Author Identity: Urban Fiction

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of reading a reblog to an original post I had not seen until then. After promptly liking both the reblog, as published by Whitney of Write, Live, and Love and the original as published by Ja’da of quizoticmuses (who I do believe also has a book out on Amazon), I felt compelled to reply in a separate post so that my commentary was not limited to the comments section of her blog. I thought the post served as a great conversation starter, and I do encourage others to tune in if so inclined.

But before throwing in my two cents here’s the original (used with permission):

“As a writer, I have come to understand that in every capacity the term “urban” is synonymous with “Black people.” I don’t want to be an urban fiction writer; I want to be a writer. But I’m Black writing about Black people and not exclusively Black people drama. So I feel like I’m automatically fitted into the urban fiction slot when really, I just want to write fictional stories. Period.

How do I get there?”

There are certain words that, although can be applied to various races of people, pretty much is a reference to black people depending on the context. Words like Urban, and Minority, to name a couple. Specifically, the term “Urban” is no doubt a crafty way of saying “Black” and Urban Fiction then is used to denote black fiction.

What attracted me to the post is that as a person who speaks often concerning the state of Black America, Black history, its ancient origins, slavery, freedom, and as someone who is deeply passionate about writing about Israelites or so-called blacks, for blacks, our history, and culture, I must say my writing has never been deemed Urban Fiction. This revelation caused me to think that maybe the characterization of Urban Fiction is a bit deeper than being a black writer writing about black people in general but that it is also about the style of writing.

Writing Styles

“Style is the way writing is dressed up (or down) to fit the specific context, purpose, or audience. Word choice, sentence fluency, and the writer’s voice — all contribute to the style of a piece of writing.”– Google

As I began to think about my own reading experience with UF, I am hearkened back to books that have a certain tone and feel to it. These books tend to follow a certain writing style. Though they do tend to deal with the internal struggle of the African American experience, it’s the way that these books are written that makes them different. Personally, my characterization of Urban Fiction books is based upon the language, setting, and overall surroundings incorporated into the book.

This led me to consider that, though I do find it is exclusive to the black community, Urban Fiction is a label applied to a certain kind of writing that not everyone can do. Everybody can’t write good Urban Fiction books, especially people who have not lived the life they are creating for their characters. Urban Fiction is a unique genre. While you can research for Historical Fiction and Romance or Thriller, if you write a UF novel, you had better have lived that life or be familiar with the setting in some way or it will fall flat. It will read fake.

Black Lit or Urban Fic?

What makes Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” Black Literature and Tracy Brown’s “Snapped” Urban Fiction? Just by looking at the covers alone we can see that they are two completely different kinds of works, though they are both written by African American female writers about African Americans.

5337019 thebluesteye

Both books are relevant in black society. Both are truths concerning black family life, struggles, and both contain black central characters. So why is Brown known as an Urban Fiction writer and Morrison a Fiction writer? Both are very talented and though Morrison is most prominent, Brown is no less valid. The classification has to do, I think, with the individual writing styles. The overall message of the book itself and the direction in which it tends to expand conversation.

I often find that black writers who write with a passion that is rooted in that hardcore truth concerning black family life, if its raw, uncut, up close and personal, then it is often labeled Urban Fiction.

Believe it or not, this is a conversation that many are already having. Bernice McFadden, the very talented author of nine critically acclaimed novels including SugarLoving DonovanNowhere Is a PlaceThe Warmest DecemberGathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, has already coined the term, “seg-book-gation”. She argues that black books are lumped into an “African American Literature” category instead of typical genres like General Fiction.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with the separation and encourage Blacks to embrace being such a set-apart people. Nothing we do is going to be normal or traditional because we are not a normal people. We are unique, creative, soulful, we are the salt of the Earth.

Triangle of Sins; Alibi and Midnight: A Gangster Love Story; Diary of a Street Diva; No Disrespect, A Street Girl Named Desire; The Coldest Winter Ever, these are all titles that represent Urban Fiction or “Street Literature” because they focus on the internal struggle of growing up Black in the Hood. They are books that are written in such a way that it captures the personal truths concerning the life many African American’s live and that’s why we love them so much.

These are books about what I like to call, “The Curses” or the struggles blacks have had to endure for centuries now. It is prophecy fulfilled and the gritty reality is what makes them appealing to the Black community.

In closing, Author Identity is all dependent on the mindset and thought processes of the author and who they are. Because Black people set the trend in a host of areas, Urban Fiction and Street Lit is another spin on the norm that African American’s have contributed to. Black people have always been the creators of what is different, creative, or uniquely separated from tradition. If Black writers of fiction are labeled Urban Fiction I believe its more so because of the uniqueness of the work itself. Urban Fiction is not just a genre, but it’s a different way of writing. So whereas one person can write about Blacks and for Blacks and never be looked at as an Urban Fiction writer, the same may not be true for someone else because their styles are different.

(Also, because reading is a HUGE part of writing, people tend to write how they read, what they experienced (or experience) in everyday life, and what they’re most knowledgeable or passionate about.)