Friday, March 23, 2007

Are you down with THAT?!

Tressa of Birmingham Public Library wrote:

Urban fiction. Hip hop fiction. Gangsta literature. Ghetto lit. Street lit. What once had no formal definition now has many names. Urban fiction is defined by its location of the urban environment and its subject matter of poverty, racism, gangs, drugs and prostitution. The characters are African American or sometimes Latino who speak in the tough vernacular of street speak. Thus Mary Monroe and Terry McMillan do not write urban fiction; Terri Woods and Iceberg Slim do write urban fiction.

Urban fiction was never really considered legitimate literature and was not taken seriously by publishers. This changed when Terri Woods began selling copies of her book True to the Game (1994) out of the trunk of her car, and word of mouth helped the book sell more than 200,000 copies.

Since then urban fiction has been flying off the shelves. Provocative covers and exciting plot lines attract scores of readers. I've worked in the Fiction Department for eight years and have seen its popularity steadily increase. It doesn’t look like it's slowing down any time soon.

Urban fiction started with Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines in the 70's, followed by Sister Souljah in the 80's with The Coldest Winter Ever, and now these writers who are carrying on the tradition:

T. N. Baker * Chunichi * Wahida Clark * Keisha Ervin * K'wan Foye Michael Gainer * Erik S. Gray * James Earl Hardy * Shannon Holmes * LaJill Hunt * Angel M. Hunter * Jihad * Solomon Jones Thomas Long * Joseph Nazel * Noire * Michael Presley * A. J. Rivers * Vickie M. Stringer * Nikki Turner * Omar Tyree * Carl Webber * Tu Shonda L. Whitaker"

Retrieved from & urban-fictionso-thats-what-its-called.html (Copy to notepad and delete &, then paste into browser to access original web page.)

Dan's 2-Cents: Thanks to Susan, our Web Librarian, for the link. If we bought books exclusively from this list of authors, we'd send 75% of our readers through the jail roof. The Correction's Staff may not like that since they prefer that inmates keep their feet on the ground! Each time an Urban Book is included in our bin of carefully-packed materials, we must decide which cell-block will be the lucky winner.

Non-conformity in language is part of Urban Fiction's appeal to outsiders and runs parallel to the socially-disapproved or criminal "Action" of the stories. But what about the insiders? For readers who grew up on the streets, the familiarity of the dialect and action is a prime source of attraction.

I was surprised to see Coldest Winter Ever on the list. It is a tale of "The Life," but sets the bar higher for all the authors listed, based on its emotional integrity. The pain behind the writer's words is felt, is real and conveyed without the comic book aura employed by a few of the other authors named above. Our readers can sure distinguish the best from the mediocre and they love Sister Souljah.

However. any of these books are great if you want a quick fix to pass the time between TV and bed!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Our Books, our Selves

What is the fate of discards, especially from the Poetry Shelves? Poets live with the nagging knowledge that their words will disappear. Writers from other disciplines are often too self-flattering to envision a librarian weeding her shelves or the cataloger hitting his delete button. But discard they do!

Enter the informed reader, desperate for a good book--circulation stats be damned! Here's a stanza rescued from the dumpster of oblivion:

from Song of Farewell....

Was mir geliehen wurde
wechselndes Licht an den Wänden,
Verständnis für manche Vergeblichkeit,
ein tifer gespürter Schimmer des Laubes--
dem Unerfahrbaren geb ichs zurück.

What was loaned to me:
changing light on walls,
understanding of many a futility,
a deeper-felt glimmer of leaves--
I give them back to the never-to-be-known.

(Original German text by Heinz Piontek, English translation by Gertrude Schwebell.)

dan's 2-cents: The data patrol made up of well-trained information specialists may not know the value of these words, but I do.