22 September 2010

Literary Bling: Commemorating Street Lit's 10 Year Anniversary

Firstly, let's all say: "HAPPY BIRTHDAY STREET LIT!"

It's been 10 years folks! Yep - 10 years - already.

** Thus, this blog post is dedicated to the 10th anniversary of 21st century Street Lit.**
I think that one of the reasons librarians and teachers find it challenging to accept Street Lit is because there is no clarity on what is "best" in Street Lit, or "impactful," or "representative" of the genre as the genre moves along its literary timeline. I think this lack of clarity has to do with the fact that there has been no formal recognition of Street Literature titles with literary "bling bling" - in the form of book awards/medals. Aside from the African American Literary Awards Show's category of "Best Street Fiction" we do not have an active barometer through which we can track the evolution of the genre, that is comparable to say, the Michael L. Printz Award or the Newbery Medal. Street Literature works, fiction or non-fiction, have not gained entry into the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Awards, or the Printz or Newbery. It baffles me that works like The Coldest Winter Ever (fiction) and The Rose That Grew From Concrete (non-fiction) have not received literary recognition from committees such as the CSK and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association's (BCALA) annual Literary Awards.

I mean think about it: The Coldest Winter Ever (CWE) has made a significant impact on literature for urban readers, urban teens particularly. This novel, along with True to the Game and Flyy Girl, has given rise to a whole generation of readers. When these three novels published in 1999, and their popularity lasted not weeks or months, but years, this undying popularity amongst readers ushered in a new lens to recognize inner city citizens as readers. That's huge. Hip Hop music let the world know that inner city folk are creative beyond measure. Hip Hop informed the world of the true location of America's ground zero for cultural trends and innovations. Street Lit, the literature of Hip Hop (as it is sometimes called), has done the same thing. This genre has awakened the world beyond the ghetto, to what is really going on in the ghetto - for good and for naught. It is what it is.

In light of the dizzying impacts of CWE, True to the Game, Flyy Girl, etc., these works, and many worthy others, don't carry any literary bling-bling. CWE was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, and Teri Woods' and Omar Tyree's works have appeared on the NYT Bestsellers list at one time or another, with Ashley & JaQuavis' The Cartel 2, most recently making a NYT appearance in November, 2009. And yes, we're very happy that Tracy Brown's (one of my favorite street lit authors) 2005 novel, Criminal Minded, is a 2006 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers (see: http://bit.ly/alvgDj). We also recognize that many Street Lit authors are Essence bestselling authors (particularly K'wan and Kiki Swinson) however, in the past year or so, the magazine's monthly bestsellers list has disappeared from its print edition, and is deeply buried in a nether-world sub-directory, on its website.

Librarians like literary bling. We like medals plastered on book covers; they help us to trust books that we don't really know much about. For us, literary awards helps us to justify what is "the best for the shelves" and what is not. Some of you may disagree with my assertion here, but I've taken note of plenty of educators in my classrooms from multiple universities over the years, who have voiced this position. I've worked with many front-line public service librarians over the years who have admitted that they depend on literary bling-bling to guide them in what is "best choice," and indeed, even what is genre. I hold no judgment on the matter; I'm just stating an honest practice that is going on in librarianship.

So I'm going to declare the first official "Street Literature Best Book" medal list. Call me arrogant. Call me crazy. Call me bold, or whatever. It's okay. I'd like to think I'm being courageous. In my small corner of cyber and library world, I am staking a claim: Street Literature is literature, and as such a highly read genre, is long overdue for some literary bling.

So I created the medal that is enthroned at the top of this blog article. The city backdrop is run-of-the-mill clip art, that, as long as I don't sell it - I don't have to worry about Bill Gates tracking me down. I did the picture collage myself. I've used it for a few years now on conference presentations, and it was also on my website for awhile. I did all the photo and art effects for this medal using Gimp. Indeed, it is still in draft form.

Okay, so we are almost ready to announce the retroactive medal winners list, along with contenders for 2011, since this year is almost over. I'm going to list my medal winners retroactively, to the year 2000, to celebrate 10 years of thriving Street Lit in libraries, bookstores, the publishing world, and the streets. Street Lit has helped many people to transform their lives: from the authors, to the readers, to the editors, to the educators, to the publishing industry, and the street book vendor him/herself. I think it's embarrassing actually, that this genre doesn't have any literary bling.

So here's my retroactive listing (fiction AND non-fiction) - feel free to agree or disagree, and to offer up more winners and honorable mentions:


2000 - TIE:
Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah (1999)
True to the Game, by Teri Woods

Heavy in the Game, by J Love (2000)
Honorable Mention: Bodega Dreams: A Novel, by Ernesto Quinonez (2000)

B-More Careful, by Shannon Holmes (2001)

Let That Be The Reason, by Vickie Stringer (2002)
Honorable Mention: Erasure, by Percival Everett (2002)

Dutch, Part I of a Trilogy, by Teri Woods (2003)

2005 - TIE:
Wifey, by Kiki Swinson
Bitch, by Deja King (2004)

Hoodlum, by K'wan Foye (2005)
Honorable Mention: Dymond in the Rough, Platinum Teen Series, by Precious/KaShamba Wiliams (2005)

Second Chance, Drama High Series, volume 2, by L. Divine (2006)

2008 - TIE:
To Live and Die in Harlem, by Relentless Aaron
Every Thug Needs A Lady, by Wahida Clark

Midnight: A Gangster Love Story (2008)
Honorable Mention: Thug Politics, by Dutch (2008)

The Cartel 2, by Ashely JaQuavis (2009)
Honorable Mention (tie): Ghetto Superstar: A Novel (Many Cultures, One World), by Nikki Turner (2009); Ice, by Will Robbins (2009)

Contenders for 2011:
-- Miss Wayne and the Queens of DC, by T. Styles (2010)
-- What's Really Hood!, An Anthology, by Wahida Clark, etal. (2010)
-- Cartel 3, The Last Chapter, by Ashley JaQuavis (2010)

-- Moth to a Flame, by Ashley Antoinette (2010)
-- Welfare Wifeys: A Hood Rat Novel, by K'wan (2010)


The Rose That Grew From Concrete, by Tupac Shakur (1999)
Honorable Mention: Our America: Life and Death on the Southside of Chicago (1999)

Angry Blonde: The Official Book, by Eminem (2000)
Honorable Mention: No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City, by Katherine S. Newman (2000)


In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, by Philippe Bourgois (2002)

E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX, by DMX/Smokey D. Fontaine (2003)
Honorable Mention: Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)

Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop, by Imani Perry (2004)

2006 TIE:
From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens, by 50 Cent (2005)
The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours: The Poetry of Jill Scott (2005)

The House on Childress Street: A Memoir, by Kenji Jasper (2006)
Honorable Mention: Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography, by Andrew Helfer/Randy DuBurke (2006)

Grace After Midnight: A Memoir, by Felicia "Snoop" Pearson (2007)
Honorable Mention: Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop, by Jeff Chang (2007)

War of the Bloods in My Veins: A Street Soldier's March Toward Redemption, by DaShawn "Jiwe" Morris (2008)
Honorable Mention: The Soloist, by Steve Lopez (2008)

A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, by R. Dwayne Betts (2009)
Honorable Mention: Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, by Sudhir Venkatesh (2009)

Contenders for 2011:
-- Losing My Cool, by Thomas Chatterton Williams (2010)
-- The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
-- Fist Knife Stick Gun: A Personal History of Violence, by Geoffrey Canada/Jamar Nicholas (illustrator) [graphic novel version] (2010)
-- Street Legends, vols., 1 and 2, by Seth Ferranti (2010)
-- BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family (2010)

Some people are going to ask: "Well what is your criteria for these titles? These authors? I do have criteria. However, I think this blog article is long enough. I will offer up my criteria (hopefully tweaked by reader comments) for my next blog installment.

Thank you for listening, and I hope that you will offer up some ideas for this endeavor.

Happy 10th Birthday 21stC Street Lit!

Note: June 21, 2011: Thank you to Donna Torrence of Media Savvy PR for corrections to authors' bestseller standings.


  1. Excellent idea! You have my full support promoting the Street Lit. Best Book Medal List. I agree and it annoys me that so many books are overlooked by the Printz, CSK Awards. If the books make a ALA list, they appear frequently on the 'Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers Lists' Hopefully a list like this will generate the attention the genre deserves.

  2. LOVE this. That's a fantastic list, well done!

  3. I love it! I am pleased to know someone cared enough to bring this idea to the forefront. I definitely agree that True to the Game and Coldest Winter ever are 2 of the best books ever written in the street literature genre. I am the author of a novel that will be released Jan 2011. I would love for you to read it and post your thoughts.
    follow my new blog: literarydiamond.blogspot.com

  4. Hi Koya, thank you for your comment. I look forward to reading your book! I am going to check out your blog site.

    K.C. and Quarkscrew: thanks alot! I'm going to keep this award going - and hopefully it will gain some momentum!

  5. ok - late to this post, but had to comment - love it, love it, love it!! Glad, also, to know about the upcoming title(s).
    Has Oprah ever included one of these titles in her book club? Nah! Happy birthday, Street Lit!


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