Over at Clutch Magazine, writer Britni Danielle ponders the question, “What Happened to Black Literature?”
In her piece, Danielle reminiscences about a time in most recent history when contemporary black authors created stories “with complex, upwardly mobile black characters who fell in love with abandon, went hard at their jobs, and knew when to relax with their girls.” In admiration of those glory days, Danielle writes the following: “Their tales spoke to me…And there was always drama. Not the ignorant, I’m-going-to-beat-you-down drama of reality TV or street lit books, but the riveting, I-wonder-what-will-happen-next kind that would leave me turning pages late into the night.”
I have read similarly themed articles and columns like this throughout the years. Urban novels, ghetto fiction, street-lit, blaxploitation-on-a-page…whatever name we grace it with, the point is, we all hate it – or at least a few people do, because the stuff is sure selling like hot cakes. Yet despite the popularity among its mostly black readership, there are no shortage of critics who like to shoulder the blame for the “death of Black literature” on this particular sub-genre. Some of you reading this might agree with the notion that the stories themselves are sub-par; nothing more than violent tales of pimps, prostitutes, gangbangers and illicit sex, riddled with spelling errors and bad grammar. Some might even go as far as to say that you feel that these stories present the worst of our community and only seek to fulfill the appetites of a certain ill-bred segment of black America.
Yet, I have no beef with the sub-genre. In fact, going from the ‘hood to the university; and growing up on a healthy diet of diverse black storytelling from Omar Tyree to Alice Walker, I can say that there is no single narrative that can fully represent the entire black experience. I mean, who are we to say what values these books have on the reader and more importantly, to exclude them from being classified as black literature?
My sister-in-law is a self-published author of street lit. Going under the moniker Veronica Black Beauty, she has so far written and published two novels: Lyric: Philly’s Own Princess and Jay: Philly’s Own Prince. Her first novel, Lyric, was written as an ode to her own roots, which started in the projects of North Philadelphia. There she learned how to survive through poverty, sexual abuse, teenage parenthood, being a high school dropout, depression and sickle cell anemia. She had always dreamed of being a nurse and a writer, however, she couldn’t find the strength inside of her to commit to either. That was until the 4-month-premature birth of my first niece, Lyric. She lived for a couple of months before my sister-in-law Veronica and my brother made the difficult choice to let her pass on. To help her heal from the pain of losing a child, Veronica decided to pick up the pen and write about all the turmoil that swirled around in her head. After one month of writing, that turmoil morphed into characters and a semi-fictional plot about a girl from the Richard Allen Projects. Six months later, she had a story.