28 January 2011

The Stage of the Streets

Image source: buzzyuk.com
As I watched the protests of Tunisia, and now Egypt unfold, I cannot help but wonder: what stories are being told about this revolution? Who is telling them? And what are they saying? What literature is being written or will be written? What is that literature saying or going to say about the people claiming their voice on the stage of the streets?

The media is saying that most of the Egyptian protesters are from poor neighborhoods (Richard Engel, MSNBC News, 28 January 2011). Forty-percent (40%) of Egyptians are unemployed and living on less than $2 a day; 2/3 of the population is under the age of 30. (Dylan Rattigan, MSNBC News, 28 January 2011). This is a youth revolution that started via conversations of text from posts on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter (Hauslohner, A."On the Arab Street, Rage is Contagious," Time magazine, 07 February 2011 issue, p. 38). I believe that these events illustrate the power of stories from the streets. I believe that these events also illustrate the power of social media to organize and galvanize groups for good and important things like, social justice.

The news media is speculating about the spread of this unrest from Tunisia to Egypt, to the country of Yemen. What this brings up for me is the power of the streets and how that power is actualized by way of information traveling via conversations. The streets are a stage on which our history is lived, enacted, and documented.

However, I am also learning that just like in our American culture, in Arab culture, "the street" is not a welcome term. World-renowned journalist, Christopher Hutchins, discusses in his article on Slate.com that the "arab street" is "a vanquished cliche' " that pundits and politicians need to lay to rest. He talks about how when media talks about "the streets" in Arab locations, it is regarded as a place where terrorists and insurgents live and thrive, and not as a place where everyday people shout to be heard. He wants us to be clear about this distinction. He bemoans how people outside of Arab culture exact privilege to conflate terrorists as the voice of everyday people.

I believe it is important that we watch and learn what "the street" means in various contexts. Just as the literary genre of Street Lit in an American context is quickly misunderstood and mis-contextualized as primarily populated with gangsters, pimps and addicts, it seems similar misunderstandings occur in other cultural contexts as well. "The streets" does not automatically mean "criminal" especially when we perceive the streets as a stage upon which all people seek and claim - voice.


19 January 2011

Jay-Z in Conversation with Cornel West @NYPL





The New York Public Library hosted this conversation, November 2010, between Jay-Z and Cornel West. The full transcript and table of contents where you can pick and choose which part of the interview to view, is available via FORA.tv. The conversation centers on Jay-Z's book, Decoded. Interview time: 01:52:10. It's worth the time.


16 January 2011

Your 2010 Street Lit Faves


Source: picsdigger.com
Greetings!

We're getting ready to put a committee together to discuss the best Street Literature books (fiction and non-fiction) for 2010.

Street Literature has always been about voices from city communities. As a reader of this blog, my question to you is: What was your favorite Street Lit reads from 2010?

From reading a lot of Street Lit over the years, and from talking with many Street Lit authors and readers, I can attest that what makes a good Street Lit book (particularly novels) includes at least the following:

-- fast paced, but well-written and -developed plot
-- well developed characters
-- authentic, realistic tone and language
-- some kind of moral or cultural contemplation interwoven within the story

Of course there are other elements that you might find that makes up a good Street Lit novel, memoir, or other kind of text. For example, you might have read a book that you feel redefines the genre - a book that was a new take on an established formula. Whatever "it" was that makes your pick your 2010 favorite, more than likely that "it factor" struck other readers too.

Please comment on this blog post to share your 2010 Street Lit fave (author and title), because your pick will be added for consideration for the 2010 Best Street Lit Book Award Medal. We're looking to announce the award by early Spring 2011. You can check our previous winners from my blog post, "Literary Bling."

So let's get started: what was your favorite 2010 Street Literature novel? Author? Poetry book? Biography/Memoir? Anthropology text? Reference title?

Please participate - and let us know! 

06 January 2011

Call Me By My Name

I have a confession to make: I have a hard time with the term 'street lit.' I feel like the term automatically marginalizes the genre because by and large, people resist all things 'street,' - thinking that 'street' equates to darkness, violence, the unknown, immorality, and debauchery. Therefore, "street" lit connotes a genre that shouldn't be respected, or regarded as 'real' or 'quality' or 'literature'.  This is problematic because if we're really honest about it all, we all want to say we read things that are respectable in nature.

All in all, I respect the genre for all of what it is and therefore I respectfully call it what it is, based on its history as well as contemporary perspectives applied to the genre. This is why I call the genre, "Street Literature." I do recognize that some European street literature scholars, who study broadsides, pamphlets and public street documents from a historical perspective, may balk at my appropriation of the term "street literature" to define and categorize contemporary iterations of ghetto dramas. However, I believe that because current Street Lit stories by and large chronicle realities that continue to occur in the streets, and because this naturalistic genre literally hails from the streets from its earliest entrepreneurial publications, that the term and spirit of "Street Literature" appropriately applies to the genre in novel format as well.

In public libraries today, the genre is basically referred to as 'urban fiction.' In my upcoming book, I unpack the conflation of urban fiction towards street lit. In the meantime, I keep coming back to what "it" is called, and I think I do this because I am steadily working towards reconciling what the genre is not only called, but what the genre really is, myself.

My dichotomous relationship with Street Lit doesn't worry me because I also understand that that is where the beauty of Street Lit lies - in its transgressive-ness and audacity to challenge how we think about the genre and the stories it conveys, and therefore challenging us on how we think  about and view our world and the real life characters within it. This is why when people say things like, "Oh ... it doesn't take readers places," or, "Oh, it kills the reader's imagination," I know they are conveying a deep misunderstanding of Street Lit specifically, and of the concept of "genre" overall. For when a genre simultaneously informs, challenges, validates, and entertains one's sense of truth - well, isn't that what literature is all about, from the gitgo?

Yes, I am a stringent advocate for Street Literature because as a librarian, I deeply believe that people have the right to write and read whatever they want to write and read. I also deeply believe that there is merit to what is published and read prolifically; that when a body of work is read en masse, that means there is voicedness shouting to be heard. So - we listen. Who are we not to. And as a librarian, that is at the crux of who I am and what I do - I advocate for those who want to be heard, because at the public library, there is room for everyone at the table and on the shelf. It is my contention that that is the whole point of all things "library" that offers "equitable access" in the name of "intellectual freedom."