11 September 2010

Promoting Street Lit = Promoting Literacy

woman reading in the hoodHere is a small excerpt of a chapter from my upcoming book that is A Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature (ALA Editions):

Promoting Street Lit = Promoting Literacy

Small, rural or suburban libraries may not have the demand for Street Lit like urban locales. Nevertheless, we do know that Street Lit is appealing to readers beyond urban locations, and that every kind of reader is reading this genre. We know this to be true because quite a few Street Lit titles have appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List (e.g. The Coldest Winter Ever, True to the Game, Thug Lovin’ and The Cartel 2, to name a few), which indicates that a broad spectrum of readers are buying and reading Street Lit. Case in point, theurbanbooksource.com (2009) stated that “an appearance on the New York Times Bestsellers List is proof that there is a place for America’s inner-city tale that mirrors the realities and struggles of urban black life on the street. [Street Lit] is reaching audiences far beyond local community bookstores, exposing the masses to a new style of writing that has been overlooked and ignored by mainstream America until recently” (http://bit.ly/bcVOcC, accessed 08/24/2010). This being said, it is a good idea for public library locations beyond the city to include a representation of Street Lit titles on library shelves. This representation would be best based on appropriate age and reading levels (Teen-friendly vs. A/YA Street Lit), as well as patron interest.

We can see how library programming that is focused on or related to Street Lit may engage library patrons to check out more books and participate in library activities. However, enough cannot be said for the presence of the librarian as a supporter and promoter of Street Lit as a genre that offers some readers entry into the act of reading, in and of itself. Street Lit can serve as a gateway to a broader reading regimen; indeed, I have worked with street kids, whose first fully read book (from cover to cover) was a Street Lit title. Their sense of accomplishment at successfully reading a book motivated them to read another book, then another book, then another. I am proud to share that as of this writing, those teens are now attending college.

Once I did a poll of the teen book clubbers in the North Philadelphia library I worked and later volunteered, and asked them, “What books have you read in the past six months?” It was Christmas season at that time, so that meant they were recalling titles read from the end of the previous school year (June) to the end of the calendar year (December). Out of the 15 teens (11 girls, 4 boys) that were there that day, we filled the blackboard with over 50 different titles (not including multiple references to the Harry Potter series), spanning over 7 distinct genres. These genres included: mystery, romance, science fiction, biographies, classics, fantasy, horror, and poetry (field data, December 2008).

As illustrated in this chapter, reading Street Lit can be a powerful means to introduce and immerse readers into an exploration of reading a broad range of text. It is a worthy approach to “push” or “promote” Street Lit because it has been shown that it can engage even the reluctant or non-traditional reader in to other kinds of literacy activities, such as more varied reading of literary genres, writing various forms of prose, and creative artistic self-expression. Reading Street Lit, but also talk about and around Street Lit can also spawn an exploration of reading the self – the self as a reader, the self as a writer, the self as an artist, the self as a literate being in multiple contexts. I do not know any educator who would find a problem with that.

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