Lynne d Johnson



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01.05.06 12:07 AM

i guess i should be ashamed

legit_baller.jpg Felicia Pride and others have pointed me to this op-ed piece - Their Eyes Were Reading Smut in the NYT today written by Nick Chiles.

Chiles mentions this title, Legit Baller, in his article that trashes street lit, more than once. (You do notice whose blurb that is on the cover?)

To be quite honest I had a totally negative opinion of "street lit" until I interviewed several authors for a piece I wrote for VIBE back in 2004 called "Write Thurr." After that I came away with more mixed emotions, and not so set-in-stone emotions about what's good fiction and what isn't. About who should deem themselves a writer and who shouldn't. During my interviews for the piece, I met several erotica and street authors who were serious about the craft of writing. Some studying writing, editing, and publishing. Many just had to tell their personal stories that were related to street life, in hopes that others would not follow them.

Originally, my thoughts on "street lit" were that it was a lot like what the music industry had become. Whereas the abundance of hip-hop marketing and merchandising automatically made it seem as if the only musical genre that black folks cared to patronize was hip-hop. And not what hip-hop purists like to call hip-hop, but the kind of hip-hop that enabled say a Master P to sell so many records on his own that it warranted a record deal. These are the parallels. "Street lit" too started on the streets, out the trunks, etc. and is often compared to the works of Donald Goines.

When a Keni Jasper writes a street crimes story, or one related to hip-hop, or an Erica Kennedy writes a hip-hop lifestyle novel neither are seen as writing smut.

Perhaps what Chiles is touching on though, in his desciption of how walking into the bookstore made him feel, is something akin to what VH1's Hip-Hop Videos: Sexploitation on the Set attempted to convey. The imagery on these "street lit" covers are just as graphically arresting as these videos are.

But mostly, Chiles is commenting on the direction that African-American literature is going in. Again, I'm reminded of hip-hop. I'm not saying that "street lit" shouldn't be there, but much like hip-hop, what is representative of African-American literature does need to be more broad and balanced. While everyone who just got out the pen is getting a six-figure publishing deal, what about the writers who have toiled at the craft for many years?

Apparently, my emotions about "street lit" are still mixed. As I write this post, I find myself unable to state a strong enough case for one position or the other. To sum up my feelings though, I can say that although I don't fully agree with Chiles' position (labeling all of the books about crime, the streets, or hip-hop that came out in the past 5 or so years as smut is totally unfair) I do get his point.

Jason's "School Of Rock" post , though speaking to today's music criticism, might equally be applied to today's literary criticism.

posted by lynne | |


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