Urban Lit is DEAD!

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Urban Lit is DEAD! by Joey Pinkney

Yep, I said it… Urban Lit is dead. Done. Finito.


Who am I to say that? I don’t have the same status in the Urban Lit industry as Nas has when he said the same thing for his music. I don’t have to. I read a lot of Urban Lit, and it’s dead.

Why do I speak such blasphemous words? This sentiment stems from an email conversation I had with Therone Shellman after reading and reviewing his novel No Love Lost. (Read my review of No Love Lost, click here.) His novel was atypical and his approach to life after the streets was refreshing. Another one that comes to mind is Erick Gray’s Crave All Lose All. (Read my review of Crave All Lose All, click here. Read my interview with Erick Gray. Part I, click here. Part II, click here.)

In brief, we discussed how Urban Lit doesn’t do justice to the situations that people are relegated to in hoods across America and beyond. The immorality and reality of the streets isn’t present in a lot of stories on the market today. Without going into detail, that book was the first one that I read in a long time that actually shined the light on the side of the game that most people see but few want to talk about.

Call the Coroner…

The Urban Lit genre is pumping out books with the same book covers and the same stories. Most of the authors have to boast their jail experience to get the attention and respect they think they need to sell their stories. (Sounds like rappers who have to talk about their hood exploits in order to be respected, instead of being lyrically proficient.)

The Urban Literature landscape is taking the natural life cycle of all cultural trends. It’s just like Hip-Hop, born from desolation and neglect. Just like the Hip-Hop that influenced its current direction, Urban Lit has gone from being an obscurity to being shunned to being assimilated into popular culture. That’s why the larger publishing houses are following suit and creating imprints to cater to ravenous readership that Urban Lit definitely has. That’s why you can go to Barnes and Nobles or Borders or even Wal-Mart and see the latest and greatest in the (unofficial) Urban Lit section. It’s selling.

Before it got it’s name, authors like Omar Tyree (who recently stopped writing Urban Lit), Sistah Souljah and Teri Woods wrote books that spoke to a group of people who couldn’t get the time of day from the larger publishing houses. The prevalent thought at the time was that “those people” don’t read. Urban Lit has now been digested and regurgitated by the large publishing houses just like Master P did to rap music during his hey day. And just like his albums covers, words are blinged out, the men look mean and the women look horny.

From the Cradle…

With a “for us, by us” mentality, what would later become Urban Literature was strictly a person-to-person enterprise. Authors were printing up there own books and selling them out the trunk, on the corner, mom-and-pop stores and beauty salons. Full of sex, violence and grammatical errors, these books and the readers who loved them were looked down upon by the mainstream book industry.

Then the book industry got hip. “Those people” were buying those books terrible books. “Those people” were requesting sequels and anything else their favorite hood author put out there. Why? Because those books were entertaining, but they also had an underlining message. Readers could relate.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Now every book cover either has a young black dude with braids, two ear rings, tattoos, sagging jeans and a mean mug or the book has a young female in her early twenties wearing something that makes it easy to figure out what the birthday suit is like. The stories are still about the hood, but nowadays there is a twist. The money, clothes, hos, jewelry, expensive cars, huge houses and the swagger runs the stories.

Urban Lit authors still have to get on their grind, print up the copies and sell them by any means necessary. The difference now is that they have to compete for shelf space with the larger publishing houses. A lot of times, they have to compromise the integrity of their story to fit what the readers will buy. It’s no longer a novelty to have a book with the hood as the backdrop.

To the Grave…

The immorality and reality of the streets isn’t present in a lot of stories. This article actually stemmed from an email conversation I had with Therone Shellman, author of No Love Lost. Without going into detail, that book was the first one that I read in a long time that actually shined the light on the ___ side of the game. (Another one that comes to mind is Erick Gray’s ___.) Shellman is a person is has been there and done that, and it shows in his approach to his story.

A lot of people complain that most of the Urban Lit books are the same three or four stories with a different title and character names. For that matter, most of the authors have the same felonious background story in their bios. It’s just like Hip-Hop nowadays. You could take a black male between 16 and 36 (because you know we stay young looking for a while) and give him a grill, some tatoos, a fitted, a throwback (or white tee), some sagging jeans (and boxers), a gold necklace with some goofy pendant, a diamond encrusted watch, and some Air Force Ones. Then put him in front of a mansion with a couple of Lambourghinis and Escalades with a buch of women in their early 20s in bikinis. Throw on some music, let him pose and point around aimlessly showing off that goofy pendant. Oh yeah, I almost forgot let him rap…

That’s similar to what you see in Urban Lit. Most Urban Lit books has the guy that’s a drug dealer with all the name brand clothes and cars. He has enough jewelry to finance a small army. The problem is that that guy gets robbed and/or killed in real life.  A perfect example is all of these rappers getting their chain snatched left and right. They talk all that stuff on the albums and still get robbed when they leave the studio. Where are the guns? Where are your boys?

On top of the hood watching you, the cops are watching harder. Most of the dudes that make it to BET’s American Gangster get an episode because of one big mistake, being too flashy. Make a solid gold crown if you want, the cops will do everything they can to take that and everything else, including your life.


I understand what’s going on. People don’t read Urban Lit to get the scoop on reality. Like my girl Davida Baldwin said it, “You don’t read Street Lit for self-help and motivation, you don’t read street lit to help out the community, you read it for entertainment.”  If you put the average thug n!gga or hoodrat on the book cover, it wouldn’t sell. It would probably make it hard to sell the book right next to it, too. (LOL!) If it takes a model on the cover to get noticed, then sex has sold again. To be honest, authors don’t spend months and years to write a book for it to sit in a book store. They write it to hopefully put money in their pockets.

The larger publishing houses are in the game to sell units. If you like it, they love it. Business is business, but we the readers should expect more from Urban Lit authors.

Leave a comment and let me know how you feel.

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33 thoughts on “Urban Lit is DEAD!”

  1. *JoeyPinkney.com Note: I broke this comment into paragraphs to make it easier to read. I did not change any of the words.*

    Urban Lit is Dead? Before I finished writing my first book, I asked that very question however I never implied it was dead because I saw there was a market out there. I agree with you on some of the things you stated in your blog however I have to keep it real because I’m an urban writer. In my opinion, urban lit is not dead, I believe its saturated and I feel this is because there is a market for it and many a hustler have found out that you can make a quick buck if you throw something together real fast and market it thoroughly.

    In anything that makes money there are those that want a piece of the pie and they are the ones that kill the genre, in my opinion. I may not be an Essence Best Seller or may not sell 10,000 copies but I don’t feel my story is the same as every other urban story, it may be similar but definitely not the same.

    My cover is not too flashy and my title is consistent with the entire story. It is structured well and the story is told well, in my opinion. I stay consistent with the lingo and clothing in the time the story is set in even up to the gadgets that were being used. I believe I stayed as true and as real as possible in my story. I am not on the defense just trying to prove that I put a lot into my writing and do not want to be seen as a writer who killed the urban lit game with shoddy work.

    I believe the readers feel they are getting robbed for their money when they read a book that is total trash that seems like it was written in two days. I see more and more urban lit readers going to different genres because of the kinds of books you see on vendor tables now. They deserve better quality stories and they are quick to over look the new authors because of the fear that book has no substance, structure, or spell check. It’s a slap in the face to them to think they will not get offended when they read a book that has grammatical errors, its like you are literally telling them that since it’s urban lit they should be able to relate to the inconsistencies, shoddy writing, and obvious misspelling of words.

    Now what happens to those authors who are up and coming but will not get a chance to shine because their book is mixed in with the quick writes void of character development, story line, etc.? I had the opportunity to meet Therone and I can tell that the difference between that brother and others is that he has a clear sense of knowledge of self.

    I initially wrote my book because I was hoping that it would reach the hands of the young brothers on the corner who don’t have a positive role model to tell them of the opportunities afforded to them, I felt if I got them to pick up a book it would be like opening a door to creativity, a door that may be closed to them because no one is trying to explain to them the true evils of the direction they are going.

    Is Urban Lit dead, I hope not because I’m not ready to attend any funerals.

  2. I echo these sentiments exactly, which is one of the main reasons I wrote EveryDay Life. I do not refer to my book as Urban Lit, but rather Urban Reality because it is. I do not think that Urban Literature is dead misguided perhaps, but not dead.

  3. From: Mz. D – writing again!
    Date: Dec 11, 2008 7:30 PM

    I just read your article on urban lit being dead. I just have one word for you, bravo! I absolutely agree with your analysis. It has become a bit of a ghetto fab type trend. It is getting hard to decipher one book from the next. It’s sickening.

    There’s not much going on my way. I’m still working on my first novel. Hopefully, one day you’ll be giving my book a great review. Lol.

  4. As an author of romance, I have to agree with Mr. Pinkney…when I read some of the street lit books I was not impressed, but then again I am not one to read books like that as I am a romantic at heart. My sister and her friends however love them, and read them voraciously…I understand that folks can relate, but I have to agree with Joey…its the same story with different authors…and we all know that sex sells, its the reason I placed a hot woman (not chick or broad) on the front of my book, but I have a question…if street lit is dead and I do agree with you…who killed it? The readers, the writers, or the publishers?

  5. @June: Thank you for taking the time to address this post. I appreciate your candidness. I agree with you when you say that it’s a smack in the face to purchase a book full of grammatical errors. That’s the one thing that kills it for me when I read an Urban Lit book. One or two is cool. Maybe three slip ups. When you are coming across two or three glaring errors every other chapter, the author should have spent a little cash on an experienced and fresh pair of eyes. Thanks for commenting, hopefully I’ll get to interview you soon for the “5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…” series.

    @MG Hardie: I could see calling it misguided. My only problem with that particular terminology is the movers and the shakers know exactly what they are doing. From the publishers to the authors, there is a lot of people cashing in by pumping garbage. And even if some of the stuff is exactly garbage, little effort is taken to put the best product out there.

    @Mz D: Thanks, and holler at me when you get the book done. I look forward to it.

    @Brenda Love: I like the optimism of that comment. Although I’m calling it dead, all is not lost. We do need a group of authors, like MG and June, to take this genre in a direction that is less about the exploitation of false images and more about getting our heads out of the fog. That power won’t lie in one guy like Bob Marley eternal effect on the musical genre of Reggae. It’s going to be in the hands of many.

    @SassyScribe: Aaaargh! You just smacked me in the face with that one! If it’s dead, who killed it? Great point!. That is a great question that will have to be explored in a post by itself. I would say the publishers, but they’re just in it for the money. I would say the authors, but many authors are so egotistical. They have a hard enough time letting editors change this and that, how could the average author actually spend months on end not writing something they felt came from their hearts just to make something that the masses wanted. It’s the readers. If readers said, “I’m not buying that crap! I want more from you! I already read that story!”, a lot of publishers would be sitting with a warehouse full book with the front covers ripped off.

  6. I’ve never read any Urban Lit even though my first name is Urban, but I sure do recognize the process you describe quite accurately. That’s what happens in our cuture–so called–to ANYTHING that starts out real and bubbles up to be noticed by the mainstream.

    We can all admire the pioneers hawking their wares out of the trunk of a car on the corner, but they’re busting their asses to squeak by financially, and distracted by a day job that limits their creative time. As soon as they start making a living off their art the art has changed to meet the demands of a system that doesn’t care at all about the art, only about the cash value of it.

    Do you have any ideas for a way to change the pattern or do we just start the process over again with some new movement that will be destroyed by becoming a fad?

  7. @Urban Djin: Good question. How to solve the problem… The best way to solve the problem lies in the hands of the Urban Lit consumer. If the average reader would stop being sucked into to fancy marketing schemes, publicity stunts and poor penmanship dressed up in sexy fittings, the publishers and author of Urban Lit will improve the product they are pumping out.

    How do you change the masses? How do you reinforce quality over quantity? How do you tell someone, “Yeah, the sex and violence are exciting, but…what’s the meaning?”

  8. I don’t read much Urban Lit, because I’m an author who’s worked very hard at studying the craft of writing. Because of that, I detest opening a book a that is poorly written and full of grammatical errors. However, I did enjoy Shameless Hoodwives. I thought the story was good and the writing was exceptional, why? Because the authors are romance writers. If nothing else, people who are published by mainsteam romance houses know how to write. So Desperate was a good one, as were some of Omar Tyrees earlier books.

    I don’t think Urban Lit is dead and I don’t have a problem with Urban Lit being the same old recycled stories, because honestly, isn’t that what most commerical fiction is? I mean romance is boy meets girl, falls in love and ends up happy. John Grisham, one of the best selling authors of our time writes about the underdog lawyer, with the even more underdog client who fights the big bad corporate monster. Mary Higgins Clark – the sweet white woman stumbles upon a murder from her past and has to solve it. It’s all the same, the same the same.

    Literary fiction doesn’t sell in this country, not in the mass, because Americans don’t like to be stretched mentally. They like short books that will give them the temporary escape from their lives. It’s entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that. No different than watching television.

    I don’t want to see any genre that AA authors are writing in be buried, however I do think readers need to demand some quality from the authors and stop buying books that insult their intellegence due to poor craft and even poorer editing. Writing is a skill that must be honed.

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more.I wonder though, is it a follow the leader mentality? Sex sells, so do we follow suit to meet consumer expectation? With the serious epidemic of HIV and AIDS in the world, one would think that sensationalizing promiscuity and infidelity would take a back seat to other story lines.
    Have we really been reduced to continuously reading about lifestyles that have attributed to massive heartache and the breakdown of our family structure? The same imagery that graces book covers read by intelligent readers of diverse backgrounds could easily be confused with a scene from the latest degrading rap video. Of course, if a book has mature content, then a use of sensual imagery is understandable. As for the common contemporary fiction, many book covers are “false advertising”. Some feel literary success is unattainable without the use of sexual imagery to lure in readers? I’m not sure…but I’m prepared to find out. I have a book out that I am giving away as a FREE e-book. It represents african americans in a positive light, but is not christian, nor preachy. If you’d like a copy visit the website or email me. Thanks for the great post!

  10. Urban Lit… Urban Lit is a good thing. HOWEVER, there is a difference between Urban Lit and Street Lit, and it’s a shame both get thrown into the same Genre. Urban Lit can be written by anyone coming from Urban circumstances, plain and simple. But Street Lit… Now that’s something different. When writers make a practice of glorifying the horrors of the hood; the drug game, promiscuity, senseless blood shed, Guns, Baby Mama & Daddy Drama, and how they get/got away with it; I cringe thinking about how their message will impact a young impressionable reader. I came from some of those same circumstances but when I write about them, it’s to teach others a lesson not to repeat the same mistakes. We writers have a responsibility just as actors, recording artist and athletes. Freedom of speech is a liberty that I believe should be used wisely. Sex sells and so does violence and drama… But in the end, is it more important to make the money or send the right message?

    Marie Antionette
    A Girl Named Job

  11. I have struggled and searched the inner depths of my soul and brain, from that search comes the following comments.

    Street Lit is not dead nor will it die. Urban Lit is a catchall phrase for anything written by Latino/African Americans but Urban Lit is not dead nor will it die.

    1. It is up to all of us the readers, the booksellers, the marketers, the editors, the promoters, the publicists, the authors, the bookclubs and the bookstores/street vendors.

    2. The Plan requires CHANGE but as with anything there must be an inspiration for CHANGE. For instance the targeted audience(readers) could be introduced to Quality vs Quantity. I believe that is happening if you get a chance listen to www(dot)blogtalkradio(dot)com/aabookreviews its a show that i am producing and hosting. Through the use of media such as Blogtalkradio, Talkshow, ITUNES, i have the ability to impact the African American Lit World with Book Reviews that are not my opinion but Reviews of substance .

    Where does the substance come from well with the help of Tanisha from KC GIRLFRIENDS BOOKCLUB we have formed The Association of Black Book Reviewers to create a standard of excellence in Book Reviewing:
    1 star = Book Editing
    1 star = Book Presentation
    1 star = Book Price
    1 star = Storyline
    1 star = Character Development

    Having a specific tangible guide for authors to explain why their book is not a 5 star should help authors to correctly assess their work. Also it will help readers to understand that the book may have a great cover but we only rate it 2 1/2 stars because the Characters are not developed and the Storyline is weak which should alert readers as to what to expect from the book before they purchase the book.

    I am very happy to announce Joey as a member of ABBR and in addition Joey will be a guest host on WWW(dot)BLOGTALKRADIO(dot)COM/AABOOKREVIEWS.

    Additionally i am collaborating with other industry insiders to create a place for all authors to come for free and receive expert help on writing from the experts so that before you hire that editor/marketer/promotion team you will know what to look for or after you hire them the authors will have the necessary tools properly assess the work done.

    Lastly i am collaborating with authors here in NYC to promote Literacy for FEB09 and spark Readers to create more bookclubs. Why more bookclubs? Authors need to not create in a vaccum bookclubs are a great way to get feedback on your work BEFORE you go to print. But here in the NorthEast there are not as many as down south and out west.

    I hope these things are valuable additions to keeping Urban Lit alive and healthy. If anyone wants to contact me please email me kulturefirst(at)yahoo(dot)com or call me 347.425.9534 if you get chance listen to our literary shows:
    blogtalkradio(dot)com/aabookreviews – every day at 2:30pm
    blogtalkradio(dot)com/risquetalk -erotica/romance fiction only on 9pm EST on Saturdays

  12. I dont quite agree that urban lit is dead but I do believe it is in critcal condition infact maybe even on life support. The thig about urban lit is everyone tries to stay with the same stories and over and over. And truthfully a lot of the stories are not realistic at all. There is much to be written by urban lit authors if they take the time and as everyone says KEEP IT REAL.

    There is so many storis to be written about without them all being about the ghetto boy or hood rat girl who get rich from drugs and being a whore. Someone dont be scared to say that not everyone get rich from drugs trade not every female rocks a 10 carat diamond ring but everyone deals with the backlash of their surrounding.

    I think urban lit authors need to take a good look at their own life and writing abilities. Author in urban lit field need to elevate their skills by taking a step out the field and write a story in a whole other genere and give themself a chance to expand their writing horizon. That way they wont find themself giving the same story over and over again. Also they maybe can take a look at what really going on and write a story base on that. Authors need to stop worry about pumping out two or more books a year out and take their time and write one quality book.Th

    So in closing I would say this as a writer myself and no I have not had anything publish yet. I am taking my time and going over my skills so they will be up to standards. Although my first finish material is urban lit my second project is in a whole differnt genere. I think urban authors have to decide is this something they want to be a fad and let it fade away if so do what they are doing now and it will be gone. However if they want it to survive then take some time put out some quality material that really speaks about the urban situations along the way perfect their writing game by expanding their writing game in other genere. That way when they come back to their true passion urban lit they can put a quality story worth reading. Remerber great literary work can stand the test of time you can pick it up and read it ten years later and find some relevance in it. I will close by saying I am praying for urban lit and I hope it pulls through.

  13. Just wanted to add I agree with MarieAntionette there is a differnt in urban & street lit but sadly they some how have been merge together like R&B and POP music. Maybe if you could seperate it you could save both fields even though it going to take a good surgeon (author ) to seperate and save both fields.

  14. I just had to come back, I read alot of the comments and I realize that everyone has an opinion and pro or con, neither is right or wrong. Urban Lit, Street Lit, Urban Fiction, Ghetto Lit, Ghetto Fiction…give it a name and it is all the same…it is all based under “urban”…it’s stereotypical…is the genre dead? It can be but you have to ask yourself a crucial question, if it is dead or dying it had to have had a born date…in the beginning were there any ground rules? Were there any guidance on how to write urban fiction? I mean, if you think about it, rap didn’t have any violence in the beginning but it evolved to violent misogynistic lyrics…but who the hell is buying it? How the hell are these rappers who haven’t burst a grape in their hood nor sold a nickel bag of sess living in these luxurious homes in the “SUBURBS” kicking out urban lyrics? We all have to be accountable for our actions at one point in life…when we mature or when we are forced to…either case we all must…I have children (male children) and I ask myself at what age would I let my son pick up my novel and read it? I say at the least 15 years of age…why? Because I feel, even if he is not living what I’m writing about, he needs to be educated on it to some degree so that he will not walk around clueless to the evils of the world we live in…I don’t boast that my book is a coming of age novel nor do I boast that it is the best penned “joint” out but I can attest (finally) that there is so much truth to it that it’s unlawful…I am and have been exposed to the seedy underworld that we call the ghetto, the real hood, the gutter, etc…and have survived it by hook or crook literally…I don’t want my male children to follow in daddy’s footsteps because the point of daddy stopping what he was doing was to save them…writing a gully street joint is something that I feel is necessary to get the “gully” young thugs to pick up a damn book…are you feeling me…ok check the real…how many youngsters you know in the hood that would prefer to read a book over listening to some gangster lyrics, watching a sexy rap video with video vixens, or playing a PS3 or XBox 360? My point exactly…my purpose is to get the young gully males to read a book…I give my books away to them and tell them to read it while they are in the bathroom…leave it in there and I guarntee they will finish it…why? Because there is something in there for them to relate to…something that will catch their attention and if you’re a good author your message can be delivered subliminally opening a door that was once closed to them. Before you know it their creative juices are flowing and maybe just maybe they may pick up another book, maybe urban fiction…maybe not…in either case…their picking up a book my dude…Urban Fiction better not die because we are already losing our urban children…and by the way Joey…I was interviewed by you already…you haven’t reviewed my book but we did the 5 minute thing lol…”This Game Has NO Loyalty”…get at me homie…you always shoot straight from the hip and stir up sand…you keep it so gangsta and I respect your handle my dude…keep doing what you do…it’s questions like these that make me continue relentlessly to make a difference in this literary game…I’m going to always stay 100% to what I do…sales or no sales…my good word…I’m out…good post…

  15. Do I think Urban Lit is dead?? Hmmm….not really. I don’t think you can really say its dead because these “ghetto-hood” books are selling more so now than I have ever seen them sell before! Business is booming, and chi-ching, the money is rolling in, so how can it be dead?? I don’t think that ALL of these books are reptitious but I do find some that may remind me of another. I believe that every author, whether the book seems to have similar plots, climaxes, characters, and/or settings, reveals their own “swagger” in their books and that is what sets it apart from another book that may remind its reader of a previously read novel.I like to do research on the author before I review their book because it prepares my mind for what I am reading and how I perceive what I am reading. As a reviewer, I try not to read too many books of the same genre back to back because it will eventually bore you, the reader. So for those of you who think Urban Lit is dead…please think again. They said the same thing about Hip Hop and clearly Hip Hop still has a pulse. Urban Lit authors and fans…keep doing what you do. Urban Lit is the literature of OUR generation…its up to us to keep it alive!!!

    Peace and blessings,
    Vice President of B~more Readers with W.I.S.D.O.M Book Club/A “B~more” Literary Review Critic

  16. In addition to my previous comment, I would like to ask a question?? What happened to simply being ENTERTAINED? I read Urban Lit because I know that the “drama” will surely entertain me in one way or another. There is much to be learned from Urban Lit about everyday life, just like watching a movie. Is there anyone out there who testifies that they have not learned SOMETHING from any of the Urban Lit books they have read?? I find that very hard to believe.

  17. @Everbody: You can read June’s (aka LJ Miller) interview by clicking here.

    @Latasha: I called it dead because it got stagnant. Nas called hip hop dead during a period of time where money is being made hand over foot.

    Just because money is being made doesn’t mean that it’s all good. Millionaires were made from the crack epidemic that still lingers across America. Business is booming…

    Entertainment is cool. So is eating at McDonald’s for many Americans. You don’t eat McDonald’s for the substance. You eat it for the taste and more so for the familiarity. Keep eating it and feeding it to your kids and you will all die a slow death.

    I’m just pointing out that there is too much McDonald’s Lit being consumed and not enough Meat and Potatoes Lit being put on a pedestal. But that’s truly up to the reader.

    I have learned stuff from the worst books I’ve read. Never said I didn’t. I don’t think I mentioned anything like that in the whole article.

    There has also been many things reinforced by what I have come across in Urban Lit. Values like: “You always have to pay your way. Nothing is truly free.” “Know the worlds you come into contact with.” “Keep your gun on safety if it’s tucked in the front part of your pants.” (Just kidding.) A lot of those values apply in other settings like being in business or working for a corporation.

    When it’s all said and done, it shouldn’t be all about how much money you are making if you’re making money off of a shoddy product. That’s stated in the article. I’m just revisiting that sentiment.

  18. @Everybody: I just came across an interesting article forwarded to me from Eric S. Gray. It’s entitled The Death of Black Literature in the U.S. (http://www.thecommentfactory.com/the-death-of-black-literature-in-the-us/)

    It reflects what I was saying about big publishers and the money they could generate from selling Urban Lit. The problem isn’t the money; it’s how they decided to make the money.

    A perfect example is Erick S. Gray himself. Dubbed “Mr. Prolific” for his generous output, Gray has been looked over for writer’s who will make the money. Although his stories have the elements of sex, drugs and hip hop, the big publishing houses are geared for big sales and not quality.

    Remember the McDonald’s anology in my quote above? I’m not the only who thinks that way. Marva Allen, owner of the well-respected HueMan bookstore, is quoted in the article as saying: “Street literature is somewhat dead already,” she says. “People have had too much of it, and like if you have too much ice-cream it makes you throw up.”

  19. I’m not saying that Urban Lit is not dead just because of the revenue that is being generated. I am saying that its not dead because readers are still spending their money on it…lots and lots of readers, who love to read it. They are true fans of Urban Lit and true supporters of Urban Lit authors, and when you are a true supporter, you don’t just abandon what once brought you some kind of pleasure because it has hit a “rough spot”. Furthermore, it attracts a lot of young people to reading and to me, thats a positve thing. I would rather for young people to be reading Urban Lit than nothing at all. Its a form of entertainment for them, as well as others. I think that those people who are saying that Urban Lit is dead are just bored with it, and if thats the case, then just choose another genre of reading. Just like if you are tired of eating McDonalds, then go to Burger King or Subway…don’t knock McDonalds because you are getting sick of the taste of a double cheeseburger. Moreover, some of these authors write these Urban Lit books as a form of therapy because the substance of their novels are filled with experiences that they have actually encountered, and I find it a little disrespectful to Urban Lit authors to knock the genre of literature that they choose to exhibit their talent. How could you have once been a fan of Urban Lit, and now that it has reached a “stagnant point”, discredit it?? And to “piggy-back” on the quote from Marva Allen, yes, if you eat too much ice cream, you may throw up. Just stop eating…there are still HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people who are still delving spoons in it.

  20. P.s~ How do we save Urban Lit if it is indeed dead??? We, the readers, can start by giving these authors honest, unadulterated feedback (reviews) on their work! Don’t pacify their feelings, tell them the truth (with tact) about their work and tell them what they could have done to make their books better. Good discussion, Joey!


  21. @Latasha: Let me start by saying thank you for expressing yourself. I appreciate your passion. I think you miss my points.

    1) This article is not me abandoning Urban Lit. If I abandoned the genre altogether, I would even have written the article. I wouldn’t read and review Urban Lit. I wouldn’t spend hours gathering interviews from mostly Urban Lit authors.

    2) Urban Lit is actually my favorite genre. It’s the one I like to read. When I see one of your friends not living up to their fullest potential, I tend to be like, “You might want to take a different direction. This isn’t good for you.”

    3) I’m not bored with Urban Lit. I’m just expressing a concern.

    4) You totally misunderstood the McDonald’s analogy. If all you eat is McDonald’s, you are going to have a bunch of health problems. You don’t solve that health problem by going next door to Burger King… You’re still going to have health problems. You might be able to go to Subway’s for a minute, lol.

    You need to go to home and cook a real meal that will stick to your bones, hence the inclusion of “Meat and Potatoes” into my analogy. That’s the substance. It’s not the fact that I don’t like the taste of the Double Fish Fillet with a medium fry and a “dolla sweet tea”. I just know that I can’t eat that every day. (Translate that into the context of my perspective on the current state of Urban Lit and you may catch my drift…)

    5) I’m not discrediting the genre. I’m against the exploitation.

    6) You took Ms. Allen’s quote out of context. I’m not going to explain it though.

  22. People can only think and manifest what lie within the depths of their mentality. And I know and understand that not everyone is the same or have the same capabilities. And what we choose to write and how we choose to write is no different than how we may choose to live our lives. W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington both were black, social activists etc But they were also so different with how they viewed our struggle and how to go about fixing the issue. And even through these times of black awareness and social deveopment you had blacks who would rather do oter things which may not of been counter productive. Were they wrong for this? Some may say. But I say a person can only act upon the knowledge they have. Many people are death, dumb and blind. And this has very little to do with a persons economic staus or whether they have a degree. Most of the books like Think & Grow Rich, 7 Habits of Effective people etc show you how education within the confines of a system which would like to enslave instead of free you has produced more college educated folks who choose to work and slave for others as opposed to those who go on to be the leaders in the business world and other areas of society.

    So with black lit (moreso urban lit and some contemporary as well) just like hip-hop we have people who portray what they do and write about as a real depiction of life instead of entertainment. Which it is entertianment because they are dwelling within a matrix and do not truly know what is real and what’s not.
    Terri McMillans “Waiting to Exhale” was a social mess and just plain nonsense. It spurred a whole movement of older woman going through middle aged crisis trying to get men who could be their sons. On to urban lit. Just b/c a cat does a bid, sold some cracks, did a few stick ups, or caught a body doesn’t mean he knows a thing about the streets. 90% of people who go to church, the mosque etc do not understand their belief. As far as street life is concerned if most kids or adults who enter really knew that selling drugs is just a vehicle to get what they seek, it is not the means they would never mess with that life. The means to that life is violence, power. Both of which most people are incapable of without any boundaries b/c it takes a certain type of mind to be able to go within yourself and rationalize it all as a means to survival and accomplshing a task. Most people would go crazy. Why you think there are soldiers and then their are Navy Seals, Rangers and CIA and other groups. They do what the average ssoldier is not capable of not just physically, but mentally as well. When you read stories about big time dealers who also put work in, murders etc. They do not speak about them as being crazy. They speak about them as being very intelligent business men who developed the understanding that it was nothing personal it was just a means to accomplishing their goal which is power.

  23. Drug dealing has always been looked at by those in the hood who’s mentalities are a little deeper than most as a sucker and pussies profession. I grew up around stick ups kids, extortionist and people who lived by their gun. Drug dealing was a front, and alot of it came from what they took from others. For the most part there weren’t too many 5 Percenters who were into selling drugs, and the ones who did knew it wasn’t right b/c it is one of the things not to do in the organizations bylaws. Drug dealing became really big here in NY in the late 80’s, early 90’s b/c they started giving out very stiff sentences for cases involving guns, especially robberies. Most of the big time dealers you read about did not become infamous b/c of the act of drug dealing. The money came from the drugs, but it was violence which was the means to make it possible. This is the nature of men and how city states have fallen and risen. Without it there is no change. Someone in their crew was killing, robbing and keeping competition in check. Thats the real deal about that life. Most guys I knew in the streets and I’ve met were and most are now a bunch of wanna be suckers b/c they know the difference bewteen them and wolves. Any clown can get on the block and sell some crack packs or pull a few stick ups or do a senseless murder. Check a lot of cats history. Ask them to tell their life story, and I promise you they were not calling shots, in fact they had no clue about what they were doing and why. And most have not touched a kilo of their own, or possessed $50,000 of their own street money. Which is not a lot.

    So until urban and street lit and the people who write these stories can correctly define themselves, and be honest about what they do as being entertianment and not a true depiction of life books with the same o same will continue to flood the marketplace. B/c any lady who dated a dealer, lived in the hood, or any dude who did a bid will say I know about that life so I can write about it.

    Writing is not the issue. The issue is when you say what you write is reality. When it’s not and b/c of it people get the wrong message whether its a young person reading the book. Or a grown up who look at folks who live that lifestyle as savages and do not understand that the street is just a small representation of how it goes down in the big scheme of things. The fact is street business is politics on a smaller level than what goes on globally. Our troops were not sent to the middle east on some peace keeping mission. They were sent to inforce our will and power to set the rules anywhere upon this planet this country deems so.The President handles things no differently than a kingpen in his hood. But most cats in the hood don’t and never will have the mentality to understand what its really about. Its not just about the money. If you’re not living with intergity, there is no honor and respect with you then in no area of life are you fit to be a general. This is why there are so many murders, incarcerations etc. Violence is not about senseless murders. Smart leaders are not tyrants. Them fools in the hood who committ murders like its the first thing to do do not know anything about the mind and how it works, or how to influence people. So the books which just depict meaningless violence are not a real depiction. That action is set for people who break rules and when examples need to be set so others can see and back up and realize it could be very well be them if they don’t play their position which is in the back b/c they don’t match up.. Its a mental move just as well.

  24. I don’t think urban lit is dead although I do understand what you mean. I think alot of people need to grow up and stop saying they write b/c they lived the life and want to show people what the life is about when they are not giving any life lessons. Just keep it real and say you write to entertain….

    And there lies the issue. Lit is lit, take it for it is. But when you say such and such os a reality then thats a whole other thing.

    I’m far removed from what goes on so all I can say is for anyone who wants more and to be looked as more then write it. Don’t be scared to step outside the box and be different. There is a place for all types of books whether it be whatever.

  25. Very interesting article Joey…..
    I find the quote below very telling-
    “You don’t read Street Lit for self-help and motivation, you don’t read street lit to help out the community, you read it for entertainment.”
    However, the real question is whether or not the advent of Urban Lit actually replaced or overshadowed the rest black literature rather than add to it…..

  26. Joey,

    We spoke about this briefly on my show, “Writers Round Table 1” and covered some of these topics. Overall, it is all about getting on the “bandwagon”, what sales makes a profit. Profit usually goes to the publishers if you are with a small press or large press publisher, unless you self-published you might get half of the profits made. Entertainment is another issue, and our young people see it on the media, videos, TV, etc and forgot what type of intellectual leaders we can be like Barack Obama to set an example.

    Writing is a paradoxical gift= we are role models, we are delivering a message and how is it conveyed, and we are to be responsible with our craft. We need to sought out an editor: content editing (flow); copyeditor (grammar, spelling, and punctation); and proofreader (to make sure all the corrections have been made). It is hard to find a good editor, but we make excuses I don’t have the money, time or energy to find one! I am learning some of the editors I have choosen, still need a back-up plan.

    We need to re-energize our writing abilities, revamp what message we are getting out to our generation and generation to come, and re-evaluate our God-given talent to reflect us (as a writer/author/poet, or anything that you do, perfect it).

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