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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why I Will NEVER write a Street Lit/ Urban Lit Novel

I’ve written a lot of stuff in the 20 plus years I’ve been writing.

I’ve made home-made comics.

I’ve written novels.

I’ve written short stories.

I’ve written feature-length screenplays.

I’ve written TV episodes.

But I will NEVER write a Street Lit or Urban Lit book.

I’ve lived through enough poverty in my life and I know there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about being a drug dealer, gang member, or a prostitute. Growing up poor in the South Bronx during the 1980’s and early 1990’s during the height of the crack epidemic, I know that most black people are NOT criminals. Most brothers and sisters I knew were out trying to get an education and improve the quality of their lives.

I know for a fact the handful of individuals that went for the fast cash of criminal enterprise and terrorized inner-city neighborhoods across the country weren’t seen as heroes by most of the people who lived there. Nor do I feel they need to portrayed as such today by publishers. While it may profit many in the publishing industry financially to produce these urban tales and distribute them to the public, I cannot in good conscience write material that I know will be harmful to an impressionable young reading audience.

Personally, I feel it would be irresponsible for me to write stories making heroes out of people who participate in the destruction of my community and have no qualms about taking the lives of their own brothers and sisters for a few dollars. Furthermore, I feel it’s ethically wrong to mislead readers by writing exploitative tales that exaggerate the realities of what transpires in the inner-city. There are a million great stories about the experiences of African-Americans across the country, and I feel it would be very narrow-minded of me to only write about crime and urban blight.

“With great power comes great responsibility”- Ben Parker

I read that in a reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15 in Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics and those words have stayed with me growing up. As I got older and I returned to the pen at sixteen, I realized I had the power to create any story I wished using my imagination. However, I understood I had a greater responsibility to make sure the stories I put down on paper and eventually published enriched people’s lives. Outside of the flash of cash, bling, cars, designer clothes, graphic sex, and violence in most street fiction stories I’ve read there’s very little substance. Readers don’t learn anything from these stories outside of entertainment.

As a writer, I feel people should get something more out of the books they read besides entertainment. Good literature gives readers better understanding of a subject and an insight into a different part of the world. Great literature inspires people to change their lives for the better.

I want my stories to do the latter and the former.

I feel writing Street Lit and Urban Lit wouldn’t enrich the lives of my brothers and sisters. Writing these types of exploitative stories would only continue to perpetuate the worst images of black life and reinforce numerous pre-existing stereotypes about African-Americans. These types of stories only validate and justify what most readers all over the world think they know about African-Americans and don’t detail the diversity of the experiences of African Americans within the black community. Readers learn nothing new from these stories and get no insight into a different part of the world. It inspires no one to make changes to their lives or the world around them.

My mission as a writer is to create positive stories about African-Americans and the African-American experience. I want to educate, inspire and uplift my brothers and sisters. I want to create stories that give readers an expanded perspective of black life. I want to show my brothers and sisters parts of the African-American community they’ve never experienced. There’s a whole world of African-Americans and African-American experiences outside of the ghettoes of the inner-city. And I won’t be able tell stories about those experiences writing in the limited categories of urban fiction and street lit.


  1. I'm in total agreement with you on this.
    Granted, every story has a right to be told; however, I notice that in the realm of urban literature there is no balance. We don't have enough books with heroic black characters who strive to make themselves and others better.
    Myself, I am writing a character who originates in an urban setting; however, she is not going the route of the stereotypical urban character.
    In total agreement with you overall.

  2. I feel that writers have a right to write what they want. I agree with you that there is no balance in urban lit. Everything is so slanted, so one-dimensional. The characters are like caricatures, not real people. Most of the titles I've looked at have writing so exaggerated it feels like a cartoon.

    My mission is to make strong black heroes, strong black heroines, and make sure that my characters are positive role models for readers. I want them to have depth, complexity and traits that readers identify with and relate to. I feel readers should understand why they do what they how the actions of these characters have an impact on themselves and others. This isn't going ono in most urban fiction.

    Wish you luck in your new book.