The following are some of the questions that were submitted to the panelists during the PHAT Fiction Session. If you would like to submit or answer a question below, please send a email to K.C. Boyd - or Susan McClelland - Also, clck the 'discussion' tab located at the top of this page to view the discussions.

PHAT Questions

1.) I'd like for more librarians to read off 'lists'. Many of us come to workshops like these and order titles without reading some of the books. What books do you recommend for middle school, high school and adult readers?

From Vanessa Morris: For a couple of years I maintained two annotated booklists - one list addressed street lit books suitable for school libraries, grades 6-10, and the other list addressed street lit books suitable for YA public library collections. The lists concluded in 2008 when I started reviewing street lit for Library Journal's Word on the Street Lit column.

The lists live. They are available at:
The "Word on the Street Lit" column is still running. It is a monthly column in the electronic newsletter, BookSmack! You can subscribe to BookSmack! via this location: "Word on the Street Lit" covers adult street lit and some months, it will highlight YA pre-pubs.

2.) directed to panelist, Megan Honig
Why don't you consider Coe Booth's, "Tyrell" or "Kendra" street literature. I'm really unclear about the distinction.

From Megan Honig: I just commented on YALSA's write up of the PHAT Fiction panel, and I'm repeating myself here.

Librarians and booksellers have a tendency to confuse two very different sets of books:
1) The genre called “street lit” or “urban fiction.”
2) Realistic young adult fiction with African American characters, urban settings, and themes of street life and struggle.

Though these sets of books share some characteristics, such as urban settings, predominantly African American casts of characters, and a focus on the milieu of the streets, they offer very different reading experiences:

  • Street lit is plot-driven and most action is exterior.
  • Realistic YA fiction is character-driven and focuses on emotion and internal experience.

  • Street lit shows characters who do “whatever it takes” to survive, sometimes suffering consequences like death or imprisonment.
  • Realistic YA fiction shows characters for whom “doing the right thing” is important, and choices outside of this matrix result in negative internal and external consequences.

  • Street lit offers the escapist pleasures of voyeurism and wish fulfillment (and, for many readers, the ability to engage with familiar landscapes and experiences at a safe emotional distance).
  • Realistic YA fiction, with its focus on internal experience and struggle, offers a much more painful and emotionally difficult read.

By this rubric, Tyrell is realistic YA fiction, not street lit. And your readers will agree! The ones looking for high-drama, action-packed shootouts and betrayals will be put off by Tyrell’s painful emotional realism. And the ones who want to engage with a character’s struggles will choose Tyrell over Trust No Man.

3.) directed to the public librarians on the panel -
While the books are highlighted or marketed as urban or street literature, when these books are no longer 'new', are they integrated into the general or YA collections?

From Megan Honig: At New York Public Library, we put the genre label “urban” on books in the street lit genre (and we buy adult street lit titles for both adult and YA sections). Individual branches can decide how to shelve these, but often the street lit titles are shelved separately, and the section where they are shelved is a destination for readers.

4.) Can a white author write authentic street lit? Why or why not?

From Megan Honig: One of the major appeals of the street lit genre is its authenticity. Street lit authors are understood to have direct experience with the kinds of lives and experiences they’re writing about—many street lit books even contain author’s notes about the author’s own life and experiences (and often in these notes, the author attempts to steer readers away from making similar mistakes). And the language of street lit is the language of the streets, including street slang and a vocabulary of popular brands and pop culture icons. So, a white author who had lived the kind of life that gets represented in street lit and spoke the language of the streets could write authentic street lit. The criterion isn't the author's race but the author's relationship to street life.

5.) Does the urban fiction genre glorify the negative stereotypes of Latino/African-American life?

From author Tachelle Wilkes: Some of it does, yet even there is a lesson to be learned. There also exists a segment of urban fiction that has positive connotations. As an author and educator I purposely infuse experiences that young people can relate to and be inspired by.

From Megan Honig: It depends on the book. And the reader! Two readers can look at the same book about a character who becomes rich dealing drugs but ends up in prison, and one reader will see the pleasures of the fast life, while the other will see the character’s downfall.

Often the idea that street lit glorifies negative stereotypes or activities is used to justify keeping it out of library collections for young people. But part of our job as teen librarians is to help teens make sense of the world around them. So the answer isn’t to keep this material out of the library (which wouldn’t actually keep these ideas away from teens) but to use books in this genre as a starting point for conversations about the stereotypes and activities that are reflected there.

6.) As a Young Adult Librarian, many urban fiction novels are not actually age appropriate. Do you feel that the many adult topics are hurtful to the preception of inner city youth and the hip-hop culture in the eyes of both suburban adults and youth as well as urban adults and youth?

From author Tachelle Wilkes: I think this is the perfect opportunity to have book clubs around urban fiction titles so young people, educators and authors can air their thoughts and ideas around the topics presented.

From Megan Honig: YES! to what Tachelle says above.
Also, I wonder what this questioner means by age appropriate. Often street lit books reflect experiences and ideas that adults wish teens didn’t have to deal with, but many teen fans of the genre like it because of the way it “reflects real life.”

As for the perception of inner city youth and hip hop culture… I do think there are some serious misperceptions out there. But our best weapon against this as librarians is to treat all of our patrons with respect and to avoid making assumptions about anyone’s needs (or reading interests!) based on their race or social class. I also find myself doing some guerilla education when staff or patrons make negative comments about street lit—I try to gently suggest that the genre, and what readers get out of it, is more diverse than one might guess.

7.) I'm wondering where do Latino youth fit in? Would books about Latino youth in urban settings be considered street literature? Do these books even exist?

From Vanessa Morris: Yes, they exist. Black Artemis is a well known author of street lit. She was writing in the earlier days of the current renaissance of the genre. Her first novel was Explicit Content (2004). She wrote two more novels, Picture Me Rollin' (2005) and Burned (2006). All her novels have Latina protagonists. Another Latino author that publishes street lit is Jeff Rivera. His 2007 novel, Forever My Lady, is a big success. His works are geared directly towards the YA market. He is not street lit per se' however. I would classify his work in the larger umbrella of urban fiction. I recently parked on my blog, an
annotated link to an online interview with 4 Latino Street Lit authors - Black Artemis, Jeff Rivera, and two other authors. Here is the annotation:

Latinos on Literature (2009) at:
-- Taylor Nix interviews 4 Latino street lit authors, notably Black Artemis & Jeff Rivera

Lastly, an early precursor to current street lit is Piri Thomas' Down These Mean Streets (1967). It is akin to The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), from a Latino perspective. There's a lot of Latino works out there - most of them are memoirs and biographies. Check out these authors: Sexy, Daniel Serrano, and Ivan Sanchez, to name a few.

8.) Do you consider, "The Bond," and "The PACT" by The Three Doctors urban fiction?

From author Tachelle Wilkes: I definitely believe that these titles are a part of urban fiction as well as other categories such as Young Adult fiction. "The Bond" and "The Pact" share authentic experiences of urban life while sending a positive message of fulfilling one's dreams.

From Vanessa Morris: I would say no, they are urban non-fiction - they are biographical works. I would consider them biographies within Street Literature, yes. This is why terms are so important. In my estimation, we can't say they're "urban fiction" because while they may be "urban," the titles are not fiction. But we can say it is "street literature" because while the stories are about street survival, as texts, they are literature. It is clear that we all know that the term "literature" encompasses fiction and non-fiction, thus the term "Street Literature" or "Street Lit" affords a deeper inclusiveness of the stories being told.

9.) How do you get your local schools to supply urban fiction?

From author Tachelle Wilkes: As a teacher I know the difficulties of our youth and how challenging it is to find the right literature to engage young people, this is one of the reasons why I wrote 'Amanda's Ray'. Many times it is up to the principal, head of a department or even teachers themselves to seek out the right books for their students. It is important that our young people read books that they can identify with as well as the classics.

10.) What resources (i.e. booklists, online discussion groups) can a librarian use to help guide urban fiction readers to books outside the urban fiction category? Especially if the librarian doesn't know much about urban fiction?

11.) What language can you use with school administrators, parents, community members to defend your library collection or using urban fiction novels effectively at the middle school level?

12.) Should libraries include urban fiction books in their school or library selection policy?

From author Tachelle Wilkes: I think they should. If the book is quite risky opt to have parents sign permission slips.

13.) What language should I use to persuade parents about the positive benefits of students reading urban fiction?

14.) directed to the public librarians on the panel -

What is your relationship with your school librarian?

From public librarian, D.L. Grant:
My relationship with school librarians is very healthy. They totally get what I am trying to achieve in the community. We feel the need for youngsters in the community to read more. We both agree that everyone likes to read. Even when people say they don't like to read, it is generally because they haven't found the type of reading fare that engages them. We are seeing that urban/street lit titles really grab the younger readers as much as the older ones. I also have a good relationship with high and middle school English teachers. Two middle school teachers are using urban lit to reach out to reluctant readers. An interesting thing happened with one of the middle school English teachers: the students began to fight over the books. Further, they were heard discussing plot! We are doing something right. The other middle school teacher is working on obtaining his MLIS. He and I have agreed to work closer together to help at-risk males at his school. Urban lit is one vehicle we will attempt.

PHAT Statements
To Vanessa Morris:
1.) I love your work with the YA population. I referenced your articles while taking library science classes. Thank You!
R.E. Ashby, New York
From Vanessa Morris: Thank you. Much appreciated!