12 February 2010

Authorial Intent with Street Lit

I've been thinking alot lately about the relationship between street lit authors - the books they write - and the readers on the other end. This seems like can be a symbiotic relationship, but can it? Is it? What makes someone write a street lit novel that is about the daily lives of drug dealers and their wifeys, about young people having alot of hot, steamy, sex, about relationships that challenge the characters' self esteem - male and female - that paint the hood as a place where alot of drama goes on that is oftentimes illegal. Is it really about telling untold stories for the authors? Is it really about keeping it real or telling the truth about what goes on in the hood? Or is it that this kind of authentic intent has nothing to do with what the real reasons are behind the publication of street lit novels. And bottom line - does this all really matter? Does it matter what the author's intent is - AND - is the author's intent authentic or sincere on the book promotion trail? OR - are authors characterizations of their own sense of what they believe is expected of an author of a certain kind of book that attracts a certain marketing, a certain readership.

I believe these questions are important to challenge ourselves with because we live in a capitalistic society where everything is pretty much, commodified. So it stands to reason that street lit is a commodification of what it represents (the hood) and also a commodification of what the publishing industry represents (making money). It's as if street lit itself, is gettin' pimped.

Okay, so if this is the case, then the authors are the prostitutes. And the readers, reading the novels, are voyeurs. Other blogs, other writers, scholars, people - have already made this case about the reading of street lit - that it is a voyeuristic reading. Well, that's not my focus in this piece, but I did want to point it out.

My focus here is on what is going on with the authors? Why write street lit? Also - I want to advocate for authorship of street lit to say - people can write whatever they wanna write. It's a supposed free country. We supposedly all have that right. Okay. But it still needs to be unpacked as to what an author intends for his/her story and what actually happens with the novel once it is "out there" being consumed by readers and non-readers. Readers consume by reading the novel, non-readers consume by voicing their opinion (for or against the genre) without having read it. My thing is: when a non-reader reads street lit (in terms of voicing about it), who the hell are they talking to? Who is reading the non-reader? Have you noticed that readers of street lit don't care about anyone's opinion on if it is "literature," "well written," or any of that. It's a genre they like, so they read it. Case closed.

I myself am having a hard time reading street lit anymore. I'm finding it hard to read because for me, as a reviewer for the genre and as an advocate for the genre and moreso as an advocate for its readership, it's hard to read street lit purely for enjoyment anymore. I have all these other "identities" going on for me that loads up in my brain when I read street lit: the identity of the researcher, the identity of the critical reviewer, the identity of the black woman feminist, the identity of the librarian educator. So my thinking about the genre continues to evolve, as I continue to question its merits on various levels.

I just got the book, Classics and Trash: Traditions and Taboos in High Literature and Popular Modern Genres by Harriett Hawkins (1990). She has two quotes in the front matter of the book that have helped my thinking today. They are:

"All normal people need both classics and trash." - George Bernard Shaw.

For me, this means that Hood Rat sitting alongside The Color Purple is a normalizing representation of blackness within American culture. It's funny - I was just talking about this the other day with some colleagues when we were talking about trash lit from other cultures across the globe. Every country, cultural community, etc., has their "trash" they enjoy - alongside their "classics."

"According to his powers each may give;
Only on varied diet can we live.
The pious fable and the dirty story
Share in the total literary glory."
- W. H. Auden

'nuf said. - for now. :-)

Thanks for listening.