Below is an article I read by author Omar Tyree (Flyy Girl, Pecking Order), condemning authors and readers who choose to only get into "street literature" (my words, not his). I agree with Mr. Tyree 100%. I can't tell you how many people look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them I don't read "street lit." I read a few in college, and I just couldn't relate. Don't get me wrong, this is a matter if personal preference, but I just don't think people should limit themselves to one genre of literature. Read a self help book! Try other authors! Shoot, try a book from the NY Times' bestseller list - those books are bestsellers for a reason! Sistas were PRESSED to watch "Sex and the City" and to see the movie - but they won't read the book.
I've always looked a books as a way to expand my horizons. You can't broaden your horizons if every book mimics what's going on right outside of your front door. Everything in our lives doesn't have to be about "hustling." We are deeper than this!
For the record, I never called my work "street literature" and I never will. When I began to publish ground breaking contemporary novels with Flyy Girl in 1993, and Capital City in 1994, I called them "urban classics." They were "urban" because they dealt with people of color in the inner-city or "urban" population areas. They were "classics" because I considered myself one of the first to start the work of a new era. But now, after sixteen years and sixteen novels in the African-American adult urban fiction game, I feel like the man who created the monster Frankenstein. Things have gotten way out of hand. So it's now time to put up my pen and move on to something new, until the readership is ready to develop a liking for fresh material on other subjects.
To a degree, it now seems hypocritical for the man who self-published the first gold digger book with Flyy Girl, and the first drug-dealer book with Capital City, to turn around and cry wolf about a readership who-fifteen years later-seem stuck on the subjects. However, I never intended to remain on those same topics. And I didn't. I moved on to cover a dozen other community issues through my work.
Nevertheless, the new young writers, who became inspired by my earlier work; Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Nikki Turner, Shannon Holmes, K'wan, and several others, related to my "urban classics" alone, and they began to match it, writing from their own sources of hardcore street knowledge. And I can't knock them for writing their honest stories. I can't knock them for wanting to be published. I can't knock them for earning an honest living. But after awhile, as dozens of other new writers began to follow in their footsteps, creating more gold-digging, ghetto girl, gangster love, drug-dealer stories, I had to seriously ask myself, "Don't we have some other things to write about it?"
This new form of "street lit" began to remind me of a similar destruction of hip-hop, where the same ghettocentric stories began to take precedence over the creative perspectives and multi-faceted voices and subjects of our urban music. All of a sudden, you could not succeed as a rapper unless you had sold drugs, committed violent crimes, and claimed to be an unruly gangster, who had done hard time in prison. You couldn't rap about the normal joys of life anymore. These new kids on the block rejected how Ice Cube had had a good day, while preferring to hear how dark in hell it was for DMX.
That hardcore fact -- of an urban audience's preference for denigration -- remains to be our most pressing issue here. The fact is, when I began to write about good black men with A Do Right Man in 1997, the importance of black family with Single Mom in 1998, the reality of black-on-black love with Sweet St. Louis in 1999, the indulgences of superstars with Just Say No! in 2001, the ugly face of New Orleans poverty with Leslie in 2002, or the challenge of positive feminine power with Boss Lady in 2005, few readers bothered to listen to me.
In fact, after trying to educate and uplift the same young, urban readership who fell in love with Flyy Girl with the sequel book, For The Love of Money -- which hit the New York Times bestseller's list in 2000, and won me an NAACP Image Award in 2001 -- the positive and progressive voice that I become so proud of, had lost me the support of my young urban audience. They bought Flyy Girl sequel, For The Love of Money, in droves because they were certain that I would return to the "streets" with the reckless young character they had grown to love in the first book. But when this same character grew up, finished college, earned a Master's Degree, and returned home to find that her drug-dealing lover from high school days had been released from jail, and was now a self-respecting Muslim man with a new wife and kids, the lack of expected drama and bullshit caused a national riot.
I began to receive hordes of e-mails from passionate, young, urban women you had obvious tantrums with me for not writing a second "street book," while they began to brag about the hardcore tale of Sister Souljah's new title, The Coldest Winter Ever. And suddenly, I found that my urban voice and validity had been quickly replaced.
That replacement of significant voice had nothing to do with the publishers preferring "street lit" over "responsible lit." It had all to do with an urban audience who preferred grit over polish. And that love for grit, crime, sex, broken hearts, drama, and other bullshit, reinforced the sales that I enjoyed for Diary of a Groupie in 2003, and What They Want in 2006. These were both books where I wrote about the subjects of sex, idolization, blackmail, and black women getting their fantasy freaks on, that urban readers had begun to love from my good friend Zane, and her various Sex Chronicles. Again, I can't knock a sister for expressing her inner freak. I would want a woman confident enough to show me what she got as well, just not on every other page.
Nevertheless, that's what the majority of the black readership, based on recent sales figures, are choosing to read nowadays. So as I hear some of my more responsible peers in the book industry, complaining about the publishers, who market and sell the work, I have to remind us all that publishing is still a business. The majority of these "street lit" and sex titles are still being self-published anyway. In fact, the only people making any significant money from it are the chain book stores, and the small houses who score off of quantity over quality.
Hell, let's sell it all if we make money from it all. The book on the philosophy is called The Long Tail. And if there's another new street writer willing to make a few bucks around the corner, then let's publish them and make more money. In the meantime, only Teri Woods can sell major numbers of a new "street lit" title. The readers barely know the names of a hundred other writers. Unless of course, we count Karrine "Superhead" Steffans and her book, Confessions of a Video Vixen, published two years ago. Her real life sexcapades and celebrity name dropping created a real storm. Now she's back for seconds.
With all that in mind, I couldn't even name my latest book The Writer, about a New York Times bestseller author, who ends up on the run for his life when he agrees to write a true-crime book in the contemporary "no snitch" zone of Harlem, New York. The retail book stores actually informed my publisher that the title wasn't specific or gritty enough. They needed something edgier. Well, that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I can't even name my damn book titles what I want now because of what retail says about African-American readership.
So I said, "To hell with it then. I'm done with writing all urban fiction. Tell the stores we'll call it The Last Street Novel and move on to something else." I then enlisted my other good friend, the queen bee of "street lit" publishing herself, Vickie "Triple Crown" Stringer to remind the world that I started this shit, and now I'm closing the book on it all with another "classic" that lands way above the rest. Nevertheless, since The Last Street Novel is an unabashed guy's book, like the original "street literature" of Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim, and Donald Goines that I read, in this new era of 99.9% women readers-excluding the brothers who read while on lock down-you can expect another Omar Tyree "classic" to be overlooked by the smokescreens of featherweight material until Martians land on earth a few thousand years from now and find me buried inside of an obscure library.
So with my publishing contracts running out, I wrote my final adult fiction novel to be published in September, entitled Pecking Order, which is all about the innovation and hustle of making legal money. That's what it all comes down to, folks. Either the product makes money like "street lit" and sex novels do, or it fades into obscurity like a VHS video tape machine. But if the only way I can earn a living now in African-American adult fiction is to sell my people the same poison that they've become addicted to, then I quit with my artistic integrity still in tact, while moving on to a more progressive mission.
Such is the way of all leadership in industry; to remain above the pack, we must successfully diversify of services and products for the betterment and advancement of the overall community.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times best-selling author who has published 15 books and has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide.