When Street Lit Isn’t Enough: Have You Checked Your Bookstore Lately?

My reasoning for this post came when I went to a bookstore to find a decent book to read. I went to the African-American fiction section and I stumbled upon this:

Or a few months ago when I saw this:

Oh the dichotomy!!!!

See, I have a love/hate relationship with most bookstores as I do urban fiction novels, or “street lit” as others call the genre. It all began in high school when I read “A Hustler’s Wife” by Nikki Turner. I remember never reading a book so fast in my life. It was a great page turner and gave me a glimpse into a lifestyle that I had heard about, but wasn’t too familiar with and not to mention it was set in my hometown. Eventually, I went on to read other street lit classics, such as Terri Woods’, “True to the Game,” and Sister Souljah’s, “The Coldest Winter Ever.” While those novels had substance, those that followed began to use the same formula and after a while, my love relationship with street lit faded. The formula went like this:

Good girl meets drug king pin boy -> drug king pin boy falls in love with good girl -> ride or die chick transformation -> drugs, murder, sex, deceit -> sequel novel!!

Once I got to college and my literary taste diversified, I left the street lit alone; it no longer provided me with anything. Most of the plots were all the same and predictable-however, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any page turners at all. I just that most of the novels perpetuate the stereotypes that are always attached to the black community. Nevertheless, there are millions of young black women-and some men- who love street lit. In fact, it is so popular that if you go into a bookstore today, and if there is an African-American feature table, chances are most if not all of the books featured will be street lit. This is a problem for me. When I want an intellectually stimulating book that deals with my people, I don’t want to see “Ride or Die Chick” before I see “Invisible Man.” This is only a sub-genre of literature, so it should not encompass an entire section of literature. It is a problem when classic American literature is grouped next to books such as “White Girl” or “Section 8: A Hood Rat Novel.” Note to bookstores: African-American fiction is more than urban literature!!!

Nor do I appreciate the African-American literature section being the first section you see once you enter the bookstore. Am I the only one who notices this? Chains like Borders and Books-A-Million have African-American sections and typically they are in the front once you enter the store heavily stocked with street lit?

What’s up with that?? **Side-eye**

On a serious note, while the tales are gritty, most street lit still tend to romanticize street life and drug culture. What is also problematic is that girls as young as 13 are reading these novels and finding the lifestyles portrayed in them appealing. Whatever happened to “The Babysitter’s Club” or “Goosebumps” you ask? Nowadays, fairy tales and other young adult books are being replaced with these novels. And for most young black girls, their prince in shining armor they read about come equipped with glocks, kilos and an endless supply of Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Louis apparel.

In all, it isn’t horrific to enjoy reading street lit, to each its own, however, it’s sad for those who think this is all African-American literature is about and limit themselves to only this sub-genre. Oh, and not to mention that I would like my local bookstores to understand that not all black people who come into the bookstore are looking for street lit.

Thoughts? What do you say CoffyTalk readers?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Justina
    Dec 02, 2010 @ 16:53:30

    I have had this conversation multiple times with my parents. I, for one, have never read “street lit” (or as my mother calls them “smut books”). They have just never been the types of books I was interested in reading. I cannot be mentally stimulated by a book where the negativity of the streets are romanticized and glorified extensively.

    I feel that we as African-Americans have more to give to the world than gangs, ghettos, drugs, and sex. People like Maya Angelou did not take her childhood struggles and abuse and turn it into run-of-the-mill novels full of street life and drug culture. She turned it into an autobiography of triumph and a magnificent metaphor, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. We have to challenge ourselves to be better and produce better, but only very few African-Americans are taking that road because it is easy to write a ghetto-filled novel with little literary substance.

    I agree that African-American lit is more than “street lit” – my favorite so far is an autobiography by James McBride, “The Color of Water”. It talks about the struggles of inter-racial marriages, abuse, and growing up with little to nothing. I would love to read more books written by African-Americans, however, when there are very few African-Americans writing books worth reading where am I to turn but to “Eat, Pray, Love” and classics like “Anna Karenina”.


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