If You’re Not First…

You’re last.

Those are the immortal words of Rickey Bobby aka Will Ferrell playing yet another lovable dolt in Talladega Nights. He lived by the mantra because his father uttered the words before he disappeared from Rickey’s life.

Only to have his father come back many years later and declare the statement stupid since there are plenty of other places behind first and before you get to last.

And it’s true.  But, how important is it to be first? And, is it better to be last, in some cases?

Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball. Historic moment. It also meant he endured the most hateful and vile treatment from folks who didn’t give a rat’s ass he was first, only that he wasn’t white.

Jackie was among those “firsts” who reaped both benefits and strife for being first. All these years later, a lot of baseball players of color are making serious bank because he came before them to pave the way.

The Sugar Hill Gang is the first rap group to have a pop hit on its hands. Today they get love on the oldies circuit, but who knew hip hop would explode into such a financial bonanza? I’m thinking, they didn’t. They’re among the firsts who probably wished they’d been better able to bank off the status – like today’s artists are, aka the “lasts.”

What I’m saying is, being first will always be cool, but can it pay to be, not first?

From a literary perspective, the field is still wide open for an African American commercial YA fiction author to blow up a la Meyer, Rowlings, Brashares, or Cabot. They may be out there, now, grinding out the manuscript  or already published but flying just below the masses attention.

In my eyes, Dana Davidson (who has the highest BBS page views of any of our featured authors) is already the official/unofficial first in this department.  But she’s more like Sugar Hill Gang than Jackie Robinson.

When that break out author hits – I’m talking about on the Today show, walking the red carpet for the premiere of the movie based on their book, a household name even among folks who haven’t read their book, it’ll be Dana Davidson who they can thank.

Total honesty, I’m not sure how I feel about it or at least how I feel about where I fit in the spectrum.

I count myself a first. There were no Af-Am DRB-type books before mine, but they’re coming.  That’s a good thing. But I hardly feel like a Jackie Robinson first. And I damnned sure don’t want to be a Sugar Hill first.

When I step back and turn the issue over and over…and over, I don’t think last is so bad. Not if it means steady readers, income and contracts.

Yessir, last is looking mighty fine.

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Paula Chase Hyman is the YA author of the Del Rio Bay series. Her latest release, Flipping The Script (Dafina 2009), is the fifth and final book in the series. This is likely the only time she’d ever want to be last in anything!

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