Monday, December 1, 2008

I Share My Opinion (what's not urban lit) written by Amy Pattee a assistant professor at Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. The article is about urban literature and if its appropriate for teens. After reading this, I had to remember to breathe.

I was kind of wary when Pattee says urban literature is know for it's provocative titles, which is so true but the example she gives -"Death Before Dishonor" is so weak. There are so many better titles she could have chosen. James Patterson's " Pop Goes the Weasel" is more provocative. Though, I nodded my head in approval when she outlines the history of urban literature. I also agreed when Pattee said urban novels are prone to grammicial, punctuation and spelling errors. Though from there we part ways.

Pattee considers Push by Sapphire an urban lit novel, and that is so wrong. Push is not urban lit. ( redundant on purpose) Push is a beautifully written contemporary realistic novel. It does not glamorizes the protagonist story. It simply tells the story of Precious Jones, a teenage girl who slowly begins to believe in herself and want more. No one reading Push is going to dream of being a pregnant 16yr old who is sexually abused by her parents. If Push is urban lit then so is Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Pattee goes on to say some of the African American YA novels are urban fiction.

"Teen street lit also often includes warnings about the harmful consequences of destructive or criminal behavior. And some mainstream publishers are now offering a “safer” variety of teen street lit, such as Scholastic’s “Bluford High” and Harlequin’s “Kimani Tru” series—but beware, young connoisseurs of urban lit may find these more restrained stories babyish or inauthentic."

I have read some Kimani Tru novels and they are not urban lit, if we are sticking to the already established defintion in the article. Kimani Tru novels feature black teens sometimes but not always living in urban areas, doing what all teens do coping with family, friends and life. I have not read any of the Bluford High books but I am go out on a limb here and say they are not urban lit. The other YA novels Pattee names do not fit the pre established urban lit criteria either. If Tyrell by Coe Booth and The Hoopster by Alan Lawren Sitomer are urban lit then so are The First Part Last by Angela Johnson and Game Walter Dean Myers.

I am so upset by this article, Pattee seems to be calling most contemporary YA fiction featuring African American characters urban literature. She's teaching and influencing the buying habits of future librarians. There are negative connotations assicoated with urban lit (or maybe that's just my bias) when some of Pattee's student begin working they may think twice about giving a book like Hot Girl by Dream Jordan or Indigo Summer by Monica Mckayhan a chance.

Their eyes were reading smut I am linking to this 2006 NYT opt piece by Nick Chiles because it fits in with this post plus its a great article and I don't know when I will get a chance to share it again. It still makes me laugh, its either laugh or cry.


Anonymous said...

Hey, there,
I just wanted to respond to your comments about my article in SLJ. First (and I know this is no *real* excuse), I wanted to let you know that I had a *lot* more to say about the complicated genre called urban or street or even ghetto lit, but that I also had to agree to some serious editing for publication in SLJ. I agreed to these edits because I thought it was important to call attention to the literature in a professional forum (where, sadly, such genres and forms are often misunderstood).
I totally understand your criticisms of the article and I wanted to say that I, too, am still in somewhat of a quandary as far as the mainstream articulations and interpretations of the genre for young people (and I include the Bluford High and Kimani Tru novels in this category) go. I think that a lot of publishers and authors have recognized how popular the genre is among young people and that they have sought to "soften" the genre for the supposed benefit of young audiences. I think that the Kimani Tru series, Bluford High series (you should really read some of these), Tyrell and even the Alan Lawrence Sitomer books are written with this genre in mind; however, I don't think that these represent "true" articulations of the genre. Furthermore, I continue to distinguish books like "The First Part Last" and the novels of Walter Dean Myers from the emerging body of street lit influenced writings appearing in mainstream YA and children's catalogs these days.
I'm sorry that you think I was lumping all novels by African American authors or featuring African American characters as street lit. My intention was not to do so, but instead to encourage children's and YA librarians to consider street lit (for adults) a legitimate genre and to recognize the ways in which it has influenced some more current novels for young people.
Thanks for reading the article and for your critique. I'd love to continue this discussion (either through your blog or via email). Feel free to email me at:
Amy Pattee

coe booth said...

Just to add my two cents...

When I wrote TYRELL, I did not think of "Urban Literature" or "Street Lit" or any such thing. I just wanted to write a book about a boy from a neighborhood like mine, and I wanted it to be something teens could relate to (especially those who may not always see themselves represented in YA literature.) I don't read a lot of adult Street Lit. I read PUSH and THE COLDEST WINTER EVER, but I don't know that they should be considered Street Lit either. As a matter of fact, I have no idea what Street Lit even means!

That's why I sometimes find it frustrating when TYRELL is lumped into that category. I'm especially frustrated when libraries divide their "YA book lists" into categories, and TYRELL is put on the "Best Street Lit" list or something like that, but it is not on the mainstream list as well. So only kids who are looking for Street Lit will discover it, and the kids who are just looking for an interesting book will not. It also frustrates me when books with white characters in urban settings (such as the excellent SAINT IGGY) aren't also considered Street Lit or Urban Lit. So, yes, I do think some librarians and booksellers are taking the easy way out by lumping together all books with African American characters on the cover and calling them Street Lit, often regardless of the subject matter (or location) of the book.

The first time I see KENDRA listed as Street Lit, I'm going to scream! Seriously!

Anonymous said...

I've given up reading articles about Urban Lit in SLJ and VOYA and other publications. I quite when someone in VOYA saw no problem with giving books to African American teens that accepted the use of illegal drugs. I couldn't help but feel a double standard. I think it's great that Street Lit is getting recognition. There are many people who enjoy it because it validates something or someone for them and we all need that in the books we read. It has also made the publishing world realize that our kids do read! However, Street Lit is not the do all and end all in African American Lit especially as it relates to teens. I'd love to see an article on the other genres written by African Americans such as graphic novels, speculative fiction, historical fiction and on and on and on.

dot said...

My small bookstore is just getting around to establishing an "Urban Lit" section, and it's very tempting to include titles like "Push" because...well, it's like how I want to shelve Vonnegut in Sci-fi, and how healthy romance novels get shelved right next to unhealthy romance novels. I want these sections to have the formulaic and the extraordinary together, because subverting or surpassing a genre still uses the genre itself as a base, and I don't like when sections get compartmentalized into dumps for books people don't respect.

Unknown said...

There are things I can not understand but I will learn it. I think nothing is too late. Then I realized that I had improved a lot.