RCLS Home page | DONATE TO RCLS | Library Catalog
Skip to main content

Street Lit, Urban Lit resources: General Information

Definition

Street literature may go by many names:

  • Street lit or fiction
  • Urban lit or fiction
  • Black books
  • Hip-hop lit or fiction
  • Ghetto lit
  • Gangsta lit

Contemporary Street Literature can be defined as a literary genre "where the stories, be they fiction or non-fiction, are consistently set in urban, inner-city enclaves where city dwellers experience risky lifestyles that are often violent and/or illegal in nature, for the purpose of survival. Street Literature of yesteryear and today, by and large, depicts dystopian tales about the daily lives of people living in lower income city neighborhoods. This characteristic spans historical timelines, varying cultural identifications, linguistic associations, and various format designations."  Vanessa Irvin Morris, M.S.L.S., Ed.D.

Characteristics

Street lit looks at the lives of people living in lower-income city neighborhoods.The stories present realistic characters in realistic environments, often focusing on the characters' everyday lives and their relationships with other characters and their urban environment. This focus on realism makes the books easy for readers to understand and relate to or understand.

As the name "urban fiction" implies, the stories take place in large cities, including New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Tokyo. Not all street lit is based in the U.S., and it includes a variety of cultural, social, political, geographical, and economic aspects. Street lit set in New Orleans will differ greatly from that based in Tokyo, but they will have similar issues.

Other common characteristics of street lit include:

  • fast-paced stories, often including flashbacks
  • vivid descriptions of the urban environment, including a lack of societal resources, poor housing, and poverty
  • the street itself as a place where action occurs or as a cause of action, like characters meeting on the street to conduct business
  • protagonists are often young adults, often in the age range 19-25
  • a focus on relationships, including surviving abuse, betrayal by friends, plans to take revenge
  • a focus on name-brand items or accumulation of tangible wealth, like with bling or name-brand shoes
  • surviving street life and overcoming the street lifestyle, trying to move up and out of the streets

Since street lit can blend with other genres, there may also be aspects such as:

  • romance or erotica
  • mystery
  • science fiction
  • gritty themes like drug use, domestic violence, or stereotyped gender roles

 Julie Humphrey from Durham Technical Community College

Documentary

Professional Resources

Language

Most contemporary street lit focuses on African Americans and so often includes African American Vernacular English (AAVE), hip-hop slang, and American regional dialects. For this reason, the way characters from New York speak in a book may differ from characters in another book based in New Orleans or Los Angeles.

Titles of these novels often have more than one meaning. Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever, for example, refers to the season of winter as well as Winter the character. Similarly, Shannon Holmes's B-More Careful can stand for "be more careful" but also refers to "B-More" as another name for the city of Baltimore.