Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is it Street Lit or Urban Fiction?

ok-seems the confusion over just what constitutes Street Lit and Urban Fiction continues. I received this recommendation from a librarian colleague suggesting an adddtion to the "Adult Urban Fiction" bibliography that I created at Evanston Public Library. The following is her title suggestion and my response.

"If you update this bibliography you might add: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann"
-C. Heneghan

My response was as follows:
Thanks, C.!
A great title, but unfortunately, I don't think Colum McCann's, "Let the Great World Spin" falls within the definition of Street lit or Urban Fiction as refelcted in the 'PHAT Fiction' bibliography I've compiled for EPL.

For a clearer definition and history of this compelling genre or examples of contemporary Street Lit and Urban Fiction titles, see my PHAT Fiction blog and wiki as well as the other web sites below:
missdomino (by K.C. Boyd)

However, Vanessa Irvin Morris, Professor of Library Science, at The iSchool at Drexel University, has commented and made me re-evaluate my decision about the Colum McCann title. Ms. Morris has a different take on this urban fiction vs street lit debate and has made the following observations:

Technically though? Ms. Heneghan's suggestion is a thoughtful, accurate suggestion, based on what I've read (just now) in book reviews and a synopsis of what Let the Great World Spin is about.

It's urban fiction for sure.

It's not Street Lit.

I do make a distinction between the two. Urban fiction is city novels - novels about lives of people living in urban settings.
Street Lit is a sub-genre of urban fiction - novels about the lives of people living in inner-city enclaves.

Let the Great World Spin has some street elements to it - there's a character that is a prostitute who is trying not to pass this
sorrowful legacy to her daughters, and the car accident that seems to connect many of the characters in the story is reminiscent of the movie Crash (2005), and there's an Irish priest who lives in the projects in the Bronx. I think this makes for a compelling story ... definitely urban fiction. And I say urban fiction because the overall framework for the novel is that it is a New York City story - that it is a capture of living life in the city of New York - it's not (at least it seems to me on outset) a zoomed lens into the daily living of people in the hood.
Dang, now I wanna read it!
Can't wait to see others' take on it,

I say:
Wow, an interesting observation and distinction to be sure. And Vanessa is right, Street Lit is driven by characters and settings depicting inner-city life and so is at the core of my YA and adult urban fiction bibliographies for Evanston Public Library. I definitely see the need to be as inclusive (expansive?) as possible in the approach to this literature, so "Let the Great World Spin" has a place alongside other urban fiction (Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Charles Dickens). So, I wonder if I need to change my bibliography label to 'Street Lit'. Street lit seems to more acurately describe the particular sub-genre that draws many teen and adult readers to this writing. On the other hand, I'm compelled to continually help readers make connections to and see relationships with all kinds of literature. Thanks, this makes me think about this s'more!

I'd like to hear what others think. Comments?

1 comment:

  1. I totally get where Vanessa is coming from, and agree that it is a good thing to see contemporary Street Lit in context with other urban fictions, indepedent of race or place. The problem I have - in my library anyway - is that my patrons are using the term 'urban fiction,' and quite frequently using it when asking about street fiction and urban erotica. "Urban Fiction" is a label, and as a label it isn't any truer to its referrents than, say, "graphic novels" or "comics" are to some really depressing piece of graphic memoir, say. But if that is what my patrons are using, then that is what I'm going to use. Why are they using 'urban fiction?' - I'm not sure - it may have something to do with the outsize success of the Urban Books imprint.

    Of course it is all evolving right along, and things may swing the other way. It may also be that there are regional differences, and that people calling things 'urban fiction' is a West Coast thing, or even a Northwest thing - we do tend towards the nicey-nice. And I too have problems with 'urban fiction' as it is a blanket term and seems to be getting applied like magic glitter dust by publishers in an attempt to cash in on the phenomenon. By itself it is pretty meaningless, and I need to clarify with patrons what they're specifically looking for, which might range far afield from street lit or erotica. However, I've never had a patron ask for 'urban fiction' when what they were looking for was Stephen Crane or Charles Dickens or Ed McBain.

    It's problematic, for sure.


Laughing Librarian II blog

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