28 November 2010

Towards A Def'n 4 Street Lit

Happy Holidays to you! I've just spent a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with my family and am looking forward to an equally fantastic Christmas and New Year. I hope your Holiday season is full of wonderful blessings!

Lately, I've been thinking about Street Lit and how it is defined or not. I believe we need to have a consistent definition of what the genre is. Is it urban fiction? Is it African American literature? Is it pulp fiction? Or is it its own categorization?

In my upcoming book, I situate Street Lit as a sub-genre of Urban Fiction. For me, "urban fiction" is  fiction about urban experiences and settings. Street Lit is definitely about urban experiences and settings, albeit, specific urban experiences and settings that self-defines itself based on the shared socio-economic status of a citizenry. Many conflate Street Lit with the "Black/African-American experience." However, this conflation negates the historicity of Street Lit as represented in novels chronicling European immigrant experiences in a new America, southern migration experiences in a new region, or the daily street experiences of British urchins and the London poor during Victorian era England, to name a few other locations for Street Lit, within a historical context. 

Contemporary Street Lit is not just a "Black/Latino thing" just because Blacks and Latinos predominately populate low-income city enclaves in current times. Street Lit chronicles the urban narratives of whoever is populating low-income city enclaves in certain times and places.

That's why the story of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722) can be considered Street Lit because it chronicles the life and times of a protagonist as she navigates being born to an inmate mother, growing up as a street urchin, then working as a prostitute, and ultimately conning life as a true "O.G." as she pulls off a really impressive caper that sets her up for life.

Moll's life is definitely a character with low-income/marginalized status in a large urban city setting. Like current Street Lit protagonists, our 1722 Moll Flanders does what she has to do to survive, not too dissimilar from Sister Souljah's 1999 protagonist, Winter Santiaga, or Kiki Swinson's 2004 protagonist, Kira, in the Wifey series.

There are many titles written about the daily lives of low-income city residents, stemming from the bardic traditions of fictional and non-fictional Street Literature of yesteryear in the formats of pamphlets, broadsides, and ballad lyrics. These street-based, literary, artistic traditions are reminiscent of Hip Hop's role as the bardification of ghetto life in contemporary society. As the old saying goes, "nothing is new under the sun."

This historicity of  urban narratives of the city poor and disenfranchised informs us that Street Lit is not race-based, but class-based; again confirming that Street Lit is not necessarily a "Black/Latino thing" - Street Lit is necessarily a socio-economic, urban thing.

When you include fictional texts, along with non-fictional texts such as poetry (e.g. Tupac Shakur's The Rose that Grew from Concrete) and biographies/memoirs (e.g. , Philippe Bourgois' In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio) we come to understand that "Street Lit" is the fictional arm of the compleat genre of "Street Literature."

We also must be mindful that there is a broader spectrum of urban works that are decidedly not Street Lit - but they are still urban narratives and representative of urban experience. Such genres that come to mind include, Chick Lit, Lad Lit, Urban Fantasy and Urban Erotica as literary genres about urban experiences. Place these genres together with Street Lit, and you have the contemporary genre called, "Urban Fiction."

So I argue that contemporary Street Lit is a sub-genre of Urban Fiction, and more importantly, an important contribution to the historic realm of the genre of Street Literature as a whole. Thus Street Lit, as we consume it today, with stories primarily about Black and Latino peoples, is a historic happenstance, not a racially defining element of the genre. As a major contribution to the Street Literature realm, Street Lit historicizes contemporary ghetto life as an illustration of the looming presence of a lumpenproletariat in a hegemonic, patriarchal, capitalistic society.  T'is why Street Lit needs and deserves to be heard, discussed, and respected.

09 November 2010

Meeting K'wan Foye

Image Source: kwanfoye.com
Premier Street Lit Author, K'wan Foye, attended the Pennsylvania African American Library Association (PAALA) Librarians Bookclub meeting this past Sunday, November 7, in Philadelphia, PA, USA.

K'wan is one of the most popular and highly respected Street Lit authors, boasting 10 novels (and counting) to his credit. His latest release, Welfare Wifeys, dropped in September 2010 and currently has a 5-star rating on Amazon.com.

K'wan's writing is high caliber; his storytelling, able and sure. He doesn't rush his stories, fully developing his characters and plot lines. He patiently walks you through realistic, authentic scenes, like a griot captivating his clansmen; a bard inspiring, while mesmerizing his cultural kin. K'wan's literary abilities render his canonical place in not just the Street Lit pantheon, but within American literati.

During the meeting, K'wan was asked, "What are the streets to you?" "Who are the streets to you?" His answer is still ringing in my thoughts. He said:  

"The streets was my teacher when no one else wanted to be."

I believe his powerful answer is a testimony as to why we read and write Street Lit.

You need to know that this brother is very nice, authentic, down-to-earth, and respectful. It is clear to me that he loves people, that he sincerely loves and respects women.

If you've yet to read any of his work, you must check him out. He has been a consistent presence on the Essence Bestsellers List throughout the years, and I predict that ultimately, we will see him on the NYT Bestsellers List as well.

His books, readily available on Amazon, are:
Gangsta (2002)
Road Dawgz (2003)
Street Dreams (2004)
Hood Rat (2006)
Blow: A G Unit Novel (2007)
Still Hood: A Hood Rat Novel (2007)
Flexin and Sexin: Sexy Street Tales, Volume 1 (2007) - contributing author
Gutter (2008)
Flirt (2009) - contributing author
Section 8: A Hood Rat Novel (2009)
Welfare Wifeys: A Hood Rat Novel (2010)

The bookclub meeting was a lot of fun, educational, informational, and just plain awesome. There was a lot of laughter! K'wan sat with a group of 10 librarians talking about why he writes, his socially conscious approach to crafting his stories, and how his devotion to his readers is his main motivation for his work.

K'wan has launched his own independent publishing house, Black Dawn Books, where he is now publishing up-and-coming authors such as  Brooke Lynn, Terry Wroten, and Essence bestselling author, Sonny Black.

Candy Girl Book CoverNatural Born Killaz Book Cover 
K'wan is embarking on a book tour to promote Welfare Wifeys starting November 20, 2010. See K'wan's Amazon page for dates and locations.

Lastly, I just want to publicly thank K'wan for accepting our invitation, and for his generosity in gifting everyone with not 1, but 2 of his latest releases from Black Dawn Books. Those books (signed by K'wan) are now on Philadelphia library bookshelves, being read by librarians, and being passed from hand to hand, reader to reader. We greatly appreciate his graciousness in attending our meeting. Everyone had a great time, learned a lot, and gained a higher understanding and appreciation for Street Lit.

K'wan is active on social media. You can connect with him via:

07 November 2010

The Oscar Grant Verdict is In: = Justice = Injustice?

Image Source: www.foxnews.com via The Associated Press
During the summer, I blogged about the Oscar Grant trial via my post entitled, "Street Reals."

The verdict for Johannes Mehserle, the transit officer who killed Grant on New Year's Day 2009 (in Oakland, California), was this past Friday, November 5th. Mr. Mehserle was sentenced to 2 years in prison, credited with time already served. His release appears to be set for Summer 2011.

From processing this case/situation, to experiencing the new Tyler Perry movie, "For Colored Girls," please bare with me - I'm a bit wiped out to offer commentary on the verdict. However, I feel I would be remiss if I did not follow up on the "Street Reals" post.

So being the librarian I am, I would like to point you to 2 resources that provide a good context for what is going on in Oakland, California, and therefore, in America, right now, concerning poor people, the police, the courts, justice, and what it all means to be a certain "type" of American (I'll leave that up to you to interpret). All of these elements are mixed together into an explosive ball called "The Oscar Grant Case," and for those of us who are educators and information professionals of American ilk (and beyond) - this situation deserves our attention and contemplation.

Story from Oakland (CA)-area news source:

Mehserle sentence: Oakland rally over Oscar Grant shooting death ends with 152 arrests

Story from DaveyD's blog (if you don't know who DaveyD is - find out):

Where are all the Oscar Grant protests when we're shooting each other in the hood?

Oscar Grant Orgs Condemn OPD: Homeland Security, CIA, FBI & DOJ Descended on Oakland

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