Sunday, April 09, 2006

Let's Be Real

Oh my God, its another Let's Be Real post! Shocking I know. Coming across various emails from the various newsletters I subscribe to, I have the feeling that this is not going to be let go any time soon. So since everybody is reaching for the cash register I might as well throw in my two cents.

Today's Topic: Urban Fiction vs. Mainstream Fiction
As a child, I was encouraged by my parents to become an avid reader. I can clearly remember my mother turning off the boob tube and saying "Go read a book." She still does it and I'm 18 freakin years old. She taught us what we needed to know and sent us on our way. There was no "Ma, what does that say?" It was "sound it out." She didn't baby us and therefore none of us are illterate.
I was in a third grade reading class in the first grade. I knew how to read and write by the time I was two and a half so I skipped headstart and kindergarten and went straight to first grade. (That blows because I never got to experience nap time.) In the third grade I read Charlotte's Web on my own, in the fourth grade I read The Oddessy and The Illiad on my own, in the fifth grade I finished The Phantom Tollbooth two months before everyone else, sixth grade I read Grapes of Wrath, All Quiet on the Western Front, Moby Dick, Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities. In eigth grade my English teacher tearfully confronted my mother because he just "didn't know what to do" with me. I had long since finished the assigned reading, Animal Farm, in the seventh grade, and he was disturbed that I could define totalitarianism, let alone spell it correctly.
What's the point I'm trying to prove here? I'm not bragging, tooting my own horn or polishing my nails. I'm stating facts. I've been exposed to the classics since the day I could read. My first collection of books was everything Dr. Seuss every wrote and now it's everything James Patterson ever wrote.
The first urban fiction book I ever read, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, was The Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah. I was blown away. It was a story unlike anything I had ever read before. I read because I loved to, I opened those pages and I was taken into a world I had never heard of, places I had never been. Then I opened Winter and something happened to me.
I was taken into a world I did know something about. Things started sounding real familiar to me. I knew what a drug dealer was, I knew a girl named Winter, I went to school with her. I knew, I understood. It was like someone had sat down in my hood and wrote about something I told one of my girlfriends a few summers back. It was real and I wanted more.
More came in the form of Vickie Stringer and Teri Woods with Let That Be The Reason and True To The Game. Where had these goddesses come from? In just a few short weeks, the oppressed French people and their bloody revolts had turned into the latest gunfight over a nigga coming up short with someone's paper. Then came the urban fiction explosion and everywhere you could see young girls with their faces buried in the latest creation from Triple Crown or Teri Woods Productions. Were we really worried about the explicit content? The illicit sex, drug use, heavy profanity and violence? Of course not.
Let's be real: Most of us were so goddamn happy that our kids were reading a book that we could care less what exactly it was that they were reading. We knew the deal; people were pissed that shelves once dedicated to Terry McMilian and Eric Jerome Dickey and Michael Eric Dyson were now going to the Chunichi's and the Anna J's and the Tracy Brown's.
Now personally, I am a fan of urban fiction. But like ANY genre, there is the good and there is the bad. There is good horror (Stephen King) and bad horror (LA Banks). There is good hip hop fiction (Black Artemis) and bad (Yasmin Shiraz). And as we all know there is good urban fiction (Sistah Souljah) and bad urban fiction (Nikki Turner, yeah, I said it!)
My question is this: Why is it that instead of clapping a brotha/sista on the back for finding their spot and doing something they do well, we must hate on each other and drag each other down? I don't like every book Terry McMilian has ever written but she is still one of my favorite AA authors. If urban fiction is a fad, so is horror, erotica, suspense, mystery and mainstream fiction on a whole. It is just another genre with good and not so good writers.
Granted, some of the plots are recycled, there is occasional bad editing and as we all know some of our brothas and sistas just can't write. But I know for a fact I would rather them influence my child through reading than I would through hustling on a corner, pimpin a ho, or stealing. The key is balance. You don't have to read every single urban effort released. And if you have a problem with it, don't pick it up! That's the beauty of America. If there's something you don't want to do, you don't have to do it. I will pick up a "white" book in a heartbeat. I can get down with Bonfire of the Vanities and American Psycho but I am also going to support my black authors and do it without someone jumping down my throat and telling me that I'm "smarter than that." Smart enough to tell you to back up out my face because they're my eyes and my mind and I read whatever I damn well please with 'em.
But don't lift your pipe and glasses and your Dickens and grumble about how "untalented", "uncreative", or "ignant" these writers are. Be happy that they are paving the way for black writers to write about whatever the hell they want to write about. Fifty years ago, it would have been a joke for a black wo/man to get their book published under an all white label. Now Simon and Schuster and St. Martin's Press are gobbling these authors up. Why? Becuase there is a market for them. People like to hear about things they can relate to. There would be no supply without a demand.
And I will gladly write to that.


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