Apr 14, 2010

Urban Fiction: Worthwhile or Waste of Time

Posted by Kirsten at 4/14/2010 01:40:00 PM


There was a time that, when I heard the words “Urban Fiction” I would cringe and think to myself “why in the world would anyone want to read this stuff?” I  would look at books such as Deja King’s Bitch, or Bitch Reloaded  and Noire’s Thong On Fire and I would cringe. From the covers to the subject matter in many of them I would just shake my head and think “There has to be something better for people to spend their time reading”. Seriously, how many times do I have to hear about the hooker with a heart of gold, or someone’s addiction to imagedrugs or stint in a gang? How often do I personally need to hear about the person who is in an unhealthy relationship?  Even worse, how often do I need to watch a mother hand her twelve or thirteen year old daughter a book such as Tanika Lynch’s Whore and say “Ooh girl, this book was good you have to read this!” Really? Is this what parents should be encouraging their children to read? To me that is something you say to friends, not your impressionable child. 

imageWhat bother’s me even more is being pigeon-holed and having people assume that just because I’m African-American, that I automatically do everything and love everything in the world that is considered to be “BLACK”. I’m black, therefore I must love rap music and hip-hop and urban fiction, must have a closet full of clothing from Rocawear and the House of Deréon and must change weave like I wash my hands. In reality, I like country music,  read more fantasy than any other genre of book, could care less what brand I wear as long as it looks good and never worn a hair weave in my life.


Back to the main topic of the post though. On a personal note, I don’t like the way that urban fiction represents African-American females in general and I specifically don’t like the way that the few professional women are represented. I’m not saying that urban fiction doesn’t have it’s place, because it does. I’d just like to know, as an educated black woman, where are the books with the educated black women? All the women I’ve seen represented in these books, even the ones who are supposed to be educated, leave work and are suddenly ghetto girls.


imageThey go from well spoken women with great jobs to scantily clad party girls who couldn’t speak proper English if they had to in the time it takes them to walk out of the building. Realistic? I think not.  Those are just the opinions I’ve formed during my time working in a library and as I’ve been exposed to the genre.

I’ve recently been working on a project and attempting to find Teen fiction that is representative of the African American experience and my research for that project has caused me to take a closer look at its adult counterpart.  According to WikipediaUrban fiction, also known as Street lit, is a literary genre set, as the name implies, in a city landscape; however, the genre imageis as much defined by the race and culture of its characters as the urban setting.” “Typical elements include a rags-to-riches theme, references to the hip-hop music industry, profanity, urban slang, erotic sex scenes, criminal activity, or violence that escalates to murder … Loyalty to one’s friends and neighborhood … the characters often forge bonding relationships during their adolescence that become key to survival. But most important, the story must connect to the "hood," or the streets. The action may move among various lifestyles, but the core value always reverts back to harsh lessons learned in the ghetto.” (1)

imageUrban Fiction is not a new phenomenon. It has been around for the last fifty years. Authors such as Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines and Claude Brown are just a few of the authors who wrote in the genre before before it was even recognized as a genre.



My conclusions, after learning more about the origins of urban fiction as well as reading the articles that we were given in class, have changed my opinions completely. While I will probably not become a huge reader and fan of urban fiction myself, I can now understand that there is a place for it in society. I see that “even the most unrepentantly fabulous ghetto crime capers are intensely moral, suffused with the code of the street and the dire consequences of hubris and offering much the same perp's-eye view of life as noir fiction and gangster films.”(2) I’ve often said when dealing with teens and children that as long as they’re reading, it doesn't matter the type of material. The point is that they are reading. I realized that I had placed a double standard. If it’s OK for the kids to read varying materials, it should be the same for adults. As long as they’re reading, who am I too complain about the topic and subject.

Urban fiction has become hugely popular and the demand for books within the genre is growing daily. Most libraries cannot keep them on their shelves. I’ve seen the popularity with my own eyes. If we want to bring patrons into our libraries, it’s common knowledge that we need to provide materials that appeal to them. Urban fiction is one of the types of materials that appeal to them so when I ask myself whether urban fiction is worthwhile or  a waste of time I have to take into account the changing attitudes of the readers and the reasons that as a librarian, part of my job is to encourage reading. My answer? I have decided that, while urban fiction may not be for everyone, it is definitely a worthwhile addition to a collection.


(1)Library Journal’s eNewsletter, BookSmack’s column, The World on Street Lit. Vol 1: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6530172.html?nid=3294

(2)Wright, D. (2006, July 15). Collection development “urban fiction”: Streetwise urban fiction.Library Journal, http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6349018.html?q=streetwise+urban+fiction.


SLIS Guy on April 18, 2010 at 2:42 AM said...

I'm not sure how I feel about street lit. On the one hand, I'm generally in favor of anything that gets kids reading. On the other, what if it's a book that reinforces every negative stereotype there is about any particular race and/or gender combination? If I had a third hand, I'd slap myself on the head for presuming to apply my own standards to someone else's reading. But a fourth hand might smoothe down what's left of my hair and point out that being in book form doesn't make it art. Before I go completely deformed, someone help me along here.

Kirsten on April 18, 2010 at 4:57 PM said...

I wouldn't personally call it art. I don't even personally like it. But I've realized that, while it doesn't represent all of a culture it does represent a part of it. Because of that and because of the fact that many adults who previously didn't read are actually reading now because of it I think it is important to have in a collection. I just think it's also important to make sure that the people reading it know that it only covers a tiny part of the life experienced by African American people and that events and the aspects that it covers tends to get glorified

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