Happy Holidays to you! I've just spent a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with my family and am looking forward to an equally fantastic Christmas and New Year. I hope your Holiday season is full of wonderful blessings!
Lately, I've been thinking about Street Lit and how it is defined or not. I believe we need to have a consistent definition of what the genre is. Is it urban fiction? Is it African American literature? Is it pulp fiction? Or is it its own categorization?
In my upcoming book, I situate Street Lit as a sub-genre of Urban Fiction. For me, "urban fiction" is fiction about urban experiences and settings. Street Lit is definitely about urban experiences and settings, albeit, specific urban experiences and settings that self-defines itself based on the shared socio-economic status of a citizenry. Many conflate Street Lit with the "Black/African-American experience." However, this conflation negates the historicity of Street Lit as represented in novels chronicling European immigrant experiences in a new America, southern migration experiences in a new region, or the daily street experiences of British urchins and the London poor during Victorian era England, to name a few other locations for Street Lit, within a historical context.
Contemporary Street Lit is not just a "Black/Latino thing" just because Blacks and Latinos predominately populate low-income city enclaves in current times. Street Lit chronicles the urban narratives of whoever is populating low-income city enclaves in certain times and places.
That's why the story of
Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722) can be considered Street Lit because it chronicles the life and times of a protagonist as she navigates being born to an inmate mother, growing up as a street urchin, then working as a prostitute, and ultimately conning life as a true "O.G." as she pulls off a really impressive caper that sets her up for life.
Moll's life is definitely a character with low-income/marginalized status in a large urban city setting. Like current Street Lit protagonists, our 1722 Moll Flanders does what she has to do to survive, not too dissimilar from Sister Souljah's 1999 protagonist, Winter Santiaga, or Kiki Swinson's 2004 protagonist, Kira, in the Wifey series.
There are many titles written about the daily lives of low-income city residents, stemming from the bardic traditions of fictional and non-fictional Street Literature of yesteryear in the formats of pamphlets, broadsides, and ballad lyrics. These street-based, literary, artistic traditions are reminiscent of Hip Hop's role as the bardification of ghetto life in contemporary society. As the old saying goes, "nothing is new under the sun."
This historicity of urban narratives of the city poor and disenfranchised informs us that Street Lit is not race-based, but class-based; again confirming that Street Lit is not necessarily a "Black/Latino thing" - Street Lit is necessarily a socio-economic, urban thing.
When you include fictional texts, along with non-fictional texts such as poetry (e.g. Tupac Shakur's The Rose that Grew from Concrete) and biographies/memoirs (e.g. , Philippe Bourgois' In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio) we come to understand that "Street Lit" is the fictional arm of the
compleat genre of "Street Literature."
We also must be mindful that there is a broader spectrum of urban works that are decidedly not Street Lit - but they are still urban narratives and representative of urban experience. Such genres that come to mind include, Chick Lit, Lad Lit, Urban Fantasy and Urban Erotica as literary genres about urban experiences. Place these genres together with Street Lit, and you have the contemporary genre called, "Urban Fiction."
So I argue that contemporary Street Lit is a sub-genre of Urban Fiction, and more importantly, an important contribution to the historic realm of the genre of Street Literature as a whole. Thus Street Lit, as we consume it today, with stories primarily about Black and Latino peoples, is a historic happenstance, not a racially defining element of the genre. As a major contribution to the Street Literature realm, Street Lit historicizes contemporary ghetto life as an illustration of the looming presence of a lumpenproletariat in a hegemonic, patriarchal, capitalistic society. T'is why Street Lit needs and deserves to be heard, discussed, and respected.