Sunday, November 23, 2008

Guest Blogger: Darrell King, Author of Mo' Dirty: Still Stuntin'

I'm pleased to welcome Darrell King, author of Dirty South and Mo' Dirty: Still Stuntin' as a guest blogger today. Please give him a warm welcome. -- Ruth

The Phenomenal Resurrection of Urban Literature

Urban literature AKA Street lit, gangsta lit, hip hop lit and at times(derisively so) ghetto lit is a burgeoning literary phenomenon that has an impressive fanbase, ranging from age 14 to 40!

Beginning in the mid 1960's and reaching a fever pitch during the decade of the 70's, with its pioneers Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck, and Donald Goines. The gritty tales of inner city drama helped boost the genre with bestsellers such as "Never Die Alone" and "Whoreson" by Donald Goines, "Mama Black Widow" and "Pimp" by the legendary Iceberg Slim. The publisher, Holloway House, exclusively published the works of both street lit originators. After Donald Goines, (whose life resembled that of his characters and often abused heroin) was tragically murdered during the mid 70's while still at his typewriter, and Iceberg Slim (whose life was claimed by cancer during the early 1990's) had pretty much stopped writing, brought Urban literature to a standstill. The genre would lie dormant for the better part of a decade and a half before it emerged like a phoenix from its ashes with the stunning success of 1999's "Coldest Winter Ever" by Sistah Souljah.

Today the genre is magnificently powerful, generating well over $300,000,000 per year in book sales nationwide, completely dominating all aspects of African American literature with its only close competition coming from steamy Erotica titles penned by the likes of Zane and Noir. Urban literature is extremely popular and vitally important, so much so that the big New York publishers have taken notice and have signed such contemporary Urban lit novelists as K'Wan, Nikki Turner, Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, and yours truly, Darrell King.

Like its musical counterpart, hip hop chronicles the day-to-day trials and tribulations of inner city residents whose writers were once denied a voice by mainstream publishers who felt as though their experiences and stories were of little importance and, therefore, shunned them at all costs. This prompted early Urban lit novelists to begin self publishing their works, selling them out the trunks of cars and promoting them via word of mouth in traditional black venues such as hair salons, barbershops, sidewalk tables, and mom-and-pop shops. It is important because it gives African American teens as well as adults an opportunity to read the type of stories and embrace the kind of characters which they could relate to best and enjoy.

Urban lit flies off of library and bookstore shelves, causing kids who never before showed an interest in reading anything to voraciously go through several novels of street literature per month. There are many detractors of the often gritty, violent genre. Similar to hip hop, the adversaries of Urban lit say that the profuse usage of profanity, detailed and raunchy sexual imagery, and descriptions of brutal criminal acts glamorize and even encourage unlawful behavior among its readers, particularly youth. I strongly disagree. Urban literature is sort of like Black America's answer to the classical hardboiled pulps of the 1940's and 1950's, which yielded such iconic gems as "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Postman Always Knocks Twice". Or even the well loved westerns whose ruggedly violent, Stetson wearing heroes captured the imagination and affection of a generation and spawned numerous movies and television shows. Urban literature is as much a part of American pop culture as any of the above mentioned literary works of art and should be acknowledged and accepted as the literary phenom that it has become. It was and has now again proved itself to be a true American original.

Darrell King: Street Lit author of "Dirty South" (Triple Crown Publications, 2005), "Mo'Dirty: Still Stuntin'" (Urban Books, 2008)

1 comment:


    Logan Lamech