Saturday, November 08, 2008

YA Lit Symposium: Just Keepin' It Real

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

Hard sells
--historical books: fiction and nonfiction
--science fiction

Plot over Character
--fast pacing
--cliffhanging spaces
--white space

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
Copper Sun

Repeated, Repeated, Repeated
Harriet Tubman
To Kill a Mockingbird
Tuskegee Airmen

Possible Alternatives
Sojourner Truth
Day of Tears
Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War

Readable Nonfiction
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
50 Cent
The Vibe Q
Heroin Diaries

Why Manga?
--the stories!
--graphic novels are racially neutral
--adults don't understand them
Full Metal Alchemist
Vampire Knight

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
Denim Diaries
Work What You Got
Beacon Hills High

It may be trash reading, but it's reading.

Street Lit

Why Street Lit?
exploding genre for urban libraries
demand outdistances supply
it's real

"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
white-collar crime

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 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

Gateway Reading
50 Cent
Alicia Keys
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
Gossip Girl
The Au Pairs
It Girl
Summer Boys

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.


Beth Kephart said...

I read your notes and I shudder just a tad, for, after writing what will be four very contemporary books for young adults, I am at work on an historical novel. There are those historical novels for YA that have done enormously well, and indeed, one looks at the NBA winner last year (Octavian) and the nominees this year (Chains), one thinks of books like the glorious The Book Thief, one has hope that young readers will continue to find at least some kinds of historical novels relevant.

I'd love your further insights on this.

melissa said...

Well, it's not a hard-and-fast rule that historical fiction doesn't go. The presentation where the "historical fiction doesn't circulate" remark was made was one on street lit and the reading tastes of urban teens. And while in general a lot of historical fiction doesn't work with urban teens, there are titles that do reach out to them. And let's not forget that we're talking in generalities; there will always be teens that go against the mainstream of their community.

So, in short, there's plenty of appeal in historical fiction for teens! Don't lose faith.

Beth Kephart said...

Thanks, Melissa. Thank you for clarifying. (As I sit here with a day-away-from-finally-finished historical novel ms on my lap.)