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Home Entertainment : Black Writers Get a New Forum for Audio Books

November 18, 1994|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Black writers are woefully underrepresented in the audio book business.

According to Renee Leggett, director of marketing for Juneteenth Audio Books, of the tens of thousands of audio books on the market, only about 200 are by black authors.

"That's pitiful," Leggett said about an industry that grosses more than $1 billion a year. But rather than sit around and gripe about the situation, she went out this year and, with partner Steven Williams and the financial backing of Time Warner, founded Juneteenth to put out audio books by black authors.

"There's been a desperate need in this business for a company like Juneteenth," said Fran Morrill, marketing director for Heller Audio Books, a three-chain retail outlet in New York City. "They're doing a really good job in filling the void. I can tell from the response of our customers. They're committed and they're putting out good titles."

Why do so few black writers make it to tape?

"We're up against the stereotype that says black people don't read, black people aren't interested in literature, so there's no market and no demand," Leggett replied. "We don't buy that." But there are other reasons too, she added. For one thing, there are fewer books published by African American authors than white authors, so there will naturally be fewer audio books by black authors. And audio book publishers maintain that fewer blacks go into mainstream book stores, which are the big outlets for audio books, she said.

None of these obstacles deterred the Juneteenth founders. Their first releases are Susan Taylor's "In the Spirit," Bebe Moore Campbell's "Your Blues Ain't Like Mine" and Tina McElroy's "Ugly Ways." Ernest Gaines' "A Lesson Before Dying" is due out by the end of the year. (These are all abridged versions--two-cassette packages that run about three hours and are priced at $20 each.)

Juneteenth is relying on Time Warner's clout to help get the tapes into book stores, but it also hopes to build a strong mail-order market. (Information: (800) 830-8088).

Leggett said Juneteenth plans to cover a wide area--fiction, nonfiction, children's books and classics--and will put out about 8-10 titles a year.

Music Videos

If you couldn't get tickets to the Stones concert, you can get plenty of satisfaction from "The Rolling Stones: Live-Voodoo Lounge Tour," a 90-minute, 17-song tape shot last August at a New Jersey stadium show. Available by mail-order only, from Brockum Global Merchandising, at $20; (800) 947-7868.

The late, peerless country singer Patsy Cline is at her best in the one-hour, 17-song "Remembering Patsy." From Paramount/ABC Video at $20.

Members of the R&B vocal group Boyz II Men have been rapped for being bland and aloof. An effort to counter that icy image is "Then II Now: Boyz II Men," which humanizes them through feel-good footage shot in their hometown, Philadelphia. "Then II Now" also includes music videos. From Motown, at $20.

Wispy-voiced pop singer Sade, who plays the seductive temptress role to the hilt, has always sounded better live than on her albums. Her fans should love her 91-minute concert video, shot during the tour for her "Love Deluxe" album. Epic's "Live Concert Home Video" is priced at $20.

Special Interest

There's some interesting footage in the 95-minute documentary about the long-running TV series, "60 Minutes . . . 25 Years," particularly parts of some old interviews with former President Jimmy Carter and Oprah Winfrey. From CBS Video, $20.

Don't be put off by the "yoga" in the title of "Dixie Carter's Yoga for You: Unworkout II." This one-hour tape is geared to everybody, explaining how to relax and unwind through stretching and breathing exercises. An incredibly calming program, from MCA/Universal at $20.

If you're about to embark on the information superhighway, an informative companion piece is "Information Superhighway: Understanding and Using the Internet," which explains how the computer network works and discusses the necessary tools. From Wehman Video, the half-hour tape is $30; (800) 659-1553.

What's New

"Speed" (FoxVideo): A mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) terrorizes Los Angeles and is tracked by a crafty cop (Keanu Reeves) who engineers some hair-raising escapes from several bomb threats. In the most heralded sequence, a bus races through town, driven by a passenger (Sandra Bullock) who's trying to keep it from dropping below a certain speed, which would activate a hidden bomb. This thrilling movie belongs in the action-suspense Hall of Fame.

"Wyatt Earp" (Warner); This 191-minute, two-cassette biography of the famous lawman (Kevin Costner) has an impressively realistic look. It's fine as history but, if you were expecting a gritty action Western, skip this one. A very, very slow movie that plays better on video, because you can watch it in segments. Seeing it in one sitting is a chore. As Doc Holliday, Dennis Quaid does the best acting in the movie.

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