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."


  1. Following your journey on "The Street." Looking forward to the discoveries you make as you work towards this reconciliation.

    You already know we're sympatico on your last paragraph, no more needs to be said...although I feel a blogpost of my own coming on. Our conversations and your blogposts do that for me sometimes. ;o)

    Thank You, again, Vanessa! :o)

  2. Thanks Jeff. I'm not worried about the reconciliation; I'm okay if it's never reconciled. I enjoy other literary genres that I don't necessarily agree with their every aspect. For example, I am a sci fi fan, but I don't like novels that are over-technical or hyper-masculine or too futuristic - I like my sci fi mixed in with present day situations; so I lean towards the likes of Octavia Butler and speculative fiction authors who borderline sci fi.

    There's A LOT about YA literature that I don't like; but there's also a lot about it I do like - so, it is what it is ... ya know? :-) And that's what I'm saying about Street Lit - just because we may not agree with some of it doesn't mean we have to disrespect or disregard the entire genre as "junk" or "un-literary" - especially us teachers and librarians (imho).


StreetLiterature site *ON HIATUS*

Greetings, This site is *on hiatus* until further notice. There are reasons: 1/ Since street lit has become pretty mainstream in publicat...