Urban literature: is it beneficial reading?


By Briana Baker & Sherrod Tunstall

Urban fiction is real literature — Sherrod Tunstall

Urban Literature is a literacy genre set in a city landscape, as the name implies. However, the genre is as much defined by the race and culture of its characters as the urban setting.

The tone for urban literature is usually dark, focusing on the underside of city life. The characters tend to be African-American or Latino. Sometimes the characters portray thugs, homegirls or hustlers.

But, my definition for Urban/Street literature is that it’s based on urban life and real-life experiences, and, therefore, urban literature is part of American culture.

The genre helps a lot of children who live in urban cites read more instead of playing video games.

As a 25-year-old black, educated man, I find reading Urban Literature gives readers some insight on where the writer comes from and what they went through in their own lives. Even with the slang, sex and profanity, it reveals some piece of their environment while the character is trying to reach his or her goals even though they’re still living their illegal lifestyles.

Bestselling author Nikki Turner (“A Hustler’s Wife” and “Glamorous Life”) said in an interview that she wanted to write Urban Literature so she could write about characters she could relate to.

Turner mentioned she could’ve written a book about a young woman who is married to an old judge and also having an affair with her tennis instructor, but Turner said that wasn’t her life or her friends’ lives. People, she said, want to read about someone who is relatable to them and where they come from.

Turner says she also writes urban fiction as urban fairy tales where the women do not go looking for their prince charming, but they create their own destinies. Her character Yarni in “A Hustler’s Wife” goes from being the wife of a drug lord to a successful attorney. The character Mercy in her novel “Riding Dirty on I-95” goes from being a drug transporter to a scriptwriter of urban dramas.

Another bestselling author, Kiki Swinson (“The Wifey Series” and “Cheaper to Keep Her”), said inspiration came when she was serving a five-year sentence for being a “wifey” of a drug dealer. She said in her younger days she dated different drug dealers. While in jail, instead of just sitting in her jail cell, she decided to tell her stories on paper to warn young girls that dating drug dealers isn’t as wonderful as it may seem. To them, she said, it seems good, but it doesn’t end well when he asks you to take the rap for him and do his time.

These types of novels can be very educational because they can tell you what’s going on in your own backyard.

For example, Sister Souljah, bestselling author of “The Coldest Winter Ever,” said the reason she focused on drugs in her novel was because she saw strangers and even her own family use drugs growing up, and that it’s not only going on in her neighborhood, but in all urban neighborhoods in the United States.

Many of the authors who write in the Urban Literature genre say they’re not trying to glorify it; they write because they don’t want to see readers in the street, and want readers to see that it’s not good to be a drug dealer or a prostitute.

The author’s main focus when writing these books is to help young people who may be going through what a character is going through, so that no one will suffer the terrible fate of going to jail or ending up dead.

Sherrod Tunstall is a senior journalism major and a staff writer for The Journal.












Genre is not mentally stimulating — Briana Baker

While browsing the Internet, I came across the perfect definition. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defined reading literacy as “understanding, using and reflecting on written texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society.”

Keeping this in mind, I oppose reading urban fiction.

As a young, black, educated, urban female, I find reading urban fiction not only self-degrading to my African-American culture but also detrimental to American society in general. With the constant use of slang, profanity and improper grammar, I don’t understand how this can help anyone develop their knowledge, potential or help to achieve any goals.

One of the most popular urban fiction books is Sistah Souljah’s “The Coldest Winter Ever.” The first page of the book reads: “Brooklyn-born I don’t have no sob stories for you about rats and roaches and pissy-pew hallways. I came busting out of my momma’s big coochie on January 28, 1977 during one of New York’s worst snowstorms. So, my mother named me Winter. My father was so proud of his new baby girl that he had a limo waiting to pick my moms up from the hospital.”

Now, I know many will argue that urban fiction is designed to help portray what life is like in the urban community or the ghetto, but I am a big fan of “It’s not what you say but how you say it.”

The author could have just stated that although she was born in Brooklyn, she didn’t have any stories of living in poverty, and still get her point across. Sistah Souljah should  have just mentioned when she was born instead of the day she came “busting out her mom’s big coochie.” Someone not fluent in urban lingo may not understand that “moms” is slang.

Reading comprehension determines the level of understanding from a written text. Wikipedia sources Keith Rayner, Barbara Foorman, Charles Perfetti, David Pesetsky and Mark Seidenberg state this understanding comes from the interaction between the words that are written and how they trigger knowledge outside the text.

The motive behind the publication of urban literature is great, but the content is self-deterring and non-educating. There is no way possible that I can take anything I’ve read in a novel written like this to become anything greater psychologically than what I inspired to be before.

Studies have proven reading stimulates the brain and can help a person listen faster, as well as process speech faster and in more detail. On the other hand, there has also been research which found reading remedial literature can hinder a person from sounding out words correctly and takes many more hours of reading for the brain activity to reach the levels of stimulation as it would for someone reading any other type of literature.

Although I am not aware of any evidence supporting this, I believe that reading urban fiction can have these same effects as reading remedial literature. If reading stimulates one’s brain and the literature someone read helps that person become literate and comprehensive, then I believe improper grammar usage, repetitive slang and incorrect word choices can alter current knowledge, forcing you to begin pronouncing words incorrectly and slowing down your process of speech.

As an educated student and literate person, I find it mentally challenging to engage in urban literature.

Briana Baker is a junior journalism major and a staff writer for The Journal.

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