perfect stage for her Harlem based book. This is a great book to add to any library. As one reviewer states,  “In a time of reality shows it is great to get a chance to read about a real place that is well known but well misunderstood. I loved reading the descriptive backdrop of Sharifa Rodes-Pitts’ Harlem and all the unscripted drama or happening of life. It was also inspiring to read about the former organizations that existed at the height of Harlem’s hay day as well as to mourn their ceasing to exist. Always great to have a guide that is invested heart and mind. A wonderful read. Call to the artist and activist of the day to create and build community by being aware and understanding their surroundings.”

Other books written by the five on this list consists of books of poetry by Aracelis Girmay – Kingdom Animalia, a book about “honoring our dead as they are with praising the living.” The author uses the lens of animals while sharing the difficulties and beautiful moments about our time living on earth. Another book about poetry written by Yusef Komunyakaa is The Chameleon Couch. I haven’t read these two books , but I plan to add them to my reading list.

While working on this article, I tried to get a decent book sales ranking program or website so I could see the actual sales numbers of each book. Unfortunately, the most reputable book sales statistics are offered for a fee only by Neilson Bookscan. A closer look at who maintains the stats on book sales shows me the whole system is complicated and not necessarily reliable depending on where and how a book is sold. Here, is a short version of how stats on book sales is compiled. First, it depends on the type of book you’re looking for- digital, Ebook, or print. You also need to know the category of the book. Another important factor,  is the publishing company, because each publisher produces sales numbers for their company. If you know the book’s publisher start there and contact the publisher. But, suppose you need a list of sales rankings from various publishers. That could take you a great deal of time. Even with Amazon (if the book is sold by Amazon) could become an acrobatic act for the researcher. The following is book sales information directly from Amazon:

 Amazon has sales rankings for each individual book.

What Sales Rank Means:

As an added service for customers, authors, publishers, artists, labels, and studios, we show how items in our catalog are selling. The lower the number, the higher the sales for that particular item. The calculation is based on sales and is updated each hour to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on

What Category Sales Ranks Mean:

While Sales Rank is a good indicator of how well a product is selling overall, it doesn’t always indicate how popular an item is among other similar items. Our category sales ranks were created to highlight those categories where an item really stands out. We choose a few categories where the item has a high ranking in relation to other items in that category, and showcase them on the product page. Like Amazon Sales Rank, these category rankings are based on sales and updated every hour.

What Item’s Actual Sales Are

For competitive reasons, generally does not publish this information to the public. Authors are encouraged to contact their publishers if they wish to obtain sales information about their books.

Personally, I’d love to see the rankings all the books mentioned in this article. But, I can’t be certain of the validity of the numbers. So, for the moment, I’ll settle for what I like and dislike as the top selling book gauge.


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