Thursday, May 8, 2008

Genre Block: Street Lit

From the conference program:
"Sometimes called Street Lit, sometimes Urban Lit, this genre of fiction is growing in popularity in areas beyond big cities. It is probably one of the more misunderstood genres as well."


Carin O’Connor, Acting Branch Librarian, Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library, began by asking participants if they had heard of:
True to the Game

Flyy Girl


Coldest Winter Ever


Several people raised their hands, so Carin wondered why they were here! She went on to speak about how these books and authors were originally kept behind the circ desk when she first went to work at her branch because "they were so nasty." But these are the books that teens want to read. Now they are out in the stacks, but are seldom on the shelves for long.

She gave a brief overview of Urban Lit classics:
Down These Mean Streets/Piri Thomas, 1965
Pimp/Iceberg Slim, 1967
Dopefiend/Donald Gomes, 1971
Coldest Winter Ever/Sista Souljah, 1999
Flyy Girl/Omar Tyree, 2001
B More Careful/Shannon Holmes, 2001
Addicted/Zane, 2001

Sara Slymon, Branch Librarian, Mattapan Branch of the Boston Public Library spoke about the population her branch serves. 35% of the population of Mattapan is under 18. Urban lit is a nascent genre, literally changing from week to week and hard to keep up with, sparked by the publication of Coldest Winter Ever by Sista Souljah, who self-published the book and sold it out of the trunk of her car. The entrepreneurship of these authors is astounding; they use guerilla marketing and street teams to sell their books.

What people say, pro and con, about the effects of street lit:
  • Reinforces racial stereotypes
  • Helps urban youth deal with issues they encounter in their lives
  • Has reinvigorated mom and pop bookstores
  • Offers moral parables, showing consequences for actions
  • It's entertaining

Spin offs:

  • Erotica
  • Christian urban fiction
  • White street lit
  • International translations

Tracy Brown, author of Black and Dime Piece, published by Triple Crown Publications, Criminal Minded, published by St. Martin’s Press, which was nominated for YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and her most recent novel, Twisted, which comes out on May 13th.

Urban fiction gives the reader a glimpse into hard truths and harsh realities. As a mother, Tracy Brown thinks it's important that teens have something to read with which they can identify. Initially the reader is drawn in by the roughness, but a deeper look uncovers a message or lesson to be learned. Writing urban lit, for Brown, is "a chance to tell our stories." It motivates young people to read more and more. Brown feels that authors of street lit have a responsibility to depict urban life realistically without glamorizing the life-style, and that the lesson should be loud and clear. As she writes, she thinks about what would be appropriate for her own children.

"Writers are painters of words. I hope I can continue to paint clear pictures of the things my readers see."

Posted by Kathy Lowe

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