Friday, December 5, 2008

street lit. *cough* garbage.

so...if you don't know what street literature is...
i suggest you Google it. it SURROUNDS you.
the trash you see Shaquana reading on the subway, on your hairdressers waiting room table in Harlem, the vendors by the subway selling "baby momma this" and "hood nigga that".
if you've never been interested in reading it....well...GOOD for you.
if you have been...i suggest you support our black writers who have molded their craft to give their audience what they deserve and pay for.
im an advocate for the whole "if you put your mind to it" theory.
just not on this "genre"..

books to read:
Toni Morrison's New Book "Mercy"
Pearl Cleage's New Book "Seen it all Done The Rest"
Anything J. California Cooper
Anything Tananarive Due and Stephen Barnes
Walter Mosley
Alice Walker
Barack Obama's autobiographical work!
and so many more....GET TO IT

My thoughts:

Throughout the hip-hop generation, many trends have made influential impact amongst the black society. One of these trends happens to incorporate certain aspects of the hip-hop world into black writing. Being such a fast growing genre, this type of writing has earned several names, such as, Street Literature, Ghetto Literature, Urban Drama, Urban Literature, and Hip-Hop Literature. The trend grew from racy stories, yet still well-written literature, told by authors like Donald Goines, and Robert Beck also known as Iceberg Slim. These racy tales grew into more provocative ones with writers of the late 90’s and the new millennium, with titles like Sista Souljah’s, “Coldest Winter Ever” and Omar Tyree’s “Fly Girl”. Street Literature gave a more intricate view into the negative aspects of the fictional characters lives. This fact allowed street literature to gain popularity amongst African-American’s who came to find the books fun and an easy read. Soon titles started to emerge everywhere, such as, “Hoodrat”, “Baby Mamas”, and “True to The Game”. Stories which helped glorify travesties like drug dealing, prostitution, gambling, drug usage, and teenage pregnancy, were suddenly on the top of the list for mass production. With the sudden rush to produce street literature, came a mass manufacture of self publishing, meager authors receiving huge publishing deals, with the result of poorly written stories that were hurriedly written. These stories had poor editing, and lacked many characteristics of the composition of a good novel. Street Literature is not a valid part of the African American literary canon because it lacks the structure of conventional black literature and portrays negative aspects of the black community.
Some of the most contemporary notable authors of African-American Literature are, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, J. California Cooper, and Alice Walker. Morrison and Walker write full in depth novels, Mosley weaves tales of science fiction, and Cooper likes to compile anthologies of memoirs and short stories, all falling into different parts of the literary spectrum, the end result of their work is creating a great piece of work that usually obtains literary merit. Good literature is primarily comprised of originality, plot and character development, foreshadowing and many other literary elements. Within Walkers writing, she provides characters like, Brownfield, from “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” and gives the reader a full understanding of his background and surroundings. In this story, a theme Walker has is the passing of negative values from father to son. “Brownfield looked at Grange with surprise. His father almost never spoke to him unless they had company. Even then he acted as if talking to his son was a strain, a burdensome requirement.” (Walker 5) These details give the reader a better understanding of motive, and a deeper look into the growth of the character, showing you later on the reasoning behind Brownfield’s treatment of his own children. These details help build great plot and character development. Street Literature usually lacks this quality. Kwan’s novel “Hoodrat” tells the tale of four females from the ghettos, who have scandalous ways of making it to the top. In Kwan’s “Hoodrat”, he uses main characters like, Rhonda, Yoshi and Billy and jumps into their personal stories without much of a background or history. Most of the time with street literature, the reader is left to assume the reasoning behind characters actions, rather than getting the chance to read it.
With various titles on the stand that glorify the same negative values, street literature has become repetitive. Marva Allen, owner of a black bookstore on 125th street in Harlem conveys, “Street literature is somewhat dead already,” she says. “People have had too much of it, and like if you have too much ice-cream it makes you throw up.” (Kennard 4) Allen states that street literature makes up eighty-percent of book vendors, stores and sales. However, her statement shows that she is tired of selling the same type of novel, and is convinced the genre will eventually die out. “We very rarely stock it,” she says. “I don’t do it, if you drop people down at that level you have to start all over again. I do carry street lit with a message because it is slice of life, but it must be redemptive or have a moral to the story in some way.” (Kennard 4) Allen’s statements show how street literature lacks originality and is often recurring.
Allen also states that the majority of customers who buy street literature are young black teenagers. (Kennard 4) This becomes a major concern, because of the glorification of the negative aspects of the black community conveyed in these stories. In K’wan’s “Hoodrat”, many of these negative themes are seen. In a conversation between one of the main characters Rhonda and a love interest names True about sex, she states, “True, you’ve known me since forever, I’m clean. We don’t need no condom.” (K’wan 80) Statements such as this one express that it’s acceptable not to use protection. This could be harmful to the mind of a young female teenager who is engaging in sexual activity. Lack of prophylactics during intercourse could lead to pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and deadly viruses. However, in K’wan’s following paragraphs he glorifies sexual activity without protection, with statements such as, “it feels better”, and “it gets men more open.”
Another theme within the novel “Hoodrat” was the constant misogynistic actions of the male characters in the book. Speaking with the woman they “loved”, they constantly referred to them as “bitches.” Also during many of the club and gathering scenes, men constantly groped, hit, or disrespected the main characters. Although, in some instances the women did fight back, other times they disregarded the insolence and had no intentions of correcting the abusive language and actions. These actions could convey to young women that some of these events are the norm within such circumstances. If misogynistic behavior amongst men in reality goes uncorrected, they will start to feel that it’s satisfactory for them to behave this way towards women.
As if it isn’t bad enough that the majority of street literature lacks the qualities of good black literature. It also lacks the morals, values, and positive messages that most authors used to try to convey through their novels. These messages were something the black and literary community could take pride in. However, now scholars, educated readers, and publishing houses are not giving black writers the same respect, within a time of watered down literature. This is shown within major chain bookstores, such as Borders, Books-A-Million, and Barnes and Nobles, which have street literature overpowering and outselling writers like Morrison, and Walker, with small sections labeled “African-American Interest”. Almost as if to say that as African-Americans, stories such as those told by street literature writers, is all we are interested in. Stories within certain genres depict the lives of the authors and their community. As black writers, we are writing for and about our people. Street literature only conveys the negativity within our population, and there is a need for writers who are ready to convey the positive, instantaneously.

disclaimer: i don't consider sista souljah, carl weber, eric jerome dickey, omar tyree, michael baisden, e. lynn harris and authors alike "street literature"
they started with depicting real urban life in well-written literature...
but this new stuff? HA....disgusts me.


Logan Lamech said...

Preach it girl!

Logan Lamech

Ziggy Za. said...

Excellent post, Riv. These "blaxploitation books", as I love to call them, are unfortunately overshadowing the authors who painted the same pictures, but from a deeper and more dignified perspective. If I see one more Triple Crown Publication, I'll vomit.

btw: Two of my fave authors I think you should check out whenever you can: Tananarive Due and Octavia Butler. Dope.

riva. said...

I agree girl!

I did mention Tananarive in this entry. But thanks for the mention of Butler...i read Parable of the Sower. It was a good read!


Ziggy Za. said...

I saw the Tananarive mention, but I love her so much I had to mention her again. :)Her trilogy (My Soul to Keep, The Living Blood, Blood Colony) was the greatest! I'm hoping she keeps it going at least for one more book, the last one was left a little open.

Kindred by Butler is possibly my favorite Butler book. Books are just awesome altogether.