The ZORA Canon, our list of the 100 greatest books ever written by African American women, is one of a kind, yet it exists within a rich cultural tradition. As author and New York Times contributing opinion writer Kaitlyn Greenidge notes in “Why We Need to Acknowledge the African American Women’s Canon,” her insightful and moving introduction to the list, Black artists and cultural leaders have been compiling documents of this sort since the 1700s, first as part of an ongoing argument against White supremacy and slavery. Later, during Reconstruction, as a reminder to the newly literate Black population “that they were not alone.” Later still, to catalog the abundance of the Harlem Renaissance (the period that brought us Zora Neale Hurston, for whom ZORA is named). And in contemporary time, less to prove the value of Black women’s voices and their humanity than to “go about challenging the work of figuring out what this space would mean for us.”
Selling my friends’ CDs was starting to take up a lot of my time. I realized I had accidentally started a business. But I didn’t want to start a business! I was already living my dream life as a fulltime musician. I didn’t want anything to distract me from that.
So, I thought that by taking an unrealistically utopian approach, I could keep the business from growing too much. Instead of trying to make it big, I was going to make it small. It was the opposite of ambition, so I had to think in a way that was the opposite of ambitious.
I wrote down my utopian dream-come-true distribution deal from my musician’s point of view. In a perfect world, my distributor would…
This story begins in 1997. I was a professional musician, age 27. I was making a full-time living just playing music — playing lots of gigs around the U.S. and Europe, producing people’s records, playing on people’s records, and running a little recording studio. I was even the musician and MC for a circus.
My bank account was always low, but never empty. I made enough money to buy a house in Woodstock, New York. I was living a musician’s dream.
I made a CD of my music, and sold 1500 copies at my concerts. I wanted to sell it online, but there were no businesses that would sell independent music online. Not one. I called up the big online record stores and they all told me the same thing: The only way I could get my CD into their online stores was through a major distributor.