The inside scoop on the book world

By Clarissa Cruz
Updated December 03, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

IT’S NAPPY TIME Books about blonds, dreadlocks, and bad ’80s haircuts have all made it into print recently, but one particular coiffure has caused more of a rumpus than a bad hair day. Nappy Hair, a 1997 African-American-themed call-and-response book by Carolivia Herron, ignited a media debate last year when some parents branded the story—the tale of a little black girl with hair so stubborn and ”willful” it can’t be tamed—as racist and insulting. Now author bell hooks has added to the controversy with her own children’s book, Happy to Be Nappy, an ode to kinky hair that’s accompanied by cheerful watercolor illustrations. ”I thought [Herron’s] book was really negative,” hooks says bluntly. ”I think if anybody is going to read that book to a child, they need to contextualize it because even the images are ugly.” Herron responds, ”My book and bell’s book are celebrating different things…. If you’re a careful reader, you’ll know I love [nappy] hair. It’s the perfect metaphor for the resilience and vitality of African-American culture.” She’s now incorporating the Nappy Hair story into a young-adult novel. Stay tuned for Nappy Hair Wars II.

THE CHINESE SYNDROME Newly minted National Book Award winner Ha Jin—whose wistful tale Waiting snagged the fiction prize—is thrilled about his victory, but he doesn’t think it’s unusual that he won the prestigious honor while writing in his second language. ”After I was hired at Emory University, I had to publish—and keep publishing—in English,” says Ha Jin, who emigrated from China in 1985. ”It was for practical reasons.” He’s now working on a follow-up novel about madness, tentatively titled The Crazed…. In other news last week, Stephen King and Peter Straub signed a $13.4 million deal with Random House to pen a sequel to their 1984 best-seller, The Talisman. Look for it in July 2000.—Lori Tharps