Is Urban Lit Dead Counterpunch! It Ain’t Over Until I Say it’s Over By LITERARY DIVA HEATHER COVINGTON AKA THE LITERARY HEAT OF WWW.LITERARYDIVA.COM
In 1957, New York Times Reporter, Benjamin Fine, witnessed Elizabeth Eckford take verbal abuse outside Central High in Little Rock according to the book, The Race Beat. However, today Elizabeth would be shocked to find her own brothers and sisters calling her a nigger, chicken head, ho and bitch in today’s urban books which for the most part have become socially acceptable terms of language and endearment among inner city, suburban youth and avid readers who consume urban books.
Regardless, of Kurtis Blow’s initiative to ban the N-word along with the long withstanding NAACP, urban city youth have learned to use Black English and urban vernacular to cope, assimilate and establish their own identity in the hood. All of these terms run rampant in urban books. Here I was ready to accept an interview with an organization head to promote my books and quickly did a u-turn when I found out this was the same person going after explicit content advisory seals on urban books, thus further alienating the genre more than it already it in bookstores except big chains who have resorted to blending in urban books with the general population of books because for one, they sell when exposed.
Yes, it was I too who finished out the Hip Hop Panel on C-span featuring today’s most controversial voices on the issue like Herb Boyd to only find the live footage taping headline with the most derogatory phone caller who debated on why should these books even be given a platform with the grinding of naked women on covers. I was shocked. I really could not syndicate the footage on Disilgold because the intro of the footage knocked down the urban community while the moderator, Tony Rose who asked me to fill in case his plane did not make it on time into the city, only played Devil’s advocate. Not even the Hip Hop summit drew as much fire.
A magazine editor had an issue with me closing out the panel after an author who was clearly intent on promoting her work had already asked one question. You just don’t let 30 seconds of feed left on a historical panel featuring Herb Boyd run out of time with an unfulfilled self-serving question. The bleached blonde black chick with blue contacts became rather violent with me after the show which proved to me that perhaps, urban lit does bred a little violence because from sister to sister the rhetoric was just uncalled for and reminded me of that complexion feed nonsense in high school where a lighter skinned girl with light eyes couldn’t pull the guys like I did without trying and wanted to throw down in school on a technicality that I believed I was cute. Talk about an urban feud worthy of penning a novel. It’s these simple incidences that are given light in urban books and while the world may think urban lit is irrelevant I can even relate.
However, the biggest issue is the profanity and degradation of women in lit which has every re-examining the content of urban literature for one, authenticity. And- if it is true as many say that “The best kept secrets are in a book,” quite a few artists will be locked up if they don’t slap a fiction disclaimer. He treatment of urban lit isn’t the same as comedy.
Many well known comedians thrived from use of the N-word like the late Bernie Mac, ,Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy following in tradition of the late Richard Pryor and other favorite comedians.
It was Disilgold SOUL Magazine founder who bared witness to Bill Cosby’s return to the Apollo after over 35 years with clean comedy just a day after Richard Pryor’s death and snapped the photo against Bill Cosby’s wishes while sitting on his throned chair that turned out to don the RIP sign with a moment of silence for the late Pryor. Not only did Bill Cosby have the lights turned on to humorously accuse foreigners in the audience of snapping photos who defended themselves with applicable humor, but the historical moment exposed Bill Cosby in the light for everyone to take photos against his wishes, thus making history and gaining applause proving clean humor can win back modern audiences.
And even with Bill Cosby’s disdain for foul language, it is kind of ironic that the editor of my former Literary Living show may be working on the great one’s rap album. If so, Bill will win back many of his fans, the entire young generation and possibly take over Hip Hop showing that clean rap can sale in astronomical numbers. But you didn’t hear this me from me. Someone’s got to eliminate the use of the N- word without knocking urban lit artists who are by far some of the best writers on the market hands down, but even my urban novel, Tekial Nika doesn’t use the N-word and is in it’s 10th print run.
Urban writers will cry foul if their books are segregated on shelves because of the use of the N-word. After all, folks will argue urban lit ain’t authentic without the use of the N-word.
However, as soon as the racial epitaph was used in it’s most derogatory form by a white comedian only did the world retaliate against the word. For the N-word had never been seen used in such a vile and oppressed fashion on air. The comedian got a slap on the wrist while blacks fought against one another vehemently over the issue and didn’t realize the N-word actually helped many comedians put food on the table, a surge of blackexplotation movies thrive as the number one video rentals and give rebirth to a series of urban literary artists inspired by the late Donald Goines.
Many had nowhere to turn but a real job and school, which many young black men will argue is a voluntary institution of forced slavery with very little wage compensation for ones work, creativity and talents and being that the life expectancy is only 72 for more most black men or less.
Not willing to follow their yessir forefathers, literature, comedy, ,movies and rap were the only way out of the hood. Some folks called it selling one’s soul, but where would all of these artists who benefited from the N-era be today. It’s all about authenticity with movie goers and book lovers and music listeners and sorry, you aren’t selling bubble gum to the hood. You had better bring the grime, grit and street flavor or get quickly dismissed as an urban author.
For those authors who may not have come from the streets, the only alternative was introducing some bling couture to urban books making way for chick lit dramas and equally as potent. Urban literature is so potent and varied, readers are as addicted to their urban lit as computer heads are to the internet and it doesn’t look like there is any room for rehab as long as more urban books are available on the market.
I even upgraded from urban kick-ass poetry disguised by timeless book covers by Marion Designs who has gotten much more urbanlishious with models that make the opposite sex eyes melt. It’s all about survival and I may just upgrade my poetry book covers one day, but for now I joined the urban wave just for the thrill of it and indeed, urban literature is a selling marketing machine! Add a controversial, talented and fictitious vixen to the formula and you’ve got yourself a winner without fail ladies and gents.
I mean why not read an urban book? They are thoroughly entertaining and it surely beats these youth getting into the streets and starting gang wars or committing crimes. Almost every urban author will admit that writing an urban book changed their lives.
Just to give props to a few urban authors whom I have witnessed rise to the top since inception as writers, when I attended a signing by K’wan I was even inspired by his story of perseverance in a volatile and competitive industry. His persistence paid off and soon he was signed to a multi –book deal. He was so generous in supporting others, he write a review in my own poetry book. Now isn’t that daring. His blurb which I will never forget to this day was “Make Money lady!”
Michael Baisden defied the publishing industry and showed how his own media entity can command sales of books without him even promoting the books giving new meaning to the independent marketing guru. Yesterday, he was jus t a guest speaker at the YGA Awards looked up to by hundreds and today you see him on billboards.
Zane toppled sales of her own urban erotica books and it wasn’t long before the majors came knocking. Zane may be on her way to a billion dollar franchise. And even with her current accomplishments has achieved more than an author could dream of in the same decade with her talent alone. Zane is one of the best writers out there, period. Many others have followed pursuit and claimed their own throne like Noire and Nikki Turner or am I missing something here.
Despite a downturn in book sales at an alarming rate of 4.5% according to Publisher’s Weekly, urban books continue to roll out of bookstores like urban candy. It no longer matters what content is inside the book. The urban craze wave is to give readers what they want, plenty of eye candy to satisfy their urge to buy, a catapulting urban story mixed with crime, violence, sex, drugs, gang life and of course, fashion couture and bling and you’ve got a winning formula or code that not even a mastermind of literature like Stephen King or Dean Koontz can break. It’s stiff competition on today’s bookstores and may the best urban king and queen win.
Probably the only threat to urban authors is that many urban lit readers have grown out of their utopian urbania lifestyles, have families, kids, real responsibilities, no longer living under their parent’s domain and into making money and spending it, and even if they know an urban book will satisfy their urge to read. Only the fittest authors who are willing to sacrifice time, energy and days and nights to pen that book of all books are going to produce a winning formula of books that attract loyal readers. Loyal readers look for consistency, but at the same time something new.
Just when you thought one book was the most original theme, another comes along. I got a little frustrated so I created 12 book club members with revenge on their minds to go after the number one womanizer in the Bronx. The formula worked, but then I encountered serious backlash and got a chance to understand what other urban authors were going through. Some people just don’t want to see other urban authors doing well I think so they want to kill the spirit of the urban craze wave, while others are generally concerned about the effects of urban lit on youth. Some folks feel the debate on the issue that kids are reading and urban lit is encouraging literacy is very lame since to read even urban vernacular one has go to be able to read in the first place. UH, TRY AGAIN. And- I am just playing Devil’s advocate., but the urban lit community has got to come up with better excuses to write the genre like because you simply enjoy it, urban literature reflects your life and made you who you are today and hopefully, that is successful and not just a self-centered, I made it, I’m number 1 and I got money bubble head! Just stealing Michael Baisden’s coined phrase, and of course I am not taking sides. Whatever rocks your boat, DO IT , but please don’t slap a “YES, WE CAN” disclaimer to draw attention to yourself. It sounds just as gimmicky as the i vendor down the block selling his brand of ice cream.
Since I began my journey as a writer, the Millions for Bronx Youth Initiative was the first authors for charity online program and while so many folks have joined the million dollar mission, I just wonder why these folks have not even sent a dollar to the founding mission? Hum, sounds suspect or like a lot of urban hype and why the genre is quickly getting disgraced as a trend that shall pass. Someone has got to bring respect back to the genre and really give back without a tax write off and not just 50 Cent who indeed has silently given back to a lot of charities, bless his heart.
Until then, I am afraid urban lit is going to keep getting kicked around. What do I care, I am not an urban lit author, I am an urban mystery thriller fiction writer, but in my opinion even authors of other genres have to care because if one of the strongest genres fails, it’s going to take a dinosaur to bully folks into stores to buy books. And not even a dinosaur wants to look at one’s own face, but they will show their ass. It’s all they’ve got and then here we go selling out!
Then we have to question those authors at the top of their game and really not supporting any new authors in the same domain unless no threat. It’s sad and shows one isn’t confident enough in one’s work to give other authors a chance to shine in their light. I say embrace your competition and support other authors.
Urban authors have got to stick together and give each other props. Don’t be intimidated and insanely jealous or steal an authors ideas when someone who perhaps, is super new to the urban game comes along and pens a stellar urban book. Every author has a mentor somewhere down the line and many will be new writers if one is willing to develop their writing and improve. That’s what intrigues me about some authors and makes me want to take my money and buy their books.
The urban lit community had become too ego-driven, arrogant natured and mean-spirited at one point according to literary heavyweights. Others will say, it’s not about competition, it’s about creating a movement where unity is critical for survival.
Competition only breeds ignorance and then great writers cancel one another out, the world grows cold and dark and another genre disappears like a fad Remember chick lit? I would certainly say that chick lit is dead, but I believe urban literature is here to stay as long as negative folks in the game get out of the way! Negativity is dead in 2009! Just blowing smoke here on paper because I don’t smoke or drink and can throw down content in essays that defy hype and lay it to rest. If you are going to kill a genre be sure you can shut The Literary Diva down with your mighty sword or excuse me mister, SHUT THE URBAN LIT UP!
Disclaimer: Points and views expressed are for entertainment purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of author writing as her journalistic alter-ego pen name!