*I Luv Urban Fiction …and?


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I LOVE Urban Fiction

I love to read just as much as I love to write. My taste vary from Cornell West to Zane to Tina McElroy Ansa (come back Tina) to Octavia Butler. But I have a special fondness for “urban fiction”.

For me, urban fiction is not just stories about hustlers and hoes (as reported by the genre’s detractors), but any story told in a urban environment. Period. Many different sub-genres can emerge, of course. Regardless of what the critics say, urban fiction is diverse. I don’t really care if the story is about hustlers (i.e. Donald Goines, Nikki Turner, or K’wan); is set in the hip-hip industry (i.e. Noire); deals with girls coming of age (Louise Merriweather’s Daddy was a Number Runner, Rosa Guy’s Edith Jackson, Omar Tyree’s Flyy Girl or Sistah Souljah’s Coldest Winter Ever); is just a good whodunit/mystery (Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle series set in Newark or Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series); speaks on love and romance (Nelson George’s Urban Romance or Nick Chiles and Denene’s Millner’s Love Story ); is a story about a single mother struggling to raise her children in the “inner-city” (Terry McMillan’s Mama); is just straight drama (Miasha’s Secret Society  or any of my Meesha Mink books); or are young adult novels (L. Divine’s Drama High series). There are a variety of urban fiction books out there. Some authors who have written books set in urban environments are even considered literary–The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor is a classic.

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Call it whatever kind of fiction you want: urban, hood, inner-city, ghetto, hip-hop, street. Whatever. We all know what you mean, whether we like the term you use or not. All of the books have a commonality: the setting. Characters are different. Motivations are different. Writing skills are different. Publishing house are different. Advances, publicity, etc., etc., etc.

My gripes:

  • If you believe that an author should work on their craft–regardless of the genre–then say that.
  • If you believe self-published authors should hire editors to fine tooth books before they hit the stands–then say that. (Trust, this is an issue not only in urban fiction’s “street-lit” books. God help MANY well-known and successful authors–with major publishers–whose works would miss and hit the streets without the eye of an editor. )
  • If you’re mad that people spend their hard earned money on one type of book over another–keep it to yourself. It’s not your money and there’s no guarantee if given the choice your book would be their pick anyway.
  • If you’re insinuating that anyone who writes and/or reads urban fiction is intellectually inferior then let me present my two degrees from Seton Hall and keep it pushing right on by you and you’re judgment.
  • Acting like black folks don’t have enough sense to differentiate between reality and fiction. That’s insulting and an old ass argument from other entertainment arenas.
  • Not recognizing the opportunity for writers to influence younger readers not to select the road of promiscuity, criminal activity, and the like by offering them a view of the end of that road.
  • Not realizing that urban stories have to be as diverse as real urban environments. Meaning? To sit and pretend that hustlers (White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian) of any sort do not exist is crazy.

I could go on and on and on, but my Mama and my Granny taught me not to beat a dead horse. Like politics, you love who you love and you don’t who you don’t–no debate will change any of that. Plus, people have a right to their opinion…and this was my nickel.

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Personally I love the familiarity of the urban backdrop because I am a product of that environment. I love getting lost in stories that have that vibe that reminds me of my days growing up in Newark, NJ. That’s not to say everything in The Bricks was all good. Hell, I was robbed twice on the bus stop trying to get to high school–a sistah was loving her dooknockers and herringbones. I would walk to the bus stops in the morning and see dope fiends throwing up. I would have to step over blood on the sidewalks from gunshot wounds. Once my friends and I had to run in the house because a car drove down our block with guns pointed out the window. A girl was stabbed to death in the park across the street from our house. I’ve had plenty of people I went to elementary school with wind up dead. A dope fiend tried to break into our apartment. As a teenager walking through Westside Park with my friends we saw a freak masturbating–and he DID NOT STOP when he saw us. Ew!

But none of the bad can override…

  • flirting with boys b-balling in WestSide Park
  • chilling with my girls on the stoop in the summertime
  • shopping downtown on Broad & Market (in the stores and at the street vendors)
  • hangin’ at the public pool with my cousins
  • crackin’ jokes on those crowded #1, #13, and #25 buses–depending on where my ass was going
  • eating at Pages on Halsey Street
  • cutting classes at University High
  • hoppin’ a train to watch a movie in the big NYC in just fifteen minutes
  • checkin’ for those hot boyz on all the street corners looking hard and being tough (this was pre-gang time, ya’ll)
  • the music blaring from the car systems in the summer time
  • buying shaved ice on hot summer days or playing in the cool spray of water from fire hydrants

But I digress.

The stories about inner cities need to be as diverse as the people who live in these environments. Growing up off 16th Ave in Newark, all my life, I knew in a one block radius you could have: a single mother or a married couple raising their family; dope dealers or people working forty hours a week; a homeowner or someone renting a low income apartment. As a matter of fact, my mother paid full market rent on our apartment in a three family home while others in the building paid a tenth of that because of their Section Eight voucher–and she wasn’t mad at ’em. Trust me, the hood is a mix-up of folks. Please believe it. For me, urban fiction isn’t about glorifying the negatives in the ‘hood, but simply telling the real stories that do exist–good or bad. As a writer and a reader I can always respect the gift of storytelling of ALL stories.

Yeah I love urban fiction.

I can’t help but love it.

I can’t help but read it.

I can’t help but write it.


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