- Urban fiction
Urban fiction, also known as Street lit and Gangsta fiction, is a
literary genreset, as the name implies, in a city landscape; however, the genre is as much defined by the race and culture of its characters as the urban setting. The tone for urban fiction is usually dark, focusing on the underside. Profanity (all of George Carlin's seven dirty wordsand urban variations thereof), sex and violence are usually explicit, with the writer not shying away from or watering-down the material. In this respect, urban fiction shares some common threads with dystopianor survivalistfiction. Often statements derogatory to white people (or at least what is perceived as the dominant whiteculture and power structure) are made, usually by the characters. However, in the second wave of urban fiction, some variations of this model have been seen.
Genesis and historical forces behind urban fiction
fictionwas (and largely still is) a genre written by and for African-Americans. In his famous essay “ The Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. Duboistalked about how a veil separated the African-American community from the outside world. [http://www.bartleby.com/114/] By extension, fiction written by people outside the African-American culture could not (at least with any degree of verisimilitude) depict the people, settings, and events experienced by people in that culture. Try as some might, those who grew up "outside the veil" (i.e., outside the urban culture) simply could not write fiction truly grounded in inner-city and African-American life.
The first generation of urban fiction
In the 1970s, during the culmination of the
Black Powermovement, a jailed black man named Robert Beck took the pen name Iceberg Slimand wrote "Pimp", a dark, gritty tale of life in the inner-city underworld. While the book contained elements of the Black Power agenda, it was most notable for its unsparing depiction of street life. Iceberg Slim wrote many other novels, and attained an international following. Some of the terminology he used in his books crossed over into the lexicon of Black English. [http://www.popsubculture.com/pop/bio_project/iceberg_slim.html] . Other writers included Donald Goines [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0324786/bio] , and notably, Claude Brown's "Manchild In The Promised Land" published in 1965. Also published in 1965 was Malcolm X's autobiography, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Because this non-fictional read captures the realistic nature of African-American urban life for coming of age young men, the book has consistently served as a standard for reading amongst African-American teen-aged boys.
Hip Hop Lit: Rap music as an urban ballad
During the 1980s and early 1990s, urban fiction in print experienced a decline. However, one could make a cogent argument that urban tales simply moved from print to music [http://mmstudio.gannon.edu/~gabriel/parker.html] , as
rap musicexploded in popularity, with harsh, gritty stories such as The Message and Dopeman set to a driving, strident bass rhythm. Of course, for every rapper who signed a recording contract and made the airwaves, ten more amateurs plied the streets and local clubs, much like urban bardsor troubadours telling urban fiction in an informal, oral manner rather than in a neat, written form. One of the most famous rappers, Tupac Shakur, is sometimes called a "ghetto prophet," and is undeniably an author of urban fiction in lyrical form. Tupac Shakur also wrote a book of poetry called "The Rose That Grew From Concrete".
Hip Hop lit in print form though is thriving. Non-fiction books from players in the hip hop realm such as
Russell Simmons, Kevin Liles, LL Cool J, and FUBUfounder Daymond Johnare also filed in this genre. Carmen Bryantand Karrine Steffanshave both written blockbuster books for this audience, as has shock jock Wendy Williams (radio host). Both Karrine Steffansand rapper 50 Centhad such success with their books that they were given their own imprints to usher in similar authors. 50 Cent's G-Unit Booksadds a legitimacy to a fictional genre that was previously disregarded.
The new wave of urban fiction
Toward the end of the 1990s, urban fiction experienced a revival, as demand for novels authentically conveying the urban experience increased, and new
business modelsenabled fledgling writers to more easily bring a manuscript to market. One of the first writers in this new cycle of urban fiction was the controversial Sister Souljah, who wrote " The Coldest Winter Ever" (1999). For good or ill, her books gained publicity based on [http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/3/3-512.html comments she made during an interview] that some took out of context and interpreted as advocating the killing of white people. Teri Woods' "True to the Game" and Omar Tyree's "Flyy Girl", were also published in 1999. Along with Souljah's "Coldest Winter", the three novels are considered classics in this renaissance genre.
Other writers of urban fiction include Jeff Rivera, Vikki Stringer, Shannon Holmes, Miasha, TN Baker, Solomon Jones, Nikki Turner, writing duo
Meesha Mink& De'Nesha Diamond, and Pamela M. Johnson, the latter of whom is becoming known in urban fiction circles for bootstrappinga single novel sold from the trunk of her car into a [http://www.macavellipress.com/ publishing company and press] .
In less than a decade, urban fiction has experienced a renaissance that boasts hundreds of titles. The newest wave of street fiction is urban Latino fiction novels such as "Devil's Mambo" by Jerry Rodriguez and Jeff Rivera's "Forever My Lady".
There is also an unexpected literary wave to hip-hop fiction and street lit. Authors with a book or books in this offering include Sofia Quintero of the Black Artemis Novels, E-Fierce AKA Elisha Miranda, Parys Sylver,
Heru Ptah, Ferentz Lafargue, Saul Williams, Abiola Abrams, Felicia Pride, Marcella Runell Hall and Martha Diaz. These are hip hop lit or street lit books that take a more literary approach using metaphor, signifying and other literary devices. These books may also be used in socially redeeming or classroom capacities, while maintaining love and positivity for the music and the hip hop culture.
With this new wave of Renaissance Street lit comes a whole new ball game when it comes to promotion and exposure. Aside from hand to hand sales which seems to work best in a genre where word of mouth has proven to be worth more than any large ad campaign, the internet has increased the authors and publishers the ability to reach out to the genres’ readers. With internet savvy many self-published authors who once had no shot of recognition are now household names. Like author,
Rasheed Clark, who went from relatively unknown, to being honored with fourteen Infini Literary Award nominations for his first two novels, "Stories I Wouldn't Tell Nobody But God" and the follow up "Cold Summer Afternoon." Both of which became instant bestsellers and proving Clark to be a fresh voice in African American fiction.
From online book groups and websites such as [http://www.qbr.com/ QBR] , [http://www.rawsistaz.com/ RawSistaz] , [http://www.urban-reviews.com/ Urban Reviews] , and [http://www.coast2coastreaders.com/ Coast 2 Coast Readers] to e-zines like [http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/ The Urban Book Source] , internet sites geared toward Urban readers are making their forces felt, and can often make the difference between a bestseller and a book that shouldn’t have ever been printed.
Authors in this genre such as K'wan, Nikki Turner, and Relentless Aaron, are known for bringing street teams and other musical promotion efforts to the book scene. In recent years, these authors have joined with hip-hop artists such as 50 Cent to further promote the genre by penning the musicians' real-to-life stories.
Many of these titles are published by independent houses, and the ones from those houses are known for their lack of
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1606270 Readers Embrace 'Ghetto Lit' Genre] , National Public Radio Morning Edition, January 20, 2004.
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15236974 Publishing Company Called Out over 'Ghetto Lit'] , National Public Radio All Things Considered, October 12, 2007.
* [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/10/19/MNGP72ERMV1.DTL New literary genre emerging from underground authors] , San Francisco Chronicle, October 19, 2003.
* [http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-blackbooks_08edi.ART.State.Edition1.3e7ea20.html Nick Chiles: Don't call this smut 'literature'] , Dallas News, January 8, 2006.
* [http://www.streetfiction.org StreetFiction.org: An Urban Fiction Review Web Site]
Because this genre is very popular with urban teenagers, the following reading lists should prove to be helpful for educators and librarians.
Library Journal. [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6573180.html?industryid=47118 The Word on the Street No. 5, By Rollie Welch, Collection Manager, Cleveland, P.L.]
Library Journal. [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6563201.html The Word on the Street No. 4, By Vanessa J. Morris, Philadelphia, PA]
Library Journal. [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6551738.html?q=the+word+on+street+lit&q=The+word+on+street+lit+no.+3 The Word on the Street No. 3, By Rollie Welch, Collection Manager, Cleveland P.L.]
Library Journal. [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6539643.html?industryid=47108 The Word on the Street No. 2, By Vanessa J. Morris, Philadelphia, PA]
Library Journal. [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6530172.html?industryid=47118 The Word on the Street No. 1, By Rollie Welch, Collection Manager, Cleveland P.L.]
* [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6349018.html Streetwise Urban Fiction, by David Wright, Seattle Public Library]
* [http://ted.gse.upenn.edu/~vmorris/VJMWebsite/UrbanFictionReadingList.htm Urban/Street Lit For Public *Library Collections by Vanessa J. Morris, Philadelphia, PA]
* [http://ted.gse.upenn.edu/~vmorris/VJMWebsite/SchoolUrbanFictionReadingList.htm Urban/Street Lit For School Library Collections by Vanessa J. Morris, Philadelphia, PA]
* [http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Title/Author_List_%28from_Miranda_Doyle%2C_San_Francisco_Public_Library%29 Urban/Street Fiction Title/Author List by Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library]
* [http://books.aalbc.com/urbanstreet.htm African American Book Club Urban/Street Fiction List]
* [http://campbele.wordpress.com/ Crazy Quilts Blog with Urban Lit for School Library Collections by Edith Campbell, Arlington High School, Indianapolis, IN]
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