Demanding representation for books and beyond

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A push for more local Black authors in the public library system

W.D. Foster Graham has a real passion for words. He was raised in South Minneapolis and graduated from Luther College as a psychology major.

An avid reader from a young age, novels remain a passion of Foster Graham. “My dad was a voracious reader, so I guess I get it from him,” he said. He is also quick to share his favorite genre. “I am a fan of romance so [author] Brenda Jackson tops that list. Also, E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy and, of course, Toni Morrison,” he said.

By the time he became an adult, Foster-Graham was ready to try his own hand at writing. “I didn’t begin actually writing a novel until my late thirties,” he said. And writing the novel was only half the battle. “From writing it to having the book published, it took about 17 years,” he said.

Just as his father influenced his early love for writing, so did he inspire his future as a published author. “My father was my biggest fan and biggest critic. He put his stamp of approval on [my first book], and that meant the world to me,” he said.

Some of Foster-Graham’s most notable books include “Never Give Up” and “Mark My Words,” which are both part of his Christopher Family Novel series.

Submitted photo W.D. Foster Graham

Publishing while Black

As a Black author, Foster-Graham encountered a number of difficulties in the publishing sphere. Many of which are factors that often plague the Black community beyond publishing or academia, like discrimination and the glaring lack of representation.

While publishing proved an admittedly challenging process, Foster-Graham saw through to a necessary opportunity for him to take full control of the production of his books. “I have the creative control,” he said.

He used the self-publishing process as an opportunity to care for his project in a way that was relevant to his unique narrative as a Black voice in the United States. “I had to vet editors. I would ask them, ‘What does cultural sensitivity mean to you?’” he said.

Get Black on the shelf

While the African American literary canon is vast and broad, it is not surprising that the bookshelves of Minnesota’s public library systems are not stocked full of more Black and Brown narratives, especially from local contributors. This was Foster-Graham’s observation, largely after becoming a published author.

After mastering his hand at writing and becoming comfortable with the publishing process, getting his books (and that of other local Black authors) on the shelves was the third hurdle that Foster-Graham found on his path. “Aside from my own business and my own body of work, I wanted to know, how do I pay it forward?”

Because of the obvious disparity, Foster-Graham found it an urgent agenda to get more Black books on the shelves in the state of Minnesota. “When we talk about systematic racism, I know that this is something I can address, how the library selects books,” he said.

Courtesy of Unsplash

Demanding representation for books and beyond

Beginning with his own body of work, Foster-Graham began calling local libraries, addressing the disparity in representation, and requesting libraries place his books on the shelves. “Hennepin County was the first to purchase my books,” he said.

According to Foster-Graham, now seven counties in the Twin Cities metro area plus St. Paul, Rochester, and St. Cloud, offer his books and other Black authors that he has requested. He urges the Black community to do the same. “You need to come at them with data on how they can access more African American books. I provided them with an alternative [solution],” he said.

Through his writing and bold requests of our city, Foster-Graham is proof of how effective our voices can be towards progressive change, for books and beyond.

“There is an audience out there waiting for what you have and as African Americans this is direly important,” he said.

You can find W.D. Foster-Graham’s books on Amazon…or by visiting your local library.

About Tiffany Johnson

Tiffany Johnson is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at tjohnson@spokesman-recorder.com.

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