Just Keepin' It Real: Teens Reading Out of the Mainstream
Speaker: Rollie Welch
Writes a column on street lit for Library Journal; appears also in their online newsletter Book Smack.
Speaking in generalities; the majority of our teens are reading what Rollie will talk about. Population of Cleveland is 65% African-American; 27% poverty rate, 50% dropout rate, high teen pregnancy rate. 28 branches of CPL--Cleveland does not have a chain bookstore in the city. Has been ranked the second poorest city in the US.
Journal article: Limited Options: The Dearth of Books Written for African-American Teens is Glaring, by Denene Millner, published in Publisher's Weekly.
tasks as librarians
--put the right books in teens' hands
--teens want to read about someone who looks like them . . . or someone who has experienced the same situation
what do you read when no teen book speak to you? you read adult books
--historical books: fiction and nonfiction
Plot over Character
required reading . . . or tired reading?
on a reading list from an inner-city school: The Naked and the Dead, All the King's Men, A Passage to India, Lord of the Flies
Books that should go and don't
Autobiography of My Dead Brother
Repeated, Repeated, Repeated
To Kill a Mockingbird
Day of Tears
Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War
Far from Home: Latino Baseball Players in America
Ludacris (Hip-Hop Biography Series)
Maybe not a lot of literary value, but kids are reading them
Biographies: Alive and a bit of nastiness in their background
The Vibe Q
--graphic novels are racially neutral
--adults don't understand them
Full Metal Alchemist
had an anime club that went for four years
kids are moving towards manga and not American graphic novels
Fresh titles recently published
Ni-Ni Simone (author)
Five years ago: only series titles with African-American characters, Bluford High and Cheetah Girls. Now Drama High, Kimani Tru
Filling the Void of Teen Books with African-American Characters
Work What You Got
Beacon Hills High
It may be trash reading, but it's reading.
Why Street Lit?
exploding genre for urban libraries
demand outdistances supply
"I'd rather read this stuff than some fantasy book that don't mean nothin' to nobody." Shauna, incarcerated teen
Street Lit characteristics
stories linked to inner city streets
circular storytelling: the story comes full circle
What street lit isn't
any book with African American characters
only an upper-middle class setting
Many street lit authors are or have been incarcerated
What's inside street lit?
crime & violence (tends to be male protagonists)
hot sex, steamy sex (tends to be female protagonists)
often written by first-time authors
urban settings in major cities
plenty of sex, drug dealing and violence
written in the language of the streets
Brand names throughout especially expensive cars, designer clothing and shoes
Before you make any judgments, read the book
What's under the surface?
--friendships forged during teen years
"Sure that stuff happens all the time, but it don't all happen to one person." Tasha, incarcerated teen, talking about The Coldest Winter Ever
urban-reviews.com: website with full listing of upcoming releases; also includes YA lit
Some common criticisms
"Mindless garbage about murder,killer, thuggery"
Portrays the hood as stimulating and glamorous
Reinforces stereotypes and encourages irresponsible behavior
Stanley "Tookie" Williams
Confessions of a Video Vixen
The Cover Speaks
--street lit covers immediately leave no doubt about the content
--readers know there will be emphasis on sex, crime, or violence
--there is a natural break of street lit. titles are either geared to women or men.
As more books are coming out, quality is starting to become more important
Plenty of teen novels with racy covers
The Au Pairs
What's In It for Libraries?
--give 'em what they want
--high circ/high loss
--short shelf life for condition
Tragic morality tales: you can almost tell what's going to happen from the beginning
Popular with urban teens and twentysomethings that might not visit the library otherwise
Evaluate street lit in the context of its genre
Some titles are better than others
Internet is a prime source for authors.
Street lit will continue to explode and demand from patrons will rise, including requests by teens.
In Cleveland, circulation has gone up 10% since street lit has begun to be purchased.
Not a complete and full record; speaker's remarks are paraphrased. Any errors or typos are my own.