Street Lit what is it? What effect does it have On Teenage Black Girls?

Posted on: March 16, 2010

I have been doing some research on Street Lit; for those of you who may not know what that is here is the  definition via Wikipedia:

Urban fiction, also known as Street lit, is a literary genre set, as the name implies, in a city landscape; however, the genre is as much defined by the race and culture of its characters as the urban setting. The tone for urban fiction is usually dark, focusing on the underside. Profanity (all of George Carlin‘s seven dirty words and urban variations thereof), sex and violence are usually explicit, with the writer not shying away from or watering-down the material. In this respect, urban fiction shares some common threads with dystopian or survivalist fiction. Often statements derogatory to white people (or at least what is perceived as the dominant Eurocentric culture and power structure) are made, usually by the characters. However, in the second wave of urban fiction, some variations of this model have been seen.

Push the novel by Sapphire which was turned into the movie Precious is an example of a Street Lit book. The reason for me wanting to find out more about these types of books is because I saw a 14-year-old female reading one on the subway. The title of the book was  “Confessions of a Nympho”. I asked her why was she reading that book? She said because she can relate to it. In my mind I thought 14 years old and you can relate to a story of a nymphomaniac? Ok. When I was 14 I related to Pippi Longstocking I know times have changed. I have passed the guys selling the books on the street and I have glanced at some of these titles but  I never took the time to read one. I happened to glance at one called “Merry F*&^ing Xmas”. The title lets me know that Christmas may not be all that happy and joyful. I literally just grazed through the pages and was disgusted. The book contains underage sex, girl on girl sex,Drugs, Violence, very graphic and explicit sexual encounters and there is one part where two of the female characters are talking. Both girls  are teenagers one is telling the other that in order for her breasts to get bigger she needs to rub margarine on them and in order for her to have a bigger ass she must engage in anal sex. Now as an adult I know these things are false and ridiculous but as a 14-year-old girl reading this I can’t help but think it may have some impact. These books are found mostly on the street by booksellers, sometimes in a bookstore. This a very profitable business I have asked a few students in my school and they told me some of their favorite ones to read and where to buy them for $5-$10. Here are my issues with these books the book that I mentioned is Published by Street Knowledge Publishing in case you want to order a copy for grandma, or ship to anyone you know that’s incarcerated (yes they do accept jail orders). I am pretty sure they don’t care who is buying their books as long as they are getting sold. We have warning labels on Music, Movies, Video Games why not books? Why is a teenage girl able to buy this book without a problem? We complain about the rate of Teenage pregnancy and Baby Mama Dramas but these are the types of characters glorified in these books. Also the language is very harsh and negative. I can’t tell you how many times the “N” word is used. So some may say so what as long as they are reading who cares! Others may think kids know the difference it’s just entertainment. Here is  my question to you  what if your teenage daughter was reading a book like this? What would you do? I have asked 2 people in the industry their opinions which I will post below, and I will also be on a panel April 8th about this topic so I would love to hear any thoughts or feedback. Should Street Lit come with a warning of explicit content or have an age restriction? Or am I blowing smoke up my own ass and this is truly  art?


Here is a response from a Writer of Street Lit:

Contact info
Jaree Francis
Debut novel – Metra City: Destiny’s Kiss
available March 20th, 2010 @ mcx2011.blogspot.com

What does the term Street Lit mean to you?

Literature strongly influenced by the streets.

Have you read any street lit or Urban Fiction?

Most certainly.

Do you find that the characters are overly sexual?

I often do find characters to have vast sexual appetites, yet I always ask is it art imitating life? I would say yes.

Do you think this material is appropriate for girls between the ages of 13-17 to read?

Good question. As a parent, I don’t view it appropriate for a young girl to read an erotic novel. That’s my take on it. I don’t necessarily want to put an age on reading habits though; there are some adults who aren’t mature enough to digest street lit. Maturity level would be the basis of reading limitations.

Do you think it has any impact on their self-esteem and the choices they make when being viewed by the opposite sex?

For some, unfortunately, I would say yes. This brand of media objectifies women just as any other.

A lot of these books can be bought on the street do you think they should come with Age Appropriate Labels or having a warning label of explicit content?

I think that would be understandable as well as very helpful to parents.

If we put warning labels on Movies, Music, and Video Games, why not books?
A huge problem with such legislation lays in the amount of books produced annually. It would be quite the undertaking to review all of this material. Another issue is the fact that books are regarded as art. Nude statutes and paintings are left uncensored because they’re esteemed collections. I don’t think books will be censored, regardless of genre.

Here is a response from Kisha Green a Publisher

What does the term Street Lit mean to you?

Street Lit means literature about the streets and all that happens from drug dealing,alcoholism, pregnancy and unstable home lives.
Have you read any street lit or Urban Fiction?

Yes, I do. I started reading them about three years ago.
Do you find that the characters are overtly sexual?

Yes, at times they are very sexually charged and filled with drugs and crimes.
Do you think this material is appropriate for girls between the ages of 13-17 to read?

No, it will open up a door that young girls that age are not prepared for, especially since the books are geared to an adult audience.
Do you think it has any impact on their self esteem and the choices they make when being viewed by the opposite sex?

Yes, it can these girls will read these books and see how a character is being portrayed and think that type of unhealthy behavior is acceptable.

Alot of these books can be bought on the street do you think they should come with Age Appropriate Labels or having a warning label of explicit content?If we put warning labels on Movies, Music, Video Games why not books?

I totally agree,there needs to be a warning even though in some cases the book cover gives the potential reader what the story will be about. I do think if not an actual label perhaps being placed in the proper age appropriate category in the store and or book stand.

Kisha Green

Here is an answer from another Author:

Hi! I commend you for playing an active role in the lives of such impressionable individuals. This is real world however and to an extent they need to be exposed to it. Sadly, Street Lit/ Urban Fiction is based on real life true events that occur in the lives of others and many are afraid to face it head-on. Push by Sapphire inspired Precious…. I’m sure that book allowed many women to speak out against incest, emotional abuse and being in an unhealthy environment.

I am a new author “Broken Promises Never Mend” is the name of my book. I’ve been told its raunchy, explicit, etc. I understand that but its real life and its no different than reading a Harlequin romance and reading sexual situations. What I do agree is having warning labels placed on books to let the buyer know what the content will entail.
I hope that helps! 🙂

What does the term Street Lit mean to you?

To me, it means literature that’s based or inspired by life on the street… ie-prostitution, abuse, drugs, sex, etc

Have you read any street lit or Urban Fiction?

I have. The first book I remember reading was Hustler’s Son by T. Styles when she was with Triple Crown Publications. After that I was hooked and began reading Zane, Shannon Holmes, Eric Jerome Dickey and so much more.

Do you find that the characters are overtly sexual?

They can be but at times that’s what they are fueled by and causes the drama that’s read about.

Do you think this material is appropriate for girls between the ages of 13-17 to read?

Absolutely not! I believe that those books shouldn’t be read by anyone younger than 16. Even if its read at 14 or so, they should be supervised and have parental discretion. These books are and can be explicit and deal with real life situations that someone impressionable might not be ready for.

Do you think it has any impact on their self esteem and the choices they make when being viewed by the opposite sex?

Yes indeed! A young woman might think that its okay to have a boyfriend that’s a drug dealer if she reads about it. A young man might feel like being with several women makes him popular if he’s not taught properly how to manage his relationships with women. Teaching should be reenforced.

Alot of these books can be bought on the street do you think they should come with Age Appropriate Labels or having a warning label of explicit content?If we put warning labels on Movies, Music, Video Games why not books?

I absolutely believe they should. My reasons were stated above and as with TV these books should be read along with parental supervision.

~Essence M. ~


14 Responses to "Street Lit what is it? What effect does it have On Teenage Black Girls?"

This is an interesting and ongoing debate on the blogosphere and Twitterverse. On the one hand it’s commendable that teens are reading anything with all of the electronic stimuli at their fingertips. On the other hand, if the only thing they’re reading is this, there’s a real problem. I think there has to be balance in everything and keeping it real, most street lit is smut and holds no educational value. So while it’s fine for the fully developed adult brain to read it and distinguish between what is real or fictional and right or wrong, the teen mind doesn’t necessarily see things in such black and white terms.

Thank you for reading and commenting! I agree with your statements. I see on a daily basis the struggles that teens are having with their sexual identity, and self esteem especially the girls. They seek attention from boys and have no clear distinction between good attention and bad attention. The characters in these books are not being sought out by boys first off they are being seduced by men who lure them with money, clothing, sneakers and sometimes drugs. I don’t see how that can be considered beneficial.

Thanks for having me; cool Q & A. Enjoyed Ms. Green’s commentary as well.

– Jay

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by DivaMomNYC: Street Lit what is it? What effect does it have On Teenage Black Girls?: http://wp.me/pNEb6-3A

On the one hand, I understand that you wouldn’t be thrilled to have your teenagers reading this. On the other hand, isn’t it exciting that teenagers want to read? And the idea of buying indie books off the street is also terribly exciting. I think this model of publishing might be what the future looks like.

Also, as far as the content, 90% of it might be crap, but there will probably be a few books that come out of this genre that go on to become classics. I’ve read stories about schools being upset when Catcher In The Rye came out that remind me of the reaction to Urban Lit.

Of course, I haven’t read any urban lit as I’m out in the Irish countryside, but seeing the critical reaction to the film Precious makes me think that there could be some real winners floating around in the urban fiction genre.

Thanks for reading and commenting! You are right there are some great stories to be told by some of these authors. I remember reading Push in school and had it taken away from me by a teacher because she said it was “trash”. Some 15 years later look what happened. I don’t think that it should be banned however I think that some of these books need to have warnings of the explicit content that is within. I mean a 13 year old girl who is self conscious about her looks, weight, being attractive reads this information or misinformation and thinks this is what it is really like to be a Young Black Woman.

As I was outside today I walked past a girl who was reading a book. I let her pass me but something told me to go back and ask her what she was reading. I swear someone is going to slap me silly one day. I went up to her and asked her what book she was reading the book was called Street Chronicles Backstage by Nikki Turner. I asked her what the book was about about she said it was a collection of short stories about people trying to get out of the hood and get into the music industry and how they deal with things and people that are trying to hold them back. I asked her did she learn anything from the book or relate to any of the characters. She said that she does read a lot of these books and likes to read them but she knows that not all women are “hoes” or “bitches” as they are described in the book. I asked her where she bought the book she said she got it at the Huntspoint Library in the “Black Experience” section. She is 16 years old. Can you guess where my next trip is going to be?

I enjoyed reading every last letter of this blog post! You have brought up some serious issues that left unchecked propagate a generation of foolish thought processes (e.g. rubbing marijuana on one’s breasts and having anal sex to make said boobies bigger). Is it any different than the girls spreading the lie of getting pregnant from kissing, well, no. But this is taking it one REALLY big step further!

I’m a run of the mill suburban housewife who reads like the next book will be my last, I LOVE reading and I read anything and everything I can get my hands on… Admittedly, I bought Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale! Why, because I was hoping to learn how people choose to work in this industry. But would I hand this book to my daughter at the ripe old age of 14, I think NOT! It’s not appropriate. The same could be said about the movie thirteen. It’s as close to street lit as I’ve seen, but again, I wouldn’t rent this movie for my own child, unless I felt she was old enough to digest the material and I was there to discuss it afterward.

On the other hand, I’m not a fan of “Warning Labels” on anything (music, games, etc.). I understand the use of them, but I don’t agree with WHY they are there. It’s as if a some entity knows better than I do how to regulate items for my family. One thing I love about parenting is that *I* am in control of what happens in my home. I don’t like anyone telling me what is appropriate, I will find out on my own, BEFORE I introduce it to my child, thank you. Otherwise, it feels as if someone else’s ideas are parenting FOR me. However, like you, I would think that an editorial note stating that this material has strong content (for whatever reason) should be included, somewhere… Imagine that, a publisher taking social responsibility, sorry, I was living in my pink-fluffy-world again.

I have not had the opportunity to see any “real” street lit (remember, “run of the mill suburban housewife”) I don’t see book peddlers on the mean streets *cough* of Lake Oswego,OR. And by the time that my local booksellers get this type of meme, it’s been watered down so much that even if you drank the Kool Aid, you wouldn’t know what flavor it was. Chances are, my child doesn’t have the open access to this type of “raw” material. Maybe that’s why I live in the burbs?

Seriously, I think you hit the nail on the head… We, as parents, need to be involved by monitoring what our children are reading (via book, web, mail, whatever source!) and be prepared to offer a balancing point of view.

Thank you again for contributing this blog, I will be following from now on!

Kristen let me first say I can’t count how many times I laughed reading your response! Thanks for bringing some humor to my day! I really needed it. As for response you are absolutely right Parents need to be in control of the their homes and monitor what their children watch and devote their time to. Living in this digital age where everything is so easy to get, kids have access to all kinds of information. The thing that bothers me about these books is the language is so harsh and degrading. Granted I know the wording is not going to be like the Karma Sutra but the integrity of a womans body and purpose are completely degraded and eradicated in a lot of these books. Teenage girls need better examples of what life as a Young Woman should and could be like regardless of where they live and how they are brought up. In a nutshell they need to know they are worthy of respect. I thank you for flipping it on the Suburban “Diva” side and I look forward to your comments!

While I am definitely not the target audience for this post (I am male, white, and childless), I have to say it is very heartening that you are addressing these kinds of issues. I admit I sometimes get the impression that black parents (or usually, black mothers, since dad is often not around) just don’t give a damn, which leads to another generation that doesn’t give a damn, etc. Now of course this is racist, but I suspect that just about every white person who takes the subway frequently has a bit of racism in them.

One thing I noticed about this post is that is seemed to focus on the effect of “street lit” on young girls; what about young boys? Or do they not usually read this stuff? (I am absolutely ignorant in this area). It would seem to me that it can’t be good for boys to grow up thinking that having a bunch of “baby mamas” is OK.

Again, praise from some racist white guy is probably not something that will make your day. But that being said, MAJOR KUDOS for making a positive difference. The world needs more people like you.

Hi Steve,

I appreciate your honesty! I am not sure if you were being serious about being a racist, regardless I like that fact that you took the time to read and share your thoughts. To answer some of your questions I love to observe people on the subway when these things happen. I work in education and it kills me to see kids on the subway with their pants below their ass talking about N*&&a this and N&^$$a that. It is annoying, and embarrassing especially as a Black Mother who has a teenage son who sticks out like a sore thumb amongst these kids who are the majority of what most people think is a clear representation of black males these days sucks. The girls are reading these books and reading pretty much anything at a higher rate than boys. Boys are usually more consumed by media such as video games and movies which consists mostly of violence and sex. I will get into that on a later post. The baby mama epidemic is a reality and something that is not frowned upon and teens see it as a viable option. Again I will elaborate on this topic as well in a later post. It did make my day to read your comment, I love hearing what people have to say and I love knowing that I am not the only one who feels a certain way about a particular topic. I guess that makes me a racist too? I look forward to your future comments!.


I will watch this post because I write urban lit and do not have an issue with the sexuality or violence. To me it is less violent than any game on Xbox or movie on daytime television. I do wonder when the time will come that the market is flooded with a middle class/rich urban lit. I guess its when those people start writing. Right now people write about what they experience or want to experience. The choice is the readers…even at age 14.

and yes, i know this post is from a year and a half ago, lol…hoping it resparks because it is interesting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow the DIva


%d bloggers like this: