Im curious as to the thoughts of other writers/readers here on this genre. Some other blogs/forums i'm on have heated debates on the merits of this, ranging from the obvious racial pros and cons to the question of whether it is "literature" (in the way pulp is often considered as 'lesser' than 'literature'

What do you guys think?

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Personally, I think anything that gets people reading is good. There have been objections to writers who push the boundaries before - Mickey Spillane is an obvious example - but if these books motivate people who don't otherwise read to start, I'm for them.
"Personally, I think anything that gets people reading is good."

I think that is a double-edged sword. Like Dwight said, there are obvious racial pros and cons. Personally, I would say the cons outweigh the pros. I don't think society benefits in the long run if people are encouraged to read because the subject matter panders to unsavoury racial stereotypes. It becomes especially dicey when it is recognized by the mainstream media. Mickey Spillane, if I am not mistaken, was never celebrated in mainstream literay circles. And I don't think the damage he was accused of causing was as serious as the dangers of stereotyping and the whole urban thing anyway.
Last year I didn't know anything about urban lit (we don't really have it here in Canada) until I attended something called GenreCon in Sarnia, Ontario and met a writer from Detroit, Sylvia Hubbard. She gave me a little of the history of urban lit, Vickie Stringer, and that kind of thing.

Right away I saw that urban lit was a big field with a lot internal "debate," but it did seem to be something that started at the grassroots. My understanding was that Vickie Stringer published her own books because none of the established publishers though there was a big enough market.

After Sarnia I went to Detroit and saw that "Urban Lit" is a section in the bookstores there, but within that section is everything - crime, mystery, romance, literature, non-fiction (there may have even been some sci-fi and fantasy, I don't remember).

Syvlia's books were good, but a little too romanc-y for me. Some of the other urban lit I've read has been very good. Some hasn't been so good, or maybe I should say, just hasn't been for me.

I have no opinon over what's literature and what's genre and what that even means but books seem to be different from everything else. John Singleton can win an Academy Award for the screenplay for Boyz in the Hood, but if he'd written it as a novel it likely would have been rejected by the same people who rejected Vickie Stringer.

I have to say, from my visits to literary festivals, mystery conventions and visiting the offices of my own New York publisher, this industry seems to be very segregated.

In fact, just the other day I was thinking it would be good to see an anthology that mixes "urban lit" authors and "noir" authors the way the CD Rhythm Country and Blues mixed, well, obviously, country and R&B.

As far as stereotypes go, that's just a stepping stone to a broader range. Chester Himes was already well on the way with "urban lit," decades ago and some people still study him the way they do Spillane, but for some reason publishing didn't pick up many more writers following that tradition the way they did those following Spillane.
There's a Wkikipedia entry here.
I agree that anything that gets people to read is a good thing, but I think people who object to the lifestyle depicted in these stories do have some valid issues. I remember reading Donald Goines' books as a young kid, and those books eventualy led me to "Nick Carter-Killmaster" stories (i'm dating myself here!) and Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum and Edgar Allen Poe.

I dont know what is considered literary writing, and personally, I think if I did I wouldnt like it too much, but I haven't seen anything that would be considered literary in the genre. The point about John Singleton is a valid point; i'm sure that movie has also inspired many of the books being published now under the umbrella of urban lit.

Spillane was never recognized, regardless of how influential he was, just as Donald Goines and Edgar Allen Poe also never received ther due rewards in this life.

I like John's idea though, how about a urban lit book set in Memphis? or Little Rock, Ark? (never been but i've heard they have a rampant gang problem). Hmmm......maybe I need to sharpen my pencil.
I had given up hope of ever seeing any reference to Nick Carter that didn't have something to do with the back street boys. Books about Nick Carter, Callan created by James Mitchell, and Mack Bolan created by Don Pendelton, are guilty pleasures I'd happily read again.
I have to admit I could never get into those Executioner books and that kind of thing, but that's just tatse (I can't get into Mickey Spillane, either).

But, in terms of, "pandering to racial stereotypes," I guess that's also an issue of taste to some degree and how we see literature. If those stereotypes exist and the author is doing a good job of presenting them as they actually are, then that's okay with me. I like literature that holds up a mirror to its world, that shines a light on its world (hang on, I can come up with more cliches ;) rather than stuff that presents the world as the writer feels it should be.
I'm in agreement with Graham. I'm happy that it gets people to reading.

My problem with though isn't the readers, it's the writers and the people who have the nerve to call themselves writers, but they are just doing it to get a buck. Like any other popular genre, there needs to be some justification in it. Throwing a girl wearing a thong with sweat all over it on the cover and then writing run on sentences, changing POV's with no continuity whatsoever makes me look bad. And then I have to sit here and explain why a reader lost fifteen bucks, while the writer is no where to be seen.
The changing POVs and lack of continuity are problems for sure, but I don't get what's wrong with the girl in the thong on the cover ;)
Sadly, every genre and sub-genre has a number of writers that crank out poor books that make money. Nothing wrong with making money as a writer, but I've read folks in mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns and pretty much either genre that simple make me think "what a waste of money."
Hahaha ! I like the thong thing myself, but I do see why people get so worked up against this genre as a whole. Hey, it works for some people, or it wouldn't be in print and there woudln't be a 'genre.'

Now as a writer, the question is do you 'dumb down' your story to cater to a wider audience or do you maintain your scope, sharpen your craft and stay in your niche? Some of these writers with run on sentences are quite successful, but at the end of the day does that mean their work is any good? I'm going to immediately start working on a street lit story set in rural Arkansas with a girl in a sweaty thong on the cover.
This is one of the more fascinating strings I've read in a while.

I'm not sure the author should be concerned with whether or not what's he/she is writing is "literature." I think he should be concerned with telling a good story.

After reading the posts, this is what is bouncing around my brain:

I'm not overly familiar with "urban lit." But certainly there have been sub-genres that came about that had varying degrees of popularity, but certainly impacted a genre as a whole. I'm think cyber-punk, which really had an impact on science fiction, especially movies. But the early cyber-punk novels were heavily criticized for their very graphic approach to storytelling.

Will Urban Lit do this?
Does urban lit accurately portray a lifestyle many of us are not familiar with? Maybe this is what some are uncomfortable with.
Will urban lit tell stories that otherwise might not be told?
Will there be sub-sub genres to urban lit? Sort of like years ago you had a surge of "rural rap" music?
What will urban lit "become" as it evolves?

An area of opposition may be related to this - I read the Socrates Fortlow stories by Walter Mosely. Now, I'm not sure if these books qualify as urban lit or not, but they certainly opened my eyes to a culture, a lifestyle, a something I'd not experienced before. While sometimes I was bothered by the stories, I loved them and kept reading... People will opposed what they are not comfortable with.

From what little I know, Memphis might be a great background. I'm from there and my folks still live there. It has gang problems, racial problems, and more.


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