Home Page of Word of Mouth:
the image below to visit our News Update page and read about how Oprah
has recommended Edward P. Jones' 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning
novel, The Known World, to book club readers.
We writers want to say thank you.
When you established The Oprah Winfrey Book Club in 1996, you did
something very bold, something that no one else has done. You declared
that every person -- anyone who could turn on a TV set -- could be part
of the literary world and enjoy it. You declared that anyone could like
Your Book Club brought contemporary novels to eager readers, and
your show gave the audience a way to look at the issues that literature
addresses. You led many people to read fiction who might not have done
so otherwise. You expanded
people's sense of what they dared to read, and you added depth and
diversity to America's reading list.
You encouraged people to tackle difficult contemporary novels,
like The Reader, and Song of Solomon and Breath, Eyes,
Memory. Throughout the country, people from all walks of life came
together to talk about books, thus finding their way into the long and
distinguished tradition of literary discussion.
But there's something more we want to say.
In the publishing world, there's a widely-held belief that the
landscape of literary fiction is now a gloomy place.
The terrorist attacks of September, 2001 are often cited as the
beginning of a great downward shift. After that, we've been told,
fiction sales flattened. After that, we've been told, the American
public lost its taste for literary fiction.
However, the writer M. J. Rose, a novelist and long-time reporter
on publishing news, has noticed something different. Her research
suggests that the drastic downward shift actually happened six months
after the attacks: fiction sales really began to plummet when the The Oprah
Winfrey Book Club went off the air.
When you stopped featuring contemporary authors on your program,
Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face
of American publishing. This phenomenon was a testament to the quality
of your programs, the scope of your influence, and the amazing
credibility you possess among loyal Book Club readers.
Sales figures, in the context of the literary market, do not
merely reflect profits; they are an indicator of literacy as well.
A country in which ordinary people flock to bookstores to buy the
latest talked-about work of fiction is a vibrantly literate country.
Every month your show sent hundreds of thousands of people
(mostly women, who are the largest group of literary fiction readers)
into bookstores. The
contemporary books you chose sold between 650,000 and 1,200,000 copies
apiece. Each Oprah selection gave readers a title to investigate and a
subject to explore. Importantly,
your Book Club also gave readers a chance to see these authors on the
air and to hear their words. Not only books but the writers themselves
became accessible to everyone, inviting all readers into the community
Few people have taken advantage of the
extravagant scope and power of television to do good. But you have. From
the start, you used your role in the media to encourage literacy,
thought and intellectual curiosity.
You made yourself a champion of contemporary fiction.
You tempted publishers to take chances on new writers, for whom
you became a beacon of hope. First
novelists and literary authors felt emboldened to write because of the
outside chance that an editor would see their work as potential Book
Club material. You dared to take contemporary literary fiction
seriously, and your daring enabled a new generation of writers to
For all of this, Oprah Winfrey, we are immensely grateful.
We'd like to thank you for welcoming readers into the world of
the literary imagination. We'd like to thank you for being an advocate
of Great Books such as East of Eden, Anna Karenina and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
We'd like to thank you for bringing an array of contemporary writers
-- first novelists and prizewinners, famous or little known --
face-to-face with their readers.
We'd also like to make a request: We'd like to ask that you consider focusing, once again, on
contemporary writers in your Book Club.
The American literary landscape is in distress.
Sales of contemporary fiction are still falling, and so are the
numbers of people who are reading.
Readers complain that, although daunting numbers of new books are
published, too few of them are brought to the public's attention in a
meaningful way. Readers
have trouble finding contemporary books they'll like. They, the
readers, need you. And we, the writers, need you. America needs a strong
voice that addresses everyone who can read, a voice that will say,
"Let's explore the books that are coming out today. Let's see what
moves us, what delights us, what speaks to us in a way that only fiction
Oprah Winfrey, we wish you'd come back.
With best wishes,
An Association of Women Authors
Click here, if you wish for further information on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, Word of Mouth, or website contacts.
Click here, if you're the author of a book of prose or poetry, and would like to sign in at our website as a supporter of the letter.