Will anyone stand in agreement with me that urban-lit and street-lit are NOT the same thing? As early as the year 2000, a rash of over-the-top African-American fiction began to flood bookshelves. Some are calling them urban-lit, some say they are street-lit, but what I’ve come to realize is that by either terminology, these stories are all deemed the same.
I know . . . and I hear you. You’re saying, “But urban literature IS the same as street literature.” Is that what you think? Then let me take you to school. When you hear “street-lit” what comes to mind? Stories about drugs, gangs, prostitution, money, sex, crime, prisons . . . what? That and then some—probably, right? I can certainly understand such thinking because those subjects definitely coincide with the nature of being “from the streets” or “on the streets.” This is why “street” as an adjective in front of “literature” classify the genre appropriately. “Then what is urban-lit?” I’m glad you asked.
The word “urban” in front of “literature” is meant to be used as an adjective also. Urban is the redevelopment of something contemporary. When used in front of words like “renewal” or “medicine,” it means reconstructed, restored or replaced. If I take a contemporary theme, add high-drama and an edge to it, am I not making it urban? Yes, I am. Somewhere down the years, people changed the connotation into everything urban is not supposed to mean. We left alone terms like urban beach, urban medicine, and urban renewal, but if it’s urban fiction, automatically it’s “ghetto-lit,” “street-lit,” or “something dark.” If you don’t believe me, check out what TheFreeDictionary by Farlex says, and guess what, we’ve fallen for it.
African-Americans have fallen for the okie-doke the same way we did when we accepted we were niggers and inferior to other races. Are we really the only ones writing true-to-life stories with intense themes and content? Absolutely not, I say. We’re quick to place our literature under the wrong classification just because it was written by someone other than GOD that our work is all “dark and dirty.” Farlex further goes on to say our African-American protagonists are often anti-heros as a rule. I’m not making this up. It’s a free web. Read it for yourself. When are we going to stop falling for the okie-doke?
I’ve seen my titles listed on sites as street fiction, which is far from the truth for all but two of my books. Sites like Global Grind and Streetfiction.org have listed my sophomore title, I Don’t Wanna Be Right, as street literature. Yes, the first book cover is racy—an attention-grabbing tactic on the publisher’s part—but have they actually read the book, I wonder. No part of I Don’t Wanna Be Right deals with street or ghetto themes. While I don’t deny there are some works written by African-Americans out there that shouldn’t have ever made the shelves, I’m also not fool enough to believe everything we write “focuses on the underside” of our culture. I’ve read some great street books, and I’ve read some bad ones.
One thing I’ve noticed about African-American readers is we tend to read more of the things to which we can relate. Okay, so the material isn’t watered-down, but isn’t that the way life is many times? We can read and write what we are accustomed to, but the key is that writers have to shut the mouths of those who love to label “urban and street fiction” as derogatory. We can do that by making sure that although we depict stories of sex, drama, lies, deceit, and survival, negativity is not the splendor of the story. The Bible tells of stories dealing with sex, drama, lies, deceit, and survival, but who calls it “ghetto?”
We can write for entertainment, but make it also rhyme and reason and have cause and purpose. Sex just for the sake of sex is sometimes a turnoff to many readers. A character being shot or killed just for shock-value could also backfire. If everything has a cause and purpose, then nay-sayers would have to close their mouths. Non-African-American writers also deal with some of the same topics African-Americans tell, but just as it’s been for years, the browner skin-complexion alone has been enough reason for us to be chastised, scrutinized, and analyzed. Basically, we’re always challenged to be at our best, and frankly, there is nothing wrong with that. I’m not the best writer in the industry, but I have an innate desire to be amongst the best—so should the rest of us. Let’s all step it up, and stop falling for the okie-doke. Everything some other man says about us is NOT the truth.
I’m Alisha Yvonne, and that’s my peace.