08 July, 2008
Do Hip-Hop Lovers Read? The Street-Lit Controversy Inside-Out
I'm woman enough to admit that I'm ambivalent where Urban Fiction/Street-lit is concerned, so I'm not about to get into my thoughts on the topic. What I do take issue with, though, is the slightly generalized assertion that most, though certainly not all, Black folks are eating up whatever the genre produces faster than writers can crank it out. There is no new overall craze for Urban Fiction and I believe the sudden jump in Black book sales is due to the fact that the genre attracts people who hadn't previously included reading for pleasure as part of their list of hobbies. Not that these people couldn't read, they just, for whatever reason, weren't. Perhaps, the long-awaited ability to identify with characters' life circumstances was what sparked interest, who knows? Whatever the reason(s), there's this big jump in sales and I think that's because of additional book buyers, not existing ones who've switched preferences.
There are books out there to suit all tastes and preferences, and I just hope that continues to be the case. Hint, hint.
"At least they're reading," is what a lot of folks say when the topic of Urban Fiction comes up, and there just may be some merit to this viewpoint. After all, it's, to some extent, a viewpoint that is shared by Conversations Book Club Founder, Cyrus A. Webb.
Not only do Webb's book club interests span four states, but the chapters often host successful author book signings and facilitate meetings of the minds between readers and writers from all over. However, if you know Webb, you know he's very modest about the club's success and far-reaching effects. But get him to talking about the Hip-Hop Lovers Read initiative and some of the modesty slips away and, understandably, excitement takes over.
I recently had occasion to have a meeting of the minds with Webb regarding the Hip-Hop Lovers Read initiative and, being the "Rhona Barrett of the Blog-Zine Scene", you know I had to put it out there for you. Specifically, I wanted to compare some of the information I've come across about Urban Fiction/Street-lit to his vision for Hip-Hop Lovers Read.
Here's what Webb had to say...
What inspired you to create Hip Hop Lovers Read? The inspiration for the project came as a way of reaching lovers of the hiphop culture. A lot of times we judge those who have sagging pants, a thuggish demeanor and a seemingly nonchalant attitude about life, without getting to know why they have become jaded or even distrustful of those who say they want to help. Hiphop music---and the culture it has created---provides a safe haven for people who look the same and respond the same to their circumstances, to have a voice. I knew that if I really wanted to be a part of the solution, I had to get involved with what they would listen and respond to.
With the rise of Urban/Street Lit has also come controversy over whether or not the genre should be considered literature. What is your opinion on the controversy? That is an excellent question, and I find myself in a unique position to take a stand on it. Politically, I am a moderate conservative, but I have learned that what is considered of good taste to me is mainly shaped by what I have been brought up to believe or accept as good taste. As President of Conversations Book Club, we have made it a point to reach out to all readers, and that is why we have not only an urban lit chapter, but a inspirational and nonfictional branch, as well. At the end of the day, to me, literature is what moves someone to think, inspire or excel. If Urban or street lit does that for someone, who am I do judge?
So hip hop lovers read, do they? Tell us how the Hip Hop Lovers Read initiative promotes literacy among hip hop lovers? The message of Hiphop Lovers Read and the "Hiphop & Books" initiative is to connect music lovers with books they would love, as well. This is what I do: I ask people what types of music or artists they enjoy listening to. After they tell me, I suggest books that I know deal with the same topics. It has been my experience that it is easier to get people involved in something they are already interested in. The rest is easy, just supplying them with what they are feeling.
Are hip hop lovers just now starting to read (with the emergence of Urban/Street Lit) or have they always read and society just didn't take notice? I think they have always read, but because of what we sometimes expect of the hiphop community, we didn't pay them any attention or just assumed they didn't read. You would be surprised how many artists tell me they are Donald Goines fans or have read "The Art of War" over and over. They are some deep individuals, as are their fans. Their music goes beneath the surface of what we see. I do agree, though, that now that artists such as Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and C-Murder are writing books, they are opening up a new readership that no one else would have been able to tap into.
There appears to be somewhat of a division between writers of Urban/Street Fiction and writers of other genres of African-American Fiction. Why do you think this is and how might we begin bridging the gap? If you think about it, the gap is formed by people like myself. Personally, I don't like the distinction of African-American Fiction from other forms of fiction, regardless of the genre. Mob books are just as "urban" or "street" as some of those by black authors, but they don't get this classification. As readers and authors, we have to demand the breaking of this divide in stores. No one is any less significant or any less noteworthy, just because they might write in a different genre.
What happens at a Hip Hop Lovers Rally? Rapping, reading, writing, what? Who's there and what do they do? The rallies are set up to be an entertaining way of spreading the word about reading. We have headliners for the 25-state tour. They are Mississippi hiphop all-stars, Trill, G-Money and The Blak Circle. We go into a city, throw a family-friendly performance and encourage the participants to read. There are books given away at each event, as well as books for purchase. There are no costs for the rallies, because we hope you will take that 5 or 10 dollars and purchase a book for yourself and someone you love.
How can we bring a Hip Hop Lovers Read Rally to our city? The process is relatively simple. You call my committee chair, Martin Perkins, at 601.376.5215 or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me when you would like a rally. There is no cost for the event, except for taking care of travel and lodging and the venue. We will be on the road until September 2008, and we are up to extending the tour, so please feel free to reach out to us. You can also visit us online at http://www.hiphopandbooks.com or http://www.myspace.com/hiphopandbooks.
Well, hell, listening to Webb talk about Hip-Hop and books, sort of makes me agree with, "At least they're reading." From the standpoint of what's going on with today's youth, would I rather they be reading Urban Fiction/Street-lit or out shooting and killing each other?
One thing I do hate to see, though, is the glorification of drug dealing and using; of multiple pregnancies and no money to support multiple children; of abuse toward women and on and on and on. But maybe, as somebody once suggested, the intent behind telling these stories really is cautionary, rather than glorifying. I guess I just wish there wasn't so much going on in the world to be cautioned against. Like...don't hate the player, hate the game, right?
And there just may be an upside to introducing youth to Street-lit. Sort of like how it was with me, when I first started reading. Dime store romances initially created a love for the written word, but Morrison and Bronte` now feed it. Did I say that right?
I hope so, because I ain't trying to get jumped by a swarm of Urban Fiction writers at the BEA. No harm, no foul, m'kay? Don't act like you don't know what I'm trying to say here...You probably had to set aside the James Baldwin title you were reading in between scribing chapters to check out this blog post...
This ain't over... Thoughts anyone?