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Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.
You may have heard it called street lit, gangsta lit, urban lit, even ghetto lit or hip hop fiction. Stories within this literary genre feature life on the streets, usually in American cities. The characters in urban fiction stories are almost always African American. As such, the authors and consumers of the stories are also generally African American.
The setting in most works of urban fiction takes place in the inner cities. The story material is usually pretty heavy and tells about the hardships of street life and about the neighborhoods that suffer under extreme violence, gangs, sexual gratuity, and poverty. The prose are typically littered with profanity in order to reflect the common street language. Realism plays a major role in urban fiction. You wouldn't expect a hardened gang member to show mercy, and writers of urban fiction treat their material with the same vein of logic. The stories are sometimes difficult to read because they are meant to mirror the harsh reality of urban living.
If you're looking for a fairy tale with a happy ending where the good characters do good things and the evil characters do bad things, you should shy away from urban fiction. Life is not a simple battle between good and evil, the lines between the two are blurred and survival becomes the goal. Most of the stories within this genre are tragic, and many of them are autobiographical, based on personal, real-life experiences.
Urban fiction as a collective fringe genre emerged in the 1960s and 70s. The true to life gritty stories initially found a strong voice with authors like Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, who are widely considered the pioneers of the movement.
Iceberg Slim, birth name Robert Lee Maupin, was born in 1918. Slim's father abandoned him as a child. He got into pimping at age 18 and didn't stop until he was 42. He was incarcerated several times in his adult life; in fact, it was his last stint at Leavenworth, where he spent time in solitary, that motivated him to get out of the criminal life. He moved to California, changed his name to Robert Beck, and started his career as a writer.
He may have started his adult life as a pimp in Chicago, but he went on to become one of the most renowned and influential urban fiction writers. His books have sold over 6 million copies, have been adapted into films, and his words are reflected in modern-day hip-hop music. Ever hear of Ice-T? His rap name is homage to Iceberg Slim.
Pimp: The Story of My Life
Slim's first autobiographical novel was published in 1967. The book pulled no punches, and Slim narrated his true to life tale of being a pimp in the city of Chicago for 25 years. The novel has been described as ruthless. It is not a tale of morality, and it was not written to provide a lesson for its reader. It is about Slim's survival in 'the game,' and how he made his way through the ups and downs of being a criminal. The book did well commercially, selling over 2 million copies throughout the world.
Slim's follow-up novel was also published in 1967. The story is about two Philadelphia con men. The book was adapted for the big screen and released in theaters in 1972. Despite its lack of Hollywood star power, the low-budget movie was a success at the box office.
Mama Black Widow (1969)
Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (1971)
Long White Con (1977)
Death Wish: A Story of the Mafia (1977)
Airtight Willie & Me (1985)
Donald Goines was a prolific writer who published 16 novels. At one point, he had to use the pen name Al C. Clark because he was writing at such a fast pace; reportedly, he could finish a novel in a month. This rapid pace was fueled by his addiction to heroin, a habit he picked up while fighting in the Korean War.
Although Goines came from a middle class family living in Detroit, he was constantly in and out of prison for criminal activity, like armed robbery and pimping. His involvement in crime was largely due to his drug addiction.
Iceberg Slim had a great influence on the work of Donald Goines. Motivated and given confidence by Slim's novel Pimp, Goines wrote his first book from behind bars. It was called Whoreson, a semi-autobiographical tale.
In 1971, Goines wrote a novel that depicted his daily struggles as a smack addict called, Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie. Goines' writing style is rough and rudimentary, and his prose consist of street language, commonly called Ebonics. His oeuvre preaches about the harsh life in the ghetto, crime, and the struggle to just survive another day.
Goines completed five books under his pen name Al C. Clark. The tone of these novels is different from his previous publications. The Al C. Clark stories feature a black revolutionary protagonist named Kenyatta. Clark's hero, Kenyatta, is not a street thug mixed up in crime, but the leader of a Black Panther like organization dedicated to cleaning up the inner city.
None of Goines' material romanticizes the street. Although much of his work is repetitious in nature and certainly formulaic, the author provides a reality-based look at life in the inner city. It is estimated that the writer has sold ten million books. And just like Slim before him, his words have inspired hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur and Ludacris. His 1974 novel Never Die Alone was adapted to screen by James Gibson, and it stared DMX.
Black Gangster (1972)
Broad Players (1973)
White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief (1973)
Black Girl Lost (1974)
Eldorado Red (1974)
Swamp Man (1974)
Daddy Cool (1974)
Inner City Hoodlum (1975)
Cry Revenge (1974)
Crime Partners (1974)
Death List (1974)
Kenyatta's Escape (1974)
Kenyatta's Last Hit (1975)
Street literature is not as popular today as it was in the 1960s and 70s. Once rap music took off in the 1980s, a whole new generation of poets and writers used music as a forum to describe life in the inner city. However, with the options of self-publishing and ebooks, urban fiction is considered a successful niche market.
Terri Woods: True to the Game, the Dutch Trilogy
Vickie Stringer: Let That Be The Reason, Imagine This (sequel)
Wahida Clark: Thugs And The Women Who Love Them, Every Thug Needs A Lady (sequel)
Sister Souljah: The Coldest Winter Ever, Midnight: A Gangster Love Story (New York Times bestseller), Midnight and the Meaning of Love (sequel)
Shannon Holmes: B-More Careful (sold over 500,000 copies), Bad Girlz, Never Go Home Again
K'wan (has 11 best sellers): Gangsta, Road Dawgz, Street Dreams, Hoodlum, Eve, Hood Rat, Flexin & Sexin, Blow, Still Hood
Urban fiction has many names like street lit, gangsta lit and hip hop fiction. This fringe genre features life in the inner cities, and most of the authors and consumers of this form of literature are African American. The stories are often true, harsh tales depicting extreme violence and poverty. Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines are both pioneers of the genre. Although urban fiction is not as popular today as it was in its heyday, the 1960s and 70s, due to self-publishing and the internet, there are still several acclaimed authors working in the genre today.
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Back To CourseACT Prep: Tutoring Solution
43 chapters | 384 lessons