Oprah, save us, we can’t get by without you.
That’s the message from a group of published and award-winning novelists in an open letter to influential television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, begging her to resume picking new novels for members of her popular book club.
“There’s a widely-held belief that the landscape of literary fiction is now a gloomy place,” Word of Mouth, a loose alliance of women’s authors, wrote. It said fiction sales began to plummet when the The Oprah Winfrey Book Club went off the air in 2002 and stopped featuring contemporary authors.
“Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face of American publishing,” said the letter, which was signed by 158 authors.
Among those signing the letter were Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan, author of “The Joy Luck Club.” Several male authors also signed.
The letter expressed thanks for Winfrey’s contribution to book sales and asked her to “consider focusing, once again, on contemporary writers in your book club.”
“The readers need you. And we, the writers, need you,” it said. “Oprah Winfrey, we wish you’d come back.”
A spokeswoman for Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, poured cold water on the idea. “There are no plans to change the focus of the book club at this time,” she said.
'A stunning achievement'Paula Sharp, an author of four novels and a member of Word of Mouth, said, “Oprah got so many people to read contemporary fiction, in a way nobody else has ever done.”
“Getting people to read is about the most important contribution that anyone can make to American society,” Sharp told Reuters. “It’s a stunning achievement to get 500,00O people to go to bookstores.
Oprah’s Book Club began as a segment on Winfrey’s talk show in 1996. An Oprah’s Book Club logo on a novel’s cover helped many of her picks garner sales of more than 1 million copies.
The club became embroiled in controversy in 2001 when Jonathan Franzen publicly objected to the selection of his novel, “The Corrections,” and said he feared it might affect his reputation in literary circles. He later said he regretted voicing his reservations.
Winfrey suspended the club in April 2002, saying she would only make occasional recommendations because, “It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share.”
Relaunched in June 2003, the club now picks classics such as John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” and Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” rather than new books.
Authors complain that with publishers and bookstores consolidating, there are fewer avenues for new authors to break through. Winfrey’s book club, they argue, was one of the few developments to bring people back to bookstores in a decade that has seen a steady decline in sales of literary fiction.
The letter and a list of signatures can be found at http://wordofmouthwriters.org/.