Urban lit, gangsta’ lit, thuggalore, call it whatever you like but it’s here to stay. These are some of the terms used to describe the griot story telling of the inner city through the eyes of those who have lived many of the tales they write about in their urban concrete jungle. These young writers are displaying and exploring the passion, scourge, mood, spirit and energy that they can only channel through a literary medium. What we are seeing now is a flowering of African American literature being written and told in a manner unlike anything that we have witnessed since the Harlem Renaissance.
There’s a cultural literary movement going on; rap music, dance, and the way one speaks and dresses. It’s embedded in our pop culture, a way of life so to speak for many young people in the urban areas of America. The magnitude and ascent of the genre has made leaps and bounds in all faucets of the arts. More and more author’s works are being seriously considered by the mainstream, established publications are signing some of these new voices. At the same time, numerous Hollywood producers and directors are taking a serious look at bringing some of these literary stories to a theater near you.
The nature of urban lit with its wide range and variety in story telling isn’t constant at all. It touches upon every realm from the down trodden, to the drug dealers, drug users and abusers, gangsters, physical and sexual abuse, black love, relationships, friendship, betrayal, prison, sexuality and choices that leads to life changing experience. This is the quintessential expression of life for those who are considered counter cultured. These are all part of a broader more complex sociological, philosophical and historically undertaking more than anything else. In order to measure or understand the expansion and growth of what’s happening one needs to go no further than look at the dynamics and analysis of the plight of young people who are shut out of jobs, housing and the education system, while at the same time being terrorized by the criminal element in their communities.
What these young artists have done is ignite a new generation of young readers. I have spoken to quite a number of young people who all said that they only began seriously reading because of the urban lit genre. What these writers have done is find a griot style communication mechanism which explores the youths in the inner city and the experiences that they and others know too far well. Is this a bad thing? The critics will say yes, however, others will say that one is a product of his or her environment. Therefore, it would be unreasonable and unfair to write or to even rap about that which you have not lived or saw others lived. Is this new genre dignifying or denigrating our creativity as writers on a whole? As an urban lit writer myself and the author of Fair Game and its upcoming sequel False Pretense, I believe there’s always room for improvement. I have read books from non black authors and some of them are not worth reading. I guess the assumption is, that you will find some of the same in this genre. This is why I stated that there’s room for improvement in all aspect of the genre. But is it denigrating our communities? No! Is Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg and other directors and producers denigrating pop culture with the movies they make? I guess we know what the answer is.

Urban lit has changed the literary field for many. The changes which we see taking place grew out of the need to tell the other side of the African American story in the inner city. The pundits will continue to label urban lit as a fad, nevertheless, the brand is here and the formula is working. It has opened the eyes and mind of many of our inner city youths who are now reading. I would rather see our young people engross themselves in the literary world by reading instead of being idle. As for the genre, I believe it will continue to recreate itself because of the talented pool of writers who are passionate about what they do.

Urban Lit is Literature

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