Street Lit Goes Mainstream


coldestwinterStreet lit, ghetto lit, urban fiction, gangsta lit—these are the various names given to the genre that exploded onto the literary scene starting with rapper Sister Souljah’s 1999 debut, The Coldest Winter Ever. Since then street lit has become one of the fastest growing book genres in the U.S., according to the urban fiction website Almah LaVon Rice reports for Colorlines that street lit’s meteoric ascendance over the past decade has cultural critics debating its merits and mainstream publishers salivating over its sales potential.

Urban fiction consistently appears on Essence magazine’s bestseller list, which tracks black bookstores, although Rice reports that even more street lit is sold via barber shops, beauty salons, sidewalk kiosks, and online. Characterized by “unapologetic materialism and luxury brand fetishes, explicit sex and violence, and profanities that flow as freely as Cristal on VIP nights,” street lit has been credited with drawing formerly new communities into reading. It’s become so popular that even rapper 50 Cent has his own imprint, G-Unit Books.

But critics contend that the line between representation and exploitation is blurry, and that street lit could be feeding stereotypes and promoting a destructive way of life. Still others point out that, as with hip-hop, many consumers of street lit have no direct experience with the urban lifestyle it chronicles.

It’s not surprising that publishing bigwigs like Kensington Books, Simon & Schuster, and St. Martin’s now have their own urban fiction divisions, which begs the question that Paul Chaat Smith raises in his essay “Why Indians Love the Movies So Much”: What happens when mainstream media controls and defines the images of marginalized groups? 

Source: Colorlines

Here’s a video of wildly popular street lit author Teri Woods, talking about how she hustled her books into bestsellers:

Tom Hendricks
8/10/2009 11:32:13 AM

We have a LOT of problems with mainstream publishing, and the mainstream media that refuses to question any of those problems. And the mainstream media whose parent companies OWN those publishing houses. Where is the publishing of new writing in new forms? Where is the coverage of the new writers? Where is the coverage of literary advocacy groups like ULA, King Wenclas, or Musea? Where is the mainstream coverage of zines - a whole generation's writing in a new form of literesture is blocked from fair reviews and coverage and publishing. Note: Utne btw DOES cover zines and is one of the few big magazines to do so! That's important. And finally where is the feedback from the media on why none of the above? Why can't they be questioned on this?

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