If you have been reading Valerie Martin's Property which is an optional exam set text in Britain for many 16+ A-level students, you will be familiar with the horrors of slavery, and the problems of voice, representation and point of view in black literature.
I'm always surprised that so many teachers recoil from teaching texts that may be harrowing. After all, the postmodern ennui that pervades so much of contemporary society does far more harm by turning away from our violent heritage and the continuation of hatred, exploitation and abuse across all societies today.
If you have not come across it, I'd also strongly recommend reading Langston Hughes' How to be a Bad Writer (In Ten Easy Lesson)
1. Use all the clichés possible, such as “He had a gleam in his eye,” or ‘Her teeth were white as pearls.”
2. If you are a Negro, try very hard to write with an eye dead on the white market – use modern stereotypes of older stereotypes – big burly Negroes, criminals, low-lifers, and prostitutes.
3. Put in a lot of profanity and as many pages as possible of near pornography and you will be so modern you pre-date Pompeii in your lonely crusade toward the bestseller lists. By all means be misunderstood, unappreciated, and ahead of your time in print and out, then you can be felt-sorry-for by your own self, if not the public.
4. Never characterize characters. Just name them and then let them go for themselves. Let all of them talk the same way. If the reader hasn’t imagination enough to make something out of cardboard cut-outs, shame on him!
5. Write about China, Greence, Tibet or the Argentine pampas — anyplace you’ve never seen and know nothing about. Never write about anything you know, your home town, or your home folks, or yourself.
6. Have nothing to say, but use a great many words, particularly high-sounding words, to say it.
7. If a playwright, put into your script a lot of hand-waving and spirituals, preferably the ones everybody has heard a thousand times from Marion Anderson to the Golden Gates.
8. If a poet, rhyme June with moon as often and in as many ways as possible. Also use thee’s and thou’s and ’tis and o’er , and invert your sentences all the time. Never say, “The sun rose, bright and shining.” But rather, “Bright and shining rose the sun.’
9. Pay no attention really to the spelling or grammar or the neatness of the manuscript. And in writing letters, never sign your name so anyone can read it. A rapid scrawl will better indicate how important and how busy you are.
10. Drink as much liquor as possible and always write under the presence of alcohol. When you can’t afford alcohol yourself, or even if you can, drink on your friends, fans, and the general public.
If you are white, there are many more things I can advise in order to be a bad writer, but since this piece is for colored writers, there are some thing I know a Negro just will not do, not even for writing’s sake, so there is no use mentioning them.
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If you want o know more about the history of slavery which will be highly relevant for your reading of Valerie Martin's Property I strongly recommend a viewing of the documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman.