22 July 2010

"Dem Black Books"

In recent months I have been listening to librarians (via conferences, book club meetings, conversations) from various areas of the country report about how when library patrons come into the library looking for Street Lit that they invariably ask for the genre with the question, "Where you got dem black books?" Librarians from the south, midwest, and northeast regions have all intimated this exact same expression, which I find to be an amazingly fascinating synchronicity at work here. 

So this has me thinking about what does it mean to be "dem black books"? This goes back to my earlier blog post when I stated in a P.S. that I would be blogging about why I no longer believe that current day Street Lit is solely a sub-genre of the genre of African American Literature. Couple this earlier position with "dem black blooks," along with the recent Washington Post article by African American author Bernice McFadden where she throws Street Lit under the bus to explain her frustration at her view of the current publication trends of the U.S. publishing industry, along with the recent blog post by Belleisa that furthers explores the topic of "Who's Allowed to Tell The Tale?" .... and well, my mind is swirling with all kinds of "what's goin' on" memes. And for me, when I am asking "what's goin' on" in the realm of literature and cultural representation, my concern automatically pings at who I am - a black librarian - thus I begin thinking and wondering about what things mean in the context of black librarians servicing library users.

I think about what library users expect of librarians when they walk into a library to find texts in various formats. So when a patron asks "Where you got dem black books" I'm wondering what does the black librarian think "dem black books" mean? What does a librarian think this query means for a patron of color? for white patrons for that matter? Are librarians automatically shuffling patrons to the street lit/urban fiction books because it is explicit that that is what the patron is asking for (i.e. because they're black), or are they automatically shuffling patrons to street lit because that is all that the librarian knows him/herself about 'dem black books'? 

What if a white patron asked, "Where you got dem black books"? (Whites read Street Lit too, by the way). Where would we go in the library collection to satisfy their query? What would that readers advisory interaction look like, sound like? 

Is it all right or enough for the librarian to go, "Yeah, they over here..." or can the librarian go, "What do you mean by 'dem black books'" (irregardless of patron cultural identity) and spiral the interaction from there? Is the patron expecting this from the librarian? Do library users expect librarians to know more about a genre, about books, and to share that knowledge with them?

For me this brings up ideas about how we black librarians in particularly, assess and define our own cultural literary spectrum, and based on our assessments and definitions, how we consequently act as conduits for patrons accessing our cultural literary spectrum. What I mean is - if the black librarian defines 'dem black books' as just Street Lit too - don't that mean we in trouble as a literary folk? Ain't librarians supposed to know more, define wider, and be savvy at offering up inclusive ideas about what it means to read, what it means to read literature, and what it means to read 'dem black books'?

As an advocate of Street Literature, I am not an advocate of street lit at the expense of any other literary genre, especially African American Literature. I am an advocate of Street Lit as a genre that has the right to exist and thrive just like any other literary genre. Having said that, I also define street lit from a geographic/socio-economic-specific stance, and not solely from a cultural or ethnic stance. And this is why I no longer believe that Street Lit is solely a sub-genre of African American Literature. There are Street Literature novels, memoirs, and biographies that contribute to the genre of African American Literature, yes indeed .... and this is where for me, exists a literary 'fork in the road', if you will, where I contend that Street Lit is more than 'dem black books' and 'dem black books' are more than just Street Lit. I posit that librarians must understand this reciprocity concerning all genres and should be about promoting the entirety of the library based on the notion of open, fluidic access to the library as a holistic representation of each patron. If you think about it, all genres are hybrid genres that ebb and flow into one another: For example, Twilight by Stephanie Meyers is not just a 'vampire book' - it's romance, fantasy, and a bit of horror, all rolled into one tome. The same is true for any book, I believe, including Street Lit books.

I do understand and have experience with how in librarian practice, literary literacy begins with how the patron sees and views a book. It is about how patrons define what they are interested to read. But the librarian, as an acolyte of literary tradition, has to also be a critical thinker as the in-house 'expert' of the collection and ask - "What do you mean by 'dem black books'?" - even if they are asking themselves this question as a point of practitioner inquiry - for the librarian to ask him/herself what they mean by 'dem black books'... 

I believe that it is a part of a librarian's educative mission and stance to stimulate patrons intellectually and thereby help educate patrons on what is meant by 'dem' and 'black' and 'books'. Why? Because libraries are more than bookstores. Libraries are not just 'give them what they want' spaces - libraries are also traditional spaces for learning more about what you want. Libraries are spaces for intellectual ah-ha moments. These moments often come from interacting with librarians who are lifelong learners themselves.

Readers advisory practice, where we have these kinds of conversations with patrons, creates a deep, rich, social interaction where the patron teaches the librarian and the librarian teaches the patron. The patron comes with what they know and are expert, and the librarian comes with what they know and are expert. Patrons go, "I read this or I wanna read that." The librarian goes, "Cool, and I read this and I know about that - what do you think about that?" Within this kind of social-professional interaction, it is embedded that the patron expects and needs the librarian to know a little more about 'dem', about 'black', and definitely to know more about 'books.' 

Thus it is the librarian's job to at least have an understanding of where street lit sits within the historical continuum of not just Black literary tradition, but American literary tradition as a whole, since street lit stories come from all kinds of cultural locations. In this vein, the whole library becomes 'dem black books' (reflecting who the patron is, or identifies with, not what the genre is purported to be) and thus, a broader literary view becomes discourse for the patron to consider and browse. If the patron says, "No thanks, just take me to where the Triple Crown books are," by all means, take them where they want to go and on the way, let them know what else lives alongside K'wan and Vickie Stringer, on the shelves. Patrons deserve that, and K'wan and Vickie Stringer deserve that too. It's what we do.

**This blog post is dedicated to Patrice Berry. Thank you hun.**

17 July 2010

Fair Books

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In the two (2) librarian bookclubs I facilitate, (locations: Philadelphia & Westchester, NY), we often discuss how there are librarians we work with who don't read, or who refuse to read certain genres, even if it's a matter of reading one or two titles of a popular genre in order to best serve library patrons. We are constantly talking about  what we, as librarians, read, what we are willing to read (or not), and what we are willing to admit that we read (or not). 

The Pennsylvania African American Library Association (PAALA) is sponsoring a bus trip to the  Harlem Book Fair today. Some authors who will be there are reading from their works:


Readings in the Schomburg Courtyard 





12:00 pm – 6:00 pm


Peniel Joseph Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama 
Bernice McFadden Glorious 
Wes Moore The Other Wes Moore 
Queen Afua Overcoming an Angry Vagina 
Supa Nova Slom The Remedy 
Zelda Lockhart Fifth Born II: The Hundredth Turtle 
Tova Baker Lady B. Moore 
Carol Taylor The Ex Chronicles: A Novel 
Marlen Suyapa Bodden The Wedding Gift 
Stephen F.D. Bryan Black Passenger Yellow Cabs 
Julia Butler Being Single Is Not A Disease 
April Walker More Than One Way to Skin A Dog 
Damon John The Brand Within 
Armond White Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles 
Terry McMillan The Interruption of Everything 
Sonia Sanchez Morning Haiku

Today at the fair - educators are anonymous readers. They are braving the heat and milling the crowds, listening to authors read, attending panel discussions of various literati, browsing vendor tables, all in the name of reading, writing, and literacy. So I wonder today: As teachers and librarians are walking through the book fair - will all the books there be seen by them as accessible to all the readers they teach?

I ask this question because when we say "book fair" I wonder what that means for people, especially educators. When we participate in a book fair, how are we perceiving books? writers of books? readers of books? How do we perceive ourselves as we participate in a "book fair"? Are we educators? Are we readers? What are we doing when we attend a book fair? Why are we there? For educators, are all books "fair" in the name of reading, writing, and literacy?

I'm also thinking today, about those book fair vendors and authors lined up on both sides of 135th Street in Harlem - hot and sweating outside - hawking their wares - their books - stories they've written and/or supported themselves - parts of their souls they've invested in to be read, to be regarded, to be heard. Then I think of who is inside on the discussion panels in air-conditioned auditoriums, promoting what they've written, promoting their wares from a place of comfort, coolness, convenience - inside.

Stories encapsulated in the form of books - being signified by discourse and autographs ... inside, in relief of the summer's heat, and outside, embroiled in it. Who are the authors having conversations in the auditorium? Who are the authors having conversations on the streets? And what does that say about what's a "fair book" or what makes a "book fair"? Does it mean anything that black people are in a black neighborhood, under their ancestors' sun (or inside), talking about, thinking about, being about black stories, black lives .... black books? Getting back to librarians and teachers, what are we willing to talk about when it comes to reading our people's stories? Are we willing to embrace all of who we are? all of who our people are?

What teachers and librarians teach signifies what we indeed, do read, and what we indeed, deem to be "fair" and accessible to our children, to our community, and alas, to ourselves..

10 July 2010

Street Reals


***
"What could possibly be more fantastic than reality?"
  ~~Ashleigh Brilliant.
***

 A Tale of Human Lives
On New Year's Day, 2009, Oscar Grant III, an American Black male, age 22, of Oakland, California, was killed by an American Anglo male, Johannes Mehserle, age 28, a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer (at the time). That's an indisputable fact - in one sentence.

Here's another fact on the matter:

On July 8, 2010, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting. In California, involuntary manslaughter carries a prison sentence of 2 years minimum - 4 years maximum.

Due to the insidious history of white cops killing black male citizens in America, Fact 1 + Fact 2 = a very angry, disillusioned, and pissed off Oakland community. While we don't really need to know more about Oakland to understand why the city's people would respond to this conviction on July 8th, by looting and rioting in the streets of its downtown area, here are some facts about Oakland, California, (according to Wikipedia) to bring the city more into context:
  • It is the 8th largest city in California, with a population of about 405,000 souls
  • It is a county seat
  • It is just 8 miles from San Francisco
  • Its population is a diverse group of Latinos (25%), some of them certainly descendants of the original Spanish colonizers of the land, Blacks (29%), many surely descended from transplants of the Great Northern Migration, Anglo American (37%), many who are very likely descendants of logger workers of the 19th century, and by the end of last century, various immigrant groups (30% - of which 1/2 are Asian) from all over the world.
  • Oakland is the one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.
  • About 20% of the population is poor; about 18% of the city population is unemployed - but check this out: only 0.7% of Oakland's population is homeless.
Here's a few facts about Grant and Mehserle:
  • Grant: raised in the Bay area
  • Grant: dropped out of high school in 10th grade, but went back and completed his GED
  • Grant: had previous convictions for drug dealing
  • Grant: had a documented pattern of resisting arrest (see Wikipedia article)
  • Grant: is a single father of a 4 year old little girl
  • Mehserle: raised in the Bay area
  • Mehserle: graduated high school, but dropped out of college to attend the police academy
  • Mehserle: graduated the police academy at the top of his class (5th)
  • Mehserle: is a single father of a little boy, who was born the day after the Grant shooting
  • Mehserle: has had to move twice since the shooting due to death threats to his family
Oakland has long been considered a significant cultural center, and can be considered a progressive town, with luminaries such as: The Black Panther Party, Tupac Shakur, Sheila E., the Hawkins gospel family, Paul Mooney, Shamar Moore, Ishmael Reed, Tom Hanks, Pharaoh Sanders, Amy Tan, Gertrude Stein, and Green Day, to name a few. Oakland is also the city where its school board voted in 1996 to recognize Ebonics as an official language, which sparked all kinds of controversy in the education sector with journal and web articles and books being published to flesh out the never-ending debate surrounding insider/outsider language in schools. 

Street Reals
I'm not going to get into the shock-and-awe values of Oakland's crime rate. My observations and experiences bring me to safely conclude that all cities have crime issues - American or otherwise. We know that crime tends to occur when people living in close proximity to one another are lacking jobs, therefore lacking money, therefore lacking social capital, and therefore consequently, not feeling like they have access to equal justice. Oakland's poverty and unemployment rates already tells us that there's crime issues, and when you couple those statistics with a high minority population that lives in the the racist republic of the United States of America, such statistics hint that there's likely issues around equal justice.

The light-handed conviction (handed down by a jury of 7 whites, 4 Latino/as, 1 Asian - 8 women, 4 men) of the BART police officer, whose explanation for the killing is that he mistook his gun for a taser ..., was the cayenne pepper added to a boiling gumbo of no money, no jobs, no access, no justice (everyone's struggling in "these hard economic times"). So street protests, street looting, street vandalism, and street arrests occurred on the night of July 8th, 2010, in Oakland, California, but you wouldn't have known it if you weren't living in the San Francisco Bay area, where of course, it was their lead news story that day and night. Nope. For the rest of us Americans, we were mesmerized, hypnotized, zombie-fied, and disney-fied by mainstream media with the one-hour special about NBA basketball player, LeBron James, and his move from Cleveland, Ohio, to Miami, Florida. 

While the streets were shouting, yelling, pulsating, rumbling, quaking on the fault of the imbalanced justice of the light-handed conviction for the killing of yet another African American male youth, we were being entertained by another African American male youth (Bron-Bron is only 25 years old), who more than likely was oblivious to even the existence of Oscar Grant....I wonder if LeBron knows that he was dooped too.......(Note: I'm spelling "duped" this way for a reason.)

I don't begrudge Mr. James his celebrity nor his livelihood. I begrudge our socio-cultural programming and how we all are actors and players in the fictionalized version of American reality. I begrudge that we don't pay attention to nor prioritize real life. I begrudge that part of our addiction to entertainment is that we actually enjoy our information being planted, harvested, cooked, and spoon-fed to us, nicely being dooped. We want our reality, which includes our daily joys and triumphs, yes, but also our daily struggles and fears, to be broadcast back to us in colorful HD and 3D with CGI, ... background music, please. 

Where the Story @
And we get mad when art imitates life and tells life like life is - band-aid rip and all - as in Street Lit. We get upset and feel uncomfortable when truths are laid out in splayed, spread eagle fashion; we don't want to look at truth, hear about truth, read about truth, or even acknowledge the truth that everyday people live hard in America. We can sing and bounce our heads to Jay-Z's song, It's a Hard Knock Life, but to really digest the reality of what he's talking about? To really look face in another's face (not a mirror, not a window) with what is really going on in inner-city neighborhoods, homes, and streets in the U.S.A. today? Oh, and to realize that it's not just black people or Latino people but ALL people in the hood? Psshhhhh. The horror of it all is enough to ignite a revolt: which is what happened when Grant was killed (Oakland rioted to protest the killing in 2009), and on July 8th when Mehserle was convicted.

Take note that the Oakland riots on July 8th weren't a "black riot" or a "Latino riot" .... oh no no no. If you do a web search on the story, you'll see pictures and slideshows of everybody protesting, looting, and getting arrested. E'er-bod-day - men, women, young, old, city council people, and block captains... Which is why, I believe, the mainstream media got paid to broadcast a one-word statement ("Miami") over the course of 60 minutes. I believe that the media did this on purpose - perhaps under orders (don't get me started on that ...) - because the next morning, July 9th, no one still talked about Oakland (I'm talking mainstream media here). MSNBC, CNN, the Huffington Post, etc., were still leading with "King James." MSNBC didn't mention Oakland until around 10:15 a.m. EDT, where the news anchor soberly reported the story, only to quickly segue into an upbeat tone about - you guessed it - "King James." But I digress ....

My point is this: Oakland, California, on July 8, 2010, didn't conduct a racial riot - at least not from what I read, viewed, and listened to ... it was a human revolt - a human riot. Go look at Oakland's demographics again. View the slideshow I linked to: it wasn't a "black riot" because "black people" got mad because a "white cop" killed a "black man." Nope. Look again.

And these are the kinds of truths that annoy me - that get me going. Silencing the truth about the humanity in all of us. All of us are pissed off, "we all mad," at what Mehserle did, at the expense of Grant ... and at the same time, we  feel a sense of the human that both young men are and were. So while Grant was young, a single father, and a drug dealer, that brother was also very human, very real, and loved. And while Mehserle is young, a single father, and a killer, that brother is also very human, very real, and loved. And perhaps on a deeper level, this is what Oakland was rioting about - the disrespected-ness of the value of human life. We have to respect the whole human story - not just the parts that whatwhat? make us feel good ............

I cried for Oscar Grant and his family. I cried for Mehserle and his family. Here's another fact about both of these young men's situations: both of them - were in the same place at the same time. Mehserle didn't come from cloud nine or planet Eris to interact fatally with Oscar Grant on that fateful 2009 New Year's Day. Mehserle is from the same city as Grant. Mehserle's life is as over as Oscar Grant's life is ..., whether Mehserle serves 2 - 4 years in prison ... or more ... or not. His life as he knew it and assumed it - is done - cooked - flambayed. I don't care how white or male or American he is. He's from Oakland, Cali. He will pay for his crime in ways only karma can chronicle: the Oakland community will see to it, prison will see to it, his thoughts will see to it...

For me, the bottom line is, the Grant/Mehserle killing (I posit that they both died that day) is a tragedy for the Grant family, for the Mehserle family, for the Oakland community, for all of us in humanity. It's a tragic crime that is very real, and sadly all too commonly real in America's streets, whether it be citizen-on-citizen crime and/or cop-on-citizen crime. 

If you read novels by Terri Woods, or K'wan, or Shannon Holmes or Sister Souljah (to name a few), you'd get some real realisms of what's going on in our American streets. Case in point, last year when the movie "Precious" came out, I had to correct a friend who was very clear about the fact that the text the movie is based on, Push by Sapphire, is a biography. I told my friend, "No, it's fiction. It's a novel." She was like: "No it's not - it's real."

A teen book clubber at a Philly library once said to me about Street Lit:
"It's all real - fiction, non-fiction, don't matter - it's all real."

She was 18 years old at the time she said this.

I can't wait until we all care, I mean really, empathically care,  about what's real about these streets. I look forward to when collectively, a consciousness is built that fully acknowledges the power of the streets and respects that power. Then, perhaps, we can really live differently about it.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't share that this last photo is a pic of a neighborhood block in Camden, New Jersey, USA. I can't tell which street, but to guess, I think it's South Camden - near where I grew up.

Thanks for listening.

07 July 2010

Evidences

I became acquainted with Mia Mingus today, a fellow Frida Kahlo admirer. Frida Kahlo's birthday was yesterday, July 6th. While acknowledging Kahlo's birthday via my Facebook friend and fellow librarian, Isabel Espinal, I learned who Mingus is, and boy am I glad.

Mia Mingus is a "a queer disabled woman of color korean american transracial and transnational adoptee working, creating and loving towards wholeness and connection, love and liberation" (Leaving Evidence blogsite, 2010). She speaks frequently on the college lecture circuit about "disability justice, race, reproductive justice, gender, queer liberation, transformative justice, transracial and transnational adoption, multiple oppressed identities and multi-issue politics" ("About," Leaving Evidence blogsite, 2010). Mia inspires me because I easily relate to her passion to give voice to her multi-layered identities that all have meaning and all signify upon one another.  Like Mia, for me, and many people in my cultural community, it is a daily articulation to negotiate your various identity constructs based on gender, color, culture, history, sexuality, education, economics, etc. As a woman of color, especially as an African American woman of color in academe, daily living for me is political. I believe that the gift that Frida Kahlo gives women of color, via her art and her life story, is an articulation of politicized daily living as an opportunity to know oneself intimately, and to enjoy the space of being charged to be courageous in staking claim to who you are in this reality. This is what makes me love Frida Kahlo and all that she is, and by extension, or better yet, by correlation, this is what makes it easy for me to love Mia Mingus, too.

So I'd like to re-post Mia Mingus' philosophy statement that provides the framework for her blog. She says:
We must leave evidence. Evidence that we were here; that we existed; that we survived and loved and ached. Evidence of the wholeness we never felt and the immense sense of fullness we gave to each other. Evidence of who we were; who we thought we were; who we never should have been. Evidence for each other that there are other ways to live--past survival; past isolation. 
(Leaving Evidence blogsite, 2010).
I think it's obvious as to why I am posting Mia's quote on my Street Literature blog. For this is exactly what Street Lit does - it leaves evidence that a people are here, they exist, survive, love, ache, seek wholeness via fractured and wounded living ... Street Lit leaves the page open to expose "who we are, were, who we thought we were; who we never should have been." And believe it or not, Street Lit also evidences "that there are other ways to live--past survival; past isolation" (Leaving Evidence blogsite, 2010).

I'm just sayin'.

P.S. Thank you Mia for all that you are and all the work that you do. I see you.

04 July 2010

Fairytale Grit

These past couple of days, two signs came to me that inspired this post: (1) an email from author friend, Zetta Elliott, pointing me to a radio interview segment from on the media, about urban fiction, and (2) a link sent to me via my best friend, Jeff Bullard, about fairy tales being originally inspired by and written for urban dwellers centuries ago. Zetta and Jeff reminded me of a piece I wrote 3 years ago (and am in the process of re-reading and updating) entitled, Inner City Teens DO Read, which I presented as a paper at a conference at the University of Birmingham (UK), in August, 2007. I am posting the introduction to the piece, below:

*******************************************

Excerpt from "Inner City Teens DO Read" by Vanessa Irvin Morris (2007):

Introduction
Every society has a dominant narrative that chronicles the lives of its citizens. As far back as the work of the Grimm Brothers’ recordings of German folk tales, stories have been regarded as “reflections of the popular mind”. [1] We hold folklore within our collective consciousnesses, with stories such as The Frog Prince, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel, representative of fictionalized reflections of “the emotions, dreams and desires of every human being."[2] As communities live through history, new stories, perhaps “necessary fictions” of our contemporary worlds are told in various mediums—cinema, television, newspapers, music, art, and literature.[3] It is part of the human condition for us to feel connected to stories, especially to stories that we can relate to.[4] Stories that convey characters, settings, and experiences that represent how we look, sound, and feel, reveal truths about both the young and the old.[5] Our narratives validate our humanity.

In America, with its various class structures and ethnic subcultures, different groups maintain their own fictions, mythologies, legends, and folklores. These narratives reflect the daily lives of urban poor communities in sometimes fantastical yet perhaps relational and cautionary ways.[6] Currently there is a vibrant genre of narratives being published within the African American community that goes by several names: some call it ‘street/urban fiction,’ others call it ‘street lit,’ or ‘hip hop fiction.’ The novels being produced within this genre chronicle the daily lives of poor and working-poor Blacks and Latinos living in America’s inner-city enclaves. This literary sub-genre speaks from a collective memory of surviving the ghetto streets, of life and death in ‘da ‘hood.’[7] Such stories depict characters that experience unpredictable and all-too-often violent lifestyles as a result of choices made due to a lack of education and under- or non-employment. These street fiction novels not only illustrate the dramatic impact of living as a marginalized American, but the stories also communicate the gendered paradigms of womanhood and manhood, as characters try to make sense of the intense relationships illustrated within their fictionalized world.[8]

Outsiders to inner-city American life often struggle to accept that these fictionalized depictions of life in da ‘hood could closely parallel the realities that many Americans face; however my fieldwork in teen readership of this genre confirms that street fiction is largely based in a world that the readers recognize as real. A street fiction book club reader, or ‘clubber’, Angie[9] (age 16) stated: “It’s reality for me.” Another clubber, Tanya, (age 18), said: “It’s all life; non-fiction, fiction. It’s life.” [10] With American street fiction novels typically set in major metropolitan areas such as New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, teen readers often see themselves or someone they know (a friend or relative) within a narrative, and such recognition empowers them to make sense of their own lives.[11] Indeed, as Lily Owens wrote in The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (Gramercy Books, 1981) of the Grimm Brother fairy tales, characters in oral fictions and folktales based on a parallel reality allow us to further understand the real:

“… however high or low, exaggerated or outlandish, the emotions and experiences of fairy-tale characters have their real-life counterparts … [we are] recognizing our world in theirs”.[12]

This paper is intended to show how young urban readers of street fiction read this genre in order to validate their own existence. There is a connection between the worlds depicted in street fiction novels and the worlds that inner-city teens navigate on a daily basis. Inner-city teens experience unique obstacles within their communities. Because teens are navigating these obstacles at the most intense developmental stage of their lives (adolescence), how they perceive their worlds is all the more intense and amplified.[13] In order to map the connection between the worlds of street fiction and real life ghetto worlds of its audience, it is necessary to place ourselves into the shoes of the reader, so that we may comprehend their localized narratives.[14] This is not an easy or attractive option as scholars studying today’s American inner-city often must accept the same raw and graphic conditions as the environments described in street fiction novels. However, such confrontation with the truth is necessary in order to document why teenagers living in such communities gravitate so heavily towards stories that parallel their experiences, rather than escaping into the polar-realities of other forms of literature.

This paper will also apply literary response theories to street fiction to illustrate how teen readers move beyond this genre to a heightened sense of literacy—one that allows them to employ a more refined reading and more enhanced critical literacy of their own lived worlds. Because the ghetto/inner-city is their primary world, I contend that even before they reach their teenaged years, most inner-city children are profoundly aware of their environments. Having worked with teens on a daily basis for nearly a decade, I have seen how street fiction aides in their overall comprehension of their surroundings. These ‘hip hop generationers’ have learned to combine both street literature and music to empower themselves. Looking at life critically in order to “know what’s going on” is key to their survival and street fiction plays an important role in not only heightening their resistances to the unsavoury people and locations surrounding them, but it also strengthens their resiliencies, allowing them to carve out a sober space within their neighbourhoods.


[1] Lily Owens, ed., The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, Gramercy Books, 1981, pg. xiv.
[2] Ibid. 
[3] Michelle Citron, Home Movies and other Necessary Fictions, University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
[4] Owens, pg. xiv.
[5] Citron, 1999, pg. 139; Nathan Ausubel, ed., A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, Crown, 1948, pg. xviii.
[6] Michelle Fine and Lois Weis, The unknown city: The lives of poor and working-class young adults, Beacon Press, 1998; Elijah Anderson, Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner-city, W.W. Norton & Co., 1999; Bonnie J. Ross Leadbeater & Niobe Way, Urban girls revisited: Building strength, New York University Press, 2007.
[7] Francois-Xavier Lavenne, Virginie Renard, and Francois Tollet, “Fiction, between inner life and
collective memory: A methodological reflection," New Arcadia Review, volume 3, 2005.
[8] Vanessa J. Morris, Denise E. Agosto, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, and Darren T. Cottman, “Street lit: Flying off teen bookshelves in Philadelphia public libraries,” Journal of Young Adult Library Services (YALS) 5, 1
(Fall 2006): 16-23.
[9] Note: All book clubbers’ names throughout the paper are pseudonyms.
[10] Book club field notes, 11 March 2005; 21 April 2007; 16 August 2007.
[11] Morris, et al, 2006.
[12] Owens, pg. xiv.
[13] Anderson, 1999; George Dimitriadis, Friendship, cliques, and gangs: Young black men coming of age in urban America, Teachers College Press, 2003.
[14] Dennis Sumara, Private readings in public: Schooling the literary imagination, Peter Lang, 1996; David Barton and Mary Hamilton, Local Literacies: Reading and writing in one community, Routledge, 1998.