21 December 2012

(Part 3 of 3): Making Literacy Connections Via Street Lit: One Scholar's Incredible Work

In this last installment of Dr. Richardson's interview, he discusses his work with pairing incarcerated teen boys with college attending males. Dr. Richardson also shares his ideas on how librarians can be reach out and serve inner-city teens, particularly low-income boys.

StreetLiterature.com: Your research pairs incarcerated males with college attending males. In what ways have you observed reading serving as a bridge of personal, social, and/or cultural understanding and/or edification between the young men? In other words, what have been the most salient outcomes from your work thus far? Any outcomes related to public and/or school libraries?

The most salient outcomes have been increasing the critical thinking skills of the young brothers we work with. Far too many children and adults lack critical thinking skills. The schools have basically destroyed the critical thinking skills of children because the curriculum is geared towards improving scores on standardized tests.

That kind of curriculum encourages and reinforces rote thinking. The kids become almost robotic in their thought process. They’re merely expected to regurgitate what they have memorized and I emphasize memorized. We give youth the tools to deconstruct the world around them.

Once our kids leave from under our tutelage we expect them to be critical thinkers. They should be asking why? How? Then we expect them to do the analysis and provide a solution. We have some really deep conversations about the dumbing down of hip hop. They totally get it.

They know what music is garbage and what music provides mental nourishment. When we have ciphers and they get to spit their lyrics, their word play epitomizes that they are critical thinkers. Our children are street scholars. They can break the street and society down better than most sociologists, they just need the tools. Their brains are the toolbox. We just need to give them the tools to fill it.

StreetLiterature.com: How do you see libraries best serving lower income city children and teens (particularly boys) in their authentic, original ways of reading, writing, and multimedia?

Libraries have to find innovative ways to become cool to low-income boys. That can happen in several ways. One way is libraries can partner with organized youth sports leagues where study halls at the local library become a mandatory part of whether they kids play.

For example, I coached in a youth basketball league in East New York, Brooklyn, where we had a mandatory study hall. There were plenty of Saturdays that I had to monitor the study halls. Boys could not play in the games if they did not participate in the study hall. I also observed this approach used in other youth basketball leagues in New York City. The leagues would require that each player attend study hall once a week at the local library and the coaches were required to monitor it. Coaches I worked with definitely participated.

To expand on this approach to involve the library, one day of the week could be reserved for study hall at the library where coaches replace practice with a study hall. Once kids get into the routine of going to the library and know that they won’t be able to play unless they attend the library study hall, kids will eventually become accustomed to going to the library.

A story I'd like to share: when I was younger I played football for the Northwest Bantams in Philadelphia, and there was a library directly across the street from the field where we practiced. If the coaches had had study hall there or lectures we were required to attend, I would have probably been more interested in the library. The saddest part of this story is that I have never been in that library and it was no less than 50 feet from where I played football for two years.

There is a certain perception of librarians that they are not cool, but that’s not true. However the onus is on librarians to change that stereotype. Librarians have to step outside of their comfort zone and silos. Times have changed. Librarians have to get out there on the ground and get their hands dirty. Get out into the community and see what’s going on. Find out what boys like and don’t like. You have to meet them where they are, that is the first principal in providing any social service.

Once the kids make it to the library, the librarian has to make it an engaging place for them to want to come back. Now that approach could include inviting guest speakers such as popular rappers. I’m from Philadelphia, so to bring a rapper, such as a Meek Mill, Freeway, or Cassidy (all native Philadelphians) to the library to discuss how reading is instrumental in the way they create their rhymes would be very relatable to the kids in the community from which I come.

I believe that Cassidy attended Central High (note from StreetLiterature.com: Central High School is a nationally ranked high-achieving magnet school) which is one of the top schools in Philadelphia. Just by listening to Cassidy's lyrics, particularly his metaphors, you can tell that he is a critical thinker. To invite home-grown artists and performers to the local libraries: Libraries can be hip hop.

Librarians have to step into the 21st century. Kids have Facebook, Twitter and 2 Chainz. They are not just going to show up at the doorstep of the library. Whatever the method is for getting them there, I believe it has to be incentivized. Dr. Roland Fryer, a young Black male Professor at Harvard, has shown that providing low-income youth with incentives can improve academic performance. So if a library wants to reach out to boys, provide incentives such as free tickets to professional basketball or football games, and for those who come consistently, they can be made eligible to be in a raffle for prizes. Creative librarians are effective librarians.

StreetLiterature.com: Thank you Dr. Richardson for sharing your research and insights with us. While this blog appears quiet on the surface, I am sure that you have given many subscribers fresh ideas about the possibilities for working with lower-income teen boys in order to enhance their reading interests and tastes. Thank you so much!

This is the last installment for Dr. Richardson's interview. Feel free to comment and ask questions. We'd really like to get a meaningful discussion started about serving city teens in libraries.

19 December 2012

VIDEO: "Young and Homeless" (2012)

NYT video screenshot

New York Times: "Young and Homeless" DECEMBER 10, 2012 By Sean Patrick Farrell The Times’s Susan Saulny reports from Seattle where she talks with young adults who are struggling with homelessness as a result of the recession.

The New York Times is not willing to share this video as an embedded object. So please click picture above, or the following link, to access the video: http://www.nytimes.com/video/2012/12/10/us/100000001943161/young-and-homeless.html

14 December 2012

(Part 2 of 3) Making Literacy Connections Via Street Lit: One Scholar's Incredible Work

In last week's installment of Dr. Joseph Richardson's interview he talked about the need for educators to support the reading public with literacy practices from early ages. This week, Dr. Richardson discusses actual titles that his teens have requested and read. He advocates for educators to (re)perceive children as "scholars in their own right". Read on:

StreetLiterature.com: Have your young adults suggested any authors / titles / themes for the reading program in your research study? If so, what are they? If not, why do you think this is so?

The kids actually suggested The Autobiography of Malcolm X probably because they saw the film and have heard a lot about the book on the street. We cannot forget that the streets talk. You have older guys or old heads within their families and their neighborhoods that have done time. They will pass down in conversation books they read during their bid. So surely Malcolm’s book will come up as well as other books, like The 48 Laws of Power and Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

I also found that films and videos were a better medium to introduce youth to books, and not vice versa. For example, many kids were introduced to Malcolm X via the movie and not the book. The movie tie-in of a book often opens the door for them to be interested in reading the actual book. The kids suggested films as well. For example, they wanted to watch the 1971 Italian pseudo-documentary, "Goodbye Uncle Tom", which was crazy to me, because I had no idea they even knew that film. Once when I screened the film to a group of juvenile inmates, as I reached to take the movie with me when I was packing to leave, they pleaded with me to leave the movie, so they could show the film to some of their friends who were on lock down. That was amazing!

The majority of the kids are really sharp and scholars in their own right. They are victims to a dysfunctional world and set of circumstances which by no choice of their own, adults have created and brought them into. That may sound cliché, but it’s true. Some of the young brothers in my group were far more insightful and perceptive than some college students I have encountered.

StreetLiterature.com: In what ways has Urban / Street Literature impacted your teens’ reading tastes and habits?

Once they get the information and are able to digest what is relevant to their lives, they want more information. Again, these young brothers spend the majority of their days doing absolutely nothing so they are hungry for knowledge. Now some will not be interested, of course you have those who do not want to read, probably because they can’t read, so they are going to try to disrupt the energy of the group. 

But I’m realistic, I’m not there to save everybody, some will not want the information and that’s cool, maybe someday in the future they will have an epiphany and a moment of clarity where they realize how much they missed. I cannot worry about those kids because that small minority can impact the larger majority of those who want to learn. I’m not going to force anyone to participate in our group, participation is voluntary, you have to want it or else if you’re forced to do it, more than likely that kid is going to be a detriment to every else and I cannot afford that. 

We’re only in the jail for a couple of hours once a week so we have to make the most of our time. Anybody who has ever worked in this setting can understand what I am saying. I think we often set the bar too low, coming in with preconceived ideas about what they can’t read or don’t want to read. 

You have to understand that all people whether they are children or adults have multiple intelligences, and as an educator you have to tap into those strengths. You have to deal with the strengths first if you want to improve their self-esteem.  In short for those who love reading I believe that my mentorship has increased their breadth and range of what they will read and that’s a good thing. For others, they may be more visual, actually I respect that because I am more visual. That kid may be the next Cle Bone Sloan. So I have to tap into his strengths as well. That young brother may be more inclined now to make a film that documents his hood and how structural violence has caused the direct violence he witnesses around him.

--- Please post your questions and comments to this interview, below. We'd love to get a meaningful discussion started about Dr. Richardson's work. Next week's final installment for this interview series concludes with Dr. Richardson's discussion of the scholarly thinking of inner-city youth (yes, you read that correctly). --- 

13 December 2012

07 December 2012

(Part 1 of 3) Making Literacy Connections Via Street Lit: One Scholar's Incredible Work

Meet Joseph B. Richardson, Jr., Ph.D., who is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of Maryland - College Park. Dr. Richardson is a Philadelphia native whose research focuses on learning the various effects of urban poverty on inner-city teen boys' lives. In one aspect of his research, Dr. Richardson made literary connections with the boys he was working with: he gave them books to read and in turn, they told him what they wanted to read in books, and see in films. Their reading interests illustrated that they were more engaged with reading and improving their literacy practices when they had access to reading stories they could relate to. 

StreetLiterature.com interviewed Dr. Richardson so that we all can be introduced to his work and how reading urban-based stories can become a major component for literacy engagement and improvements among inner-city youth. This interview will be presented as a three-part series. Below is Part I. Parts II and III will be released each Friday, December 2012.

StreetLiterature.com: Could you please share a short biography of your personal background and professional work with adolescent city young adult males. Basically, who are you to do the work that you do?

I was born and raised in Philadelphia in the Germantown and Mt. Airy neighborhoods of Philadelphia. I received by BA in African-American Studies from the University of Virginia and my MA and PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Rutgers University (NJ). 

As a Black male growing up in Philadelphia, although I lived in a relatively safe neighborhood, as the rapper Common mentioned in an interview, the hood was all around me. I lived in what sociologists would call a buffer neighborhood, which is defined as a neighborhood which buffers impoverished neighborhoods from middle class and affluent neighborhoods. I think that my infatuation with crime and the criminal mind, started from living in a neighborhood with a lot of guys that were criminals. They were always really fascinating to me - the way they thought, they were so real, funny and human, but incredibly complex.

StreetLiterature.com: How did your research involve inner-city youth? 

In my first research study of adolescent inner-city youth in Harlem, some of the boys in my study were members of the Bloods and Crips gangs and were involved in violence, beatings, stabbings and shootings. How the boys and girls (there were auxiliary gangs for girls called the Bloodettes and Crippettes) negotiated violence in this context framed my study. I had formed really tight relationships with three boys who were members of gangs, one was a Blood (Slyvester), another was a Crip (Manny), and another (Ali) was in a gang affiliated with his projects. His gang, the Valley, had an on-going feud with both Blood and Crip sets. In fact, he was involved in a shootout with the Bloods. His best friend shot a Blood. Because Ali was best friends with this kid, he was guilty by association. 

At his school, the principal allowed Ali to leave school early every day, because the Bloods had a contract to kill him. They would wait for him every day after-school, but they had no idea that he would leave before dismissal, this strategy probably saved his life. I would drive him from school to his home so he would not have to walk through the neighborhood. Every time he exited my car, I would always wonder whether I would ever see him again alive because kids were dying every day due to gang violence.

StreetLiterature.com: In your research, you work with incarcerated young adult males to enact positive change in their identities and approach to education. How does your research affect the literacy practices of teen readers?

First, I want to make sure we address them as children because we are really quick to call Black boys ‘young men’ or ‘young adults’ and they are not. These are children who have been adjudicated as adults but they are still children nonetheless. The great work of Dr.Lawrence Steinberg at Temple University indicates that the criminal justice system should not treat children as adults because their brains are still forming and not fully developed which impacts their decision-making capability and culpability.

Many of these children live in governmentally neglected communities, attend under-resourced schools and are products of really unstable households. Many adolescents in adult jails read on a 4th grade reading level. Fourth grade reading levels are predictive of school dropout and school dropout is predictive of criminal justice involvement. So if we really want to address criminal justice involvement among young black males, we need to start with literacy practices, very early on, well before the 4th grade.

We need to be addressing literacy practices pre-K, even while a child is in his mother’s womb, a mother should be reading to her child. But that also means we must address the educational needs and parenting practices of parents as well. 

StreetLiterature.com: How does literature play a role in your research?

To engage the boys in establishing consistent reading practices, I try to introduce street literature that adolescent males may be interested in. For example, I use Monster: The Autobiographyof an LA Gang Member as one of my texts. This book was a NY Times bestseller and it was written by a Crip, Sanyika Shakur aka Monster, who had minimal formal education. Much of the book was written while he was incarcerated. The kids were really interested in this book. 

I’ve also used texts such as Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown and the Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. What I’ve found is that if the book is interesting, kids will work their way through it whether they are proficient readers or not because in adult jail, kids have a lot of solitary time on their hands where they often sit in their cells for 23 hours a day. So reading often becomes a form of entertainment for them and a way for them to pass the time. Some kids are voracious readers. For example, I had one kid, Miguel, who had almost thirty books in his cell; I mean all kinds of books too, like The Hobbit. Miguel had books that most people would not think a kid in jail would be interested in reading - but he was. 

--- Stay tuned for next week's installment in this interview series with Dr. Joseph B. Richardson, Jr., where he discusses ways in which Street Lit/Urban Fiction has impacted the reading practices of the youth he works with. --

30 November 2012

VIDEO: Connecting Street Lit in the Classroom

Library Media Specialist, K.C. Boyd, from Chicago, IL, published a student-run video newsletter for her school, Wendell Phillips Academy High School. In this installment, there is a segment that shows how street lit is used successfully in the classroom. Time: 07:23 //

10 November 2012

K'wan's Masterpiece: Animal (2012)

K'wan. 2012. Animal. NY: Cash Money Content / Simon and Schuster. ISBN-13: 978-1936399253. $14.99 US. Paperback.

K'wan is the author of over a dozen books, and upon reading his latest release, Animal, you start to realize that all the stories K'wan's told up to this point, was to prepare you for the story of Animal.
Animal is a redemption song. Animal is a love story: love rediscovered between lovers ... friends ... and family ... in the hood.

We first meet Animal in K'wan's Hood Rat series as a ruthless killer who extinguishes people with no remorse. Animal is a vigilante of sorts who metes out justice in ways that garner him as a force not just to be reckoned with; but to be deathly feared. The equalizing factor to his dark existence is his love for his woman, Gucci. Gucci loves Animal just as he is. In a series of stories they go through many ups and downs. In this story, Animal's story, they may have finally come to peace with one another, if Gucci can survive the war on the streets. In Animal's own story, here in this novel, we learn more about why Animal is the lonely soul that no one seems to be able to fully understand, but everyone fully fears. His redemption comes as a surprise to even Animal himself, but the redemption is a prodigal journey that has the potential to soothe the infamous assassin, once and for all.

A must-read for all street lit fans. This is street lit at its best. Add Animal to the pantheon of class street lit titles like The Coldest Winter Ever, True to the Game, Flyy Girl, A Street Girl Named Desire, and now ... Animal. Do not let the 400 pages deter you. Street Lit / Urban Fiction readers will read this novel as it is fast-paced action that doesn't stop. Buy multiple copies for your library as some of those copies will not be coming back. School library media specialists: this novel is appropriate for high schoolers.

In this video, K'wan explains his characterization of Animal:

K'wan is on social media at:


Facebook Group: K'wan's Readers 

09 October 2012

Clarifying Street Lit (Again?)

Photo Credit: Vanessa Irvin Morris, 2012.
Greetings. I have been a bit quiet with blogging about street lit for the past few months because I been thinking about my evolving stance on the genre. To me, it seems that street lit is changing, and this is not a bad thing. Many authors are evolving into offering their stories as eBooks and have been very successful with this approach. I really like how authors offer chapters at a time in electronic format for their readers to read and give feedback. I feel that the major strength of street lit is its ongoing dialogue between authors and readers. I see major authors in constant communication with their readers via social media; asking questions about what readers want to see in their books, fielding questions that readers ask, even hosting online book talks, readings, and book clubs. Make no mistake about it; street lit has a very loyal reader base and these readers are prolifically sophisticated in their approach to the genre.

However, I do feel that I need to offer some clarification on what I believe street lit is and what it is not. As the contemporary iteration of the genre is entering its 14th year in 2013, I believe street lit has outgrown some things, but at the same time, it has not become "everything". Let me explain.

In my book, The Readers' Advisory Guide to Street Literature (ALA Editions, 2011) I define the genre as being location-specific ... stories specifically set in lower income urban settings. I still believe this to be true. However, I now believe there is an added element to this definition: the element of risk. The reason risk is an important consideration for street lit is because every urban story ain't street lit, but every street lit story IS decidedly urban. Essentially, street lit stories are urban stories that communicate a level of ill: illegality, illicitness, ill-will, and/or immorality.

In other words, these narratives illustrate characters who risk being subversively productive in an underground society in order to create productivity for themselves, by any means necessary. To me, this means that there are some events, activities, behaviors, and social codes that are specific and unique to hood living. The pimp's story lives in street lit, the prostitute's story lives in street lit. Additionally, strippers, drug dealers, drug addicts, street urchins (children who live on the streets), urban gangs, and even the homeless - their stories are decidedly street lit stories, because it's about people literally living (and sometimes thriving) on the streets.

These kinds of stories convey how human beings risk their safety, sanity, morality, and often their very lives, in a quest to conquer the streets. Indeed, in my book I also talk about "the street" as an antagonistic character that has life and pulsation that drives behaviors and events. I see the street as a stage upon which people act out their inner and outer battles to survive the streets, which means that to survive, there is rarely time or room for redemption or for crime to even pay off. That - to me - is what defines street lit as a uniquely and specifically defined literary genre: street living that survives and perhaps overcomes poverty in drastically raw ways.

This means that human stories that can be transferred across the boundaries of space, time, access, culture, and/or socio-economics, are not necessarily nor automatically street lit. These kinds of stories include unfortunate realities that humanity contends with regardless of socio-economic status, culture, or geographic location. Bad relationships, domestic violence, various crimes, prison experiences, and overcoming the odds happen everywhere, not just in low income urban neighborhoods. Although in street lit, we do see how poverty can fuel survivalist behaviors.

I do not believe that street lit narratives are necessarily rags to riches stories. I do not believe that street lit is necessarily redemptive (in fact, I groaned when some street lit authors succumbed to industry pressure to clean up the stories). I do not believe that street lit is necessarily Black, African American, or Latino stories. I've said it once and I'll say it again: EVERYBODY is in the hood. EV-VER-REE-BOD-DEE. And everybody who's doing street shit in the hood are people coming from all over the world.

I do believe that street lit gives us an angle to street living that we may not have considered before. Street lit can teach readers about everyday realities that we didn't know before when connections are made between what's happening on the streets and what's happening in the broader world. Street Lit holds a tremendous power for illuminating the universal law of "as above, so below." In the tradition of Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Chester Himes, contemporary authors like Ashley & JaQuavis, K'wan, Treasure E. Blue, Wahida Clark, Kiki Swinson, and Teri Woods consistently bring us stories that do this.

Street Lit is not just about bitches and hoes, niggas and OGs. If you see street lit like that, then you are looking at it myopically. Sharpen your focus and peer closer. Street Lit is about the stories behind the stories about bitches and hoes, niggas and OGs. Street Lit reminds us that bitches and hoes, niggas and OGs are PEOPLE who were once babies, and have mothers and fathers, and reasons for why they live the way they live.

Let's not box every woman who's angry into street lit; yes, there's angry women in the hood, but there's angry women all over the planet, and for good reason. Let's not box every man who is an OG into street lit. The biggest OGs in the world right now are in Mexico and they are doing some serious street shit. So it's not just about poor black people in the hood acting out their poverty-ridden frustrations. Street Lit is more nuanced and complicated than that; street lit involves deep and oftentimes dark lifestyles that carry unusually high levels of risk in order to live out a capitalistic need, desire, goal or dream (i.e. making money).

In sum, what I am saying is that street lit doesn't need to be cleaned up, moralized, nor editorially grade A approved in order to be considered an acceptable literary genre; at least not in my book. I really want educators and other stakeholders in this genre to accept the genre as it is, as it's always been: a no holds barred, raw, gritty, fuck-you-it-you-can't-take-a-joke genre that keeps it real about the risky realities out here in these streets. That's how street stories have always been and will continue to be, until ... well: until.

And these stories have a place on our bookshelves and in our libraries. They have a place in students' backpacks and back pockets. They have a place in literary tradition that includes stories of lumpen-proletariat from all cultural locations, all over the world. We must deal with street lit as it is and stop trying to make it something "packaged", something "acceptable", or something "palatable" for mainstream sensitivities. That's the whole point of street lit, it is not easily packaged, it is not easily acceptable, and it is not easily palatable for mainstream sensitivities. With street lit's sheer oppositional stance as mainstream's polar reflection, the genre in effect, boldly tells mainstream society's story too, by showing what mainstream society is ... on the other side of itself. 

02 October 2012

New Reads: For Your Fall Collection

This article focuses on women authors telling women's stories in the hood. These titles will make nice additions to your fall collection for urban literature / street lit.

Miller, Karen Quinones. An Angry-Ass Black Woman. Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing. NY, NY, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-451607826 | 288 pages | Paperback | $15.00 USD

Annotation (from back cover): This sassy, shocking autobiographical novel captures the racial tensions, the hardships, and the bonds that formed between families and neighbors growing up poor in Harlem.

Review: Karen Quinones Miller gives us an inside view of what it was like to grow up poor in Harlem, NY, during the 1960s and 1970s and emerge into womanhood with a rare courageousness for overcoming some dark adversities. Miller's story chronicles the hardships she experienced to pull herself up and out of poverty to become a renowned author.  The protagonist tells her story in a series of flashbacks captured as memories of a comatose Karen lying in a hospital bed. Immobilized, Karen's memory soars as she vividly recounts days growing up poor, and how that poverty affected herself and her siblings. From drug addiction and drug dealing to incest, rape, mental illness, and domestic violence, the protagonist Karen has seen it all, and thus has every reason to be an angry-assed black woman. Reminiscent of the classic Manchild in the Promised Land, Miller's story will appeal to young adult and adult readers who can relate to the harsh experiences that Karen was able to overcome. Highly recommended for all public library collections.

McGill, C. HBIC: Head Bitch in Charge - A Series. Synergy Publications. Brooklyn, NY, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-975298091 | 256 pages | Paperback | $14.95 USD

Annotation (from back cover): Take a walk in the shoes of Elle Mitchell. She came up in the church but quickly became fascinated with the underworld. The youngest sister of three, Elle has something to prove. Street smart and book smart, she will stop at nothing to get rich quick. Determined, Elle sets out to be the Head Bitch In Charge. 

Review: Caroline McGill is author of the popular tale, A Dollar Outta Fifteen Cent" (2004). In this first volume of her new series, HBIC, Elle is an ambitious young woman who grew up in the church, but forms a drug crew of herself, her sister Twyla, and their cousin, Needra, to make it big in the world. The three girls made a fearsome trio of drug dealers better known as HBIC. The group is determined to rule the streets and own their profit. However, they run into some ruthless competition, from the demonic Chelsea who enjoys torturing women, to their own cousin, Olan, who they eventually must leave behind. Laced with some violence and graphic sex scenes, HBIC, is a well-written and crafted novel that will gain the attention of adult readers of the genre. Recommended for adult collections in public libraries.

Todd, Cori. THE RED IN HER EYES. XLibris Corporation. 2011. ISBN: 978-1-465357175 | 210 pages | Paperback | $17.99 USD

Annotation (from back cover): All it took was one pleasure-filled dream to get Trystan's fantasies twisted around the man who once stood as the center of her life and the man of her dreams, Trey Armstrong. Now that he has resurfaced, she can't seem to shake the feeling that something just isn't right ... a feeling that only Trey can explain.

Review: This is a love story about college sweethearts, Trystan and Trey, who try to reunite years later when they have grown to become different people in a different place and time. The author,  Cori Todd, frames this novel around R&B love songs. Each chapter is themed with a different song that helps to shape the context of the story as it unfolds. For example, chapter 32 is entitled "How Do I Breathe?" a song by the R&B singer, Mario. Todd's use of familiar music titles is an effective device that entices the reader to create background music in their mind as they read each chapter of the book. This technique makes reading the story more engaging and helps to keep the reader aware that they are in another world, a dream world, a fictional world of story. Older teens and adults will enjoy the passionate love story that is full of ups, downs, and turn-arounds. Recommended for older teens and adults in the urban literature collection; could also fit for the romance genre.

17 September 2012

Article: IceBerg Slim Documentary Debuts at Toronto Film Festival

The star and subject of new documentary "Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp"
(Toronto International Film Festival 2012)

The documentary film brings to life, the autobiographical novel of pioneering street lit author, Iceberg Slim (1918-1992), entitled: Pimp, The Story of My Life (originally published in 1969).

From the article:  
" "Iceberg Slim," which is also being sold for U.S. distribution, is a passion project through-and-through. Ice-T and Hinojosa spent years developing it, tracking down family members and shaping it into a story they felt would do justice to his legacy. 
The result is an excellent primer about the man born Robert Beck, who went from pimp to convict and then, with the help of his wife and co-writer, bestselling author with 1969's "Pimp: The Story of My Life." (Slim died in 1992; his books are not only still popular but they're studied with the rigor of a Ralph Ellison.) Through interviews with members of his family and others close to him, "Slim" teases out a portrait of a troubled soul and the way art can be used to redeem it. If there's a larger-than-life quality to the story it's only because Slim really lived that large."

This title should definitely be a staple in your library collection, as it is a defining classic in the street lit genre. It is readily available via all major book retailer and vendor outlets.

Wikipedia's article on Iceberg Slim is informative.

12 September 2012

New Reads: Independent Authors For Your Collection

Greetings! No doubt your urban fiction / street lit collection has dwindled from the summer reading season. Now that we are in the back-to-school mode this is a good time to replenish your collection with newer authors. I'm listing YA titles in this post.


Harper, A.J. SMOKE & DEMONS: A TALE OF URBAN HORROR. UrbanHorror.com. 2011. ISBN: 978-1-461184454 | 360 pages | Paperback | $15.99 USD

Annotation: This is a story set in Oakland, California, that puts a horror twist on urban fiction. Labeled as young adult fiction, this novel is about Omari, a teen boy living in Oakland who is plagued by nightmares of demons trying to kill him. Soon after, his sister and best friend start having the dreams too! Are the dreams real? Drug dealers, vampires, werewolves, telepaths, and demons reveal themselves in Omari's worlds, making it clear that yes, dreams can be very, very real. 

Review: This is a creatively conceived story. I worry that it might be a bit too long for urban YA readers. I also worry that there might be too many characters and themes throughout the book to keep track of the main story. Alas, because this book is independently published, sans the luxury of a professional editor, there are many typographical errors throughout. However, if you can forgive these flaws in order to introduce your readers to something different and new, this title may be worth the pick. Recommended for A/YA, ages 16 and up, in public libraries everywhere.

Author Website: http://urbanhorror.com/index.html

Spenzer, S. Newman. BABY DADDY. CreatSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Lexington, KY, 2012. ISBN: 978-1475027716 | 145 pages | Paperback | $9.99 USD

Author's synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Deshawn has been named in a paternity suit after a thoughtless sexual encounter at a party. He is desperate to conceal his plight from his mother, a single parent with a meager income. Determined to protect his mother from this nightmare, Deshawn is torn between fleeing or facing the legal process alone. He tries to navigate his way through a hostile system, and quickly finds himself labeled a "deadbeat dead". The legal system proves itself to be hostile and alienating to the young and bewildered Deshawn. All the harassment from insufferable lawyers and caseworkers finally gets Deshawn to his breaking point and a physical altercation leads him to an unexpected discovery that permanently alters his life.

My review:
 Deshawn's story was very well crafted. Teens everywhere would learn a lot from reading this novel. Spenzer's emotive writing gives the story a very realistic tone that makes for a fast read. Deshawn's losses are steep, and his wins are hard fought, but very worth it. This story is reminiscent of Angela Johnson's The First Part Last (2005), but with hardships and realities that are more gritty and raw for this character, who exists in an inner city environment. Highly recommended for teen readers everywhere. [This book is available on Amazon.com.]

23 August 2012

Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City - Fault Lines - Al Jazeera English

Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City - Fault Lines - Al Jazeera English

Sorry, I could not embed the video. However, I do hope you click over to this story. It is an important read. The comments on this story are worth a look, also. Note: the video is 24:11. Worth the time.

15 August 2012

Oakland, CA: Activists Take Over Abandoned Library and Opens For the Public


Quote from the article: "I think everyone in the community is psyched this will no longer be a dumping ground," said Jaime Silva, 43, one of the organizers.

"There's nothing in this area, really," she said. "There's really no place for kids to come."

Silva and other activists say the goal is for the building to be used for a community purpose, whether it's a library or a community center with a garden.

30 July 2012

ARTICLE: Why There's Nothing Wrong with Black Street Lit (2012)

Madame Noire contributor Charing Ball weighs in on the importance of accepting Street Lit as a literary genre that depicts narratives that many readers can relate to.

Check out the article at: http://madamenoire.com/201231/it-might-not-be-the-color-purple-but-theres-nothing-wrong-with-black-street-lit/.

@charingball #streetlit #urbanfiction #literacy #commentary

23 July 2012

NEW READ! Murderville: The Epidemic by Ashley & JaQuavis (2012)

New York Times Bestselling Urban Literary Duo
Ashley & JaQuavis
Are Set to Release New Thriller
On July 24, 2012
from Cash Money Records’ publishing division
Cash Money Content
New York, NY July 17, 2012  Cash Money Content/Atria books will release the thriller, Murderville: The Epidemic, on July 24, 2012, from New York Times bestselling literary duo, Ashley & JaQuavis.  At age 26, Ashley & JaQuavis, aka Mr. and Mrs. JaQuavis Coleman, are the hottest young voices in African American literature today and are the youngest African American co-authors to make two appearances on the New York Times bestseller list.  The couple has co-authored more than 17 bestselling novels, and ghost-written 15 for other well known authors.
Murderville: The Epidemic is the second release from Ashley & JaQuavisMurderville trilogy, and is also the second release from their deal with Cash Money Content, the book publishing arm of iconic record label Cash Money Records, home to multi-platinum artists Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Drake
Catch Ashley & JaQuavis on the Cash Money Young Author's Tour:
July 21 - NYC  -Harlem Book Fair
July 24 - Baltimore - TLJ Bookstore -  7pm - 9PM
Aug 4-    Atlanta - Medu Books Greenbriar Mall - 3pm - 5pm
Aug 5 -   St. Louis - Missouri Black Expo 1:30 pm
Aug 11 - Maryland - Cartel Bookstore - Booksigning 3pm - 6pm
Aug 25 – Dallas – Tulisoma Black Book Fair – 1pm -3pm 
Aug 25 - Fort Worth -  Dockshop Book signing – Forth Worth 5pm -7pm
Ashley & JaQuavis' New York Times bestselling series, The Cartel, was the first trilogy from the talented team.  The Cartel 2 debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list at #29 (November 2009).  The Cartel 3 made its debut at #27 in August 2010.  The well-written and fast moving series, filled with surprising plot twists and turns, gained in popularity and anticipation with each new release selling nearly 100,000 copies. Cash Money has optioned the film rights to The Cartel trilogy and has already set into motion their plans for bringing the series to life on the screen.  Stay posted for more news on The Cartel film series.
Murderville: The Epidemic, hits stores on July 24th, and is the follow up to last year’s hit, Murderville: The First of a Trilogy.  Proving to be the couple’s best work yet, The Epidemic follows street savvy, Liberty , as she survives one unspeakable tragedy after another.  Her journey takes the reader from the streets of  Los Angeles  to war-torn  Sierra Leone as she finds love and pursues the American dream. With the help of her partner Po , the two build an unmatched drug empire. But when an unlikely enemy enters the game, will the dreams they've built together come crashing down?
Growing up in Flint , Michigan Ashley & JaQuavis began writing together at age 15 while in high school.  While putting themselves through college, their first novel Dirty Money, caught the attention of New York Times and Essence bestselling author and publisher Carl Weber.  Ashley & JaQuavis were both signed to national publishing deals.
Ashley & JaQuavis made names for themselves with successful underground bestsellers like, Dirty Money (2005), The Trophy Wife (2008), Supreme Clientele (2009) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2009), and Murder Mamas (2011), to name a few.  However, it was the release of The Cartel trilogy that caused young readers and the publishing industry to take notice.  The Cartel trilogy is the story of the fight to take down a ruthless Miami drug Cartel.  The books are standouts with well-developed characters and stories fueled by treachery, murder, deception and seduction.

Ashley & JaQuavis’ books connect with the hip-hop generation and speak to the streets in the same way that hip hop music does,” said Ronald ‘Slim’ Williams co-founder of Cash Money Records and Cash Money Content. "With two New York Times bestselling books under their belt, we saw this signing as an opportunity to take urban fiction to the next level in the same way we took hip hop music to the next level.  The Epidemic is Ashley & JaQuavis’ second book with Cash Money Content and we’re looking forward to a future of nothing but hits.”

For more information on Ashley & JaQuavis log onto www. AshleyJaquavis.com. Follow JaQuavis on twitter @realjaquavis and follow Ashley @novelista.  Check them out on facebook at facebook.com/The Writers Block- Ashley & JaQuavis books.
About Cash Money Content
Cash Money Content is a groundbreaking partnership that pairs the Cash Money Records brand with Atria Books, a division of the publishing powerhouse, Simon & Schuster.  Other releases from Cash Money Content include Raw Law: An Urban Guide to Criminal Justice by Attorney Muhammad Ibn Bashir, The New York Times bestseller Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark, Murderville: First of a
Trilogy by New York Times bestselling co-authors Ashley & JaQuavis, Pimp: The Story of My Life, Trick Baby and Long White Con, by legendary author Iceberg Slim, all out now.  Cash Money Content will release the entire Iceberg Slim backlist of seven novels over the next few years. 
This year’s releases from CMC include An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size, by national radio host Kurt “Big Boy” Alexander, and Get It Girls: A Harlem Girl Lost Novel, by Treasure Blue and The Wives Association: Inner Circle from VH1 “Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada.  Fall releases include Little Bad Girl, a Treasure Blue Short Story for ebook only, due in September 2012 and Animal: A Hood Rat Novel by K’wan, due out in October 2, 2012.
For more information on Cash Money Content books, log onto www.CashMoneyContent.com and follow on Twitter @CashMoneyBooks and on Facebook.com/Cash Money Content. 
About Cash Money Records
Cash Money Records is a legendary record company founded by brothers Bryan "Birdman" Williams and Ronald "Slim" Williams.  The record label has grown from the housing projects of New Orleans into a multi-million dollar urban empire and is considered the most successful independent record label in America as well as an enduring global street brand. Cash Money is home to chart-topping, multi-platinum recording artists like Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Jay Sean, and Bow Wow.  Today, Cash Money operates as a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company.
donna torrence
mediasavvy pr, inc
201.854.7082 office
201.417.8596 cell
follow me on twitter @donnatorrence

13 July 2012

SLJ Positive Book Review for Readers Guide to Street Lit

From School Library Journal, July 2012:

MORRIS, Vanessa Irvin. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature.168p. appendix. bibliog. index. websites. CIP. ALA. 2012. pap. $48. ISBN 978-0-8389-1110-5. LC 2011029685. 

Morris sets out to help public and school librarians gain an understanding of the content and history of street lit. In her introduction, she reiterates the need for this literature wherever there is demand, whether the collection is for teen or adult readers. She calls for librarians to be both knowledgeable about the genre and to be readers of it, and advocates for them not to judge or dismiss its fans. Morris sets the record straight that street lit is about more than drug dealers and domestic violence. It focuses primarily on African American characters and is about life and survival in inner-city, lower-income areas. She compares the genre to other early survival-story novels such as Daniel Defoe’sMoll Flanders and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. She suggests series titles, individual titles, both fiction and nonfiction, and lists a few Christian teen-friendly series. The book discusses the appeal, characteristics, the structure of the genre, and mentions themes and subgenres, YA recommendations, and tips for selection and readers’ advisory. In this comprehensive book, Morris provides excellent input to aid in collection development and includes a list of publishers.– Adrienne L. Strock, Maricopa County Library District, AZ

12 July 2012

Short Film Debut: REDEMPTION, For Colored Boys

If you are a fan of "The Wire" you will love this short film series by award-winning filmmaker, Stacey Muhammad!

You can purchase the film plus a bonus film for just $10 USD via PayPal at: http://www.staceymuhammad.com/.

This film would be a great addition to any library video collection. Enjoy!

30 June 2012

Introducing: Tracey Syphax, Author of From the Block to the Boardroom

Syphax, Tracey D. From the Block to the Boardroom: As Told to Detric "Qadiriyyah" Goss. NJ: From the Block to the Boardroom, LLC.

ISBN-13: 978-0-9850295-0-0 
$14.95 USD (Paperback); Kindle: $7.95 USD

I am happy to introduce you to Mr. Tracey D. Syphax, author of From the Block to the Boardroom (2012), a memoir chronicling his journey from a street lifestyle to becoming an award-winning multi-millionaire entrepreneur. 

Syphax reveals a roller-coaster account of his ups and downs as he sought to conquer the streets of Trenton, NJ, and break his relapse stints in the prison system. Today, he owns successful businesses in the construction and real estate sectors. Mr. Syphax states that the purpose of his book is to "empower ex-felons, encourage youth and adults to become entrepreneurs and to create opportunities to give back to the community".

From the Block to the Boardroom is a unique memoir because in addition to telling his life story, Tracey offers advice, tips and instructions to educate readers on how to strategically (re)shape and (re)claim a path of civic empowerment.

Syphax, also a community activist and motivational won the Princeton (N.J.) Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2011, becoming the first African American so honored.

Independently published, From the Block is available on Kindle, and in paperback/hardback from his website. Mr. Syphax is on social media via Facebook.

Enjoy this music video for From the Block to the Boardroom:

21 June 2012

Summer Reads 2012: The Streets Are Sizzling, Hot!

On this occasion of the Summer Solstice, 2012, I thought it would be a good idea to offer up my top Street Lit picks for summer reading. I've decided to feature mostly independent authors to pay homage to the foundation from which 21st century Street Literature emerges ... from the self-publishing hustles of authors writing, publishing, and promoting their own works. These works are also very different, offering unique approaches to the genre with "a tale of urban terror," and stories that show how whole communities are devastated when even just one child is devastated. Enjoy these reads. I've provided information for how you can best order these books for your collections.


Tecori Sheldon. 2012. When Truth Is Gangsta.
NY: Strebor on the Streetz.
978-1-59309-397-6 | $13.00 US | Paperback, 348 pages

***STARRED PICK*** Tecori Sheldon (aka Thomas Slater) has crafted a story that is not only well-written, but is action-packed and keeps you on the edge of your seat, as if you are literally, watching a movie in your head. He sets up the action scenes so convincingly that for me, a very sensitive reader, I could viscerally feel the suspense and terror of the shoot-outs and grisly gangster activities. The plot and characters are well-developed: protagonist Ruffneck is indeed psychopathic, but you truly understand how and why he became the monster he became, sometimes out of circumstance, and other times out of the need to survive. 

Synopsis: Ruffneck's name is Walter Story, Jr. He is the namesake of a father who was a major drug kingpin with a team of other powerful men. Walter, Sr. and his wife were both brutally murdered in front of 8-year-old Junior. In a moment's instant, the young boy witnessed the murders of his parents and committed murder,  himself, as well. These deeply traumatic events created a darkness in Ruffneck that was pretty much suppressed until he experienced some time in prison. Coming out of prison, Ruffneck had a need to avenge his parents' deaths, as there were many questions unanswered, as well as many truths he needed to know and understand about who his father was, and how such a powerful man came to die such an ambushed, violent death. However, in his quest to learn these things, Ruffneck became more like his father than he perhaps intended. However, the chain of events were set in motion, and it was too late to turn back the hands of time. Ruffneck had started a vicious street war with the ruthless men responsible for his parents', as well as his grandmother's and cousin's deaths. Ruffneck does have a soft side to him, and when his enemies seek to harm more members of his family, Ruffneck's rage rains savagely, with everyone getting drenched. Justice is served, street-style.

Available on Amazon when you search for When Truth Is Gangsta.
Mr. Slater is on social media via Facebook.


Joy Deja King. 2012. Boss Bitch. Bitch Series.
Collierville, TN: A King Production. 
978-0984332540 | $15.00 US | Paperback, 224 pages

AN ESTABLISHED BRAND, this a MUST-HAVE. I would be remiss if I did not pay proper respect to the wonderful veteran author, Joy Deja King, and her immensely popular Bitch series. Deja King is a major author in the street lit genre, having penned several works (including not 1, but 3 series) that has garnered her an intensely loyal readership. I was recently speaking at an event talking about Street Lit with librarians. One librarian shared that in her library, it is elderly, Anglo American women who come in asking in low, husky whispers, "You got that Bitch series? The next one come out yet?" :-) The female protagonists in King's series are strong, resilient characters who stick to your imagination, as you find yourself seeking out the next installment time and again!

Synopsis: From the book cover: "Precious Cummings and her daughter Aaliyah Mills Carter must protect the family empire as an unknown enemy tries to step in and take the throne. Can mother and daughter get past their differences and unite as one or will they stay at odds and risk having their loved ones torn apart? The saga continues to unfold in Boss Bitch." 

Boss Bitch, available on Amazon, is a definite beach-read.
Ms. King is active on social media via the following outlets:
Facebook: JDKfangpage
Twitter: @joydejaking
YouTube: joydejaking
Website: www.joydejaking.com


Darrell King. 2012. Deadly Phine: A Tale of Urban Terror. 
Washington, DC: Darrell King Productions. 
978-1466062726 | $14.95 US | Paperback, 226 pages

A MUST READ. This novel is a straight no-chaser look at how behaviors really are a matter of life and death, especially when drugs and sex are a means for survival and to escape poverty. This novel is a crime fiction / sci fi / horror blend with non-fiction facts about the real-life atrocities concerning HIV/AIDS in inner city American communities. Ignore the cheesy book cover, this story is a good one; informative and entertaining at the same time.

Synopsis: Valentino is a handsome, rich, Puerto Rican drug dealer who is a carrier of an extra potent form of HIV, called HIV5X. A veteran of the U.S. military, Valentino is a willing participant in a government-run experiment to test the effects of this mutated strain of the HIV virus on unsuspecting low-income city dwellers.  In exchange for cash and a cure for himself, ladies' man Valentino hits the bricks hard, transmitting the disease to as many women in the hood as possible, unleashing a reign of terror to reduce the population of inner cities throughout the US. The evil shadow of Valentino's bio-terrorism is a U.S. military agency, seeking to conduct a 21st century biological experiment on lower class citizens who are deemed expendable. This novel is interwoven with important scientific facts about the devastating effects HIV/AIDS in Latino and African American communities. This story makes you question what is really free will when you are impoverished? 

Deadly Phine is available on Amazon.
Darrell King is active on the following social media platforms:
Facebook: Darrell.King946
Twitter: @Fuskieboy


Vanna B. Fancy: Handbags, Heels & Hard Times. 
Philadelphia, PA: Hope Street Publishing.
978-0985351502 | $15.00 US | Paperback, 190 pages

GOOD A/YA READ. This novel was a pleasant surprise. It is nicely written, and is suitable for mature YAs as the protagonist is a high school Latina living in inner city Philadelphia, searching for her authentic identity. There will be many teen readers who will relate to protagonist, Maribel "Fancy" Alvarez. 

Synopsis: Maribel is a quiet, mousy public high school student who is lonely and would like to be one of the popular girls. She meets a friend named Shawn (a girl) who helps Maribel come out of her shell as the new and improved, Fancy. Fancy graduates high school and lives her roaring 20s as a fake socialite. On the outside she wears the finest clothes and makeup and goes to all the VIP parties. But in reality, she lives in the hood and can barely make ends meet. When she meets up with a handsome, wealthy man named Aaron, she realizes she wants true love and a real life. However, everything and everyone are not what they appear either, so Fancy experiences a series of dramas that inspires great change for her life.

Here is a book trailer for Fancy:

Fancy is available on Amazon.
Vanna B. is present on the following networks:
Facebook: vannabonline
Twitter: @msvannab
And those are my Street Lit picks for Summer 2012!

Additionally, there are a couple of titles that are not published yet that you should look forward to:

Author T. Styles of Cartel Publications will be releasing part 3 of her Raunchy series.

Raunchy 3: Jayden's Passion (August 2012)

The long-anticipated second installment to Ashley & Jaquavis' Murderville Trilogy is scheduled for release.

Murderville 2: The Epidemic (August 2012)

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...