I was researching genres today and came across the famous author Nick Chiles’ article, “Their Eyes Were Reading Smut.” I read his arguments and complaints from 2006 about the plight of black literature which, at the time, had been overtaken by the explosive sales of urban lit. While I understand his concerns, my thoughts are this: Nobody, and I mean nobody, can dictate to an entire race or group of readers about what they should or should not read. I mean you can try to tell others what not to read, but it probably won’t do a lot of good.
C’mon. This is America. I was thinking that if ghetto lit never existed, but let’s say, black romance outsold literary fiction, would anyone be screaming about it? Is it the urban lit topic or the writing style that he didn’t like? Or, more importantly is it all about the money? If ghetto lit sold in small numbers, would he have a problem with it then?
First of all, I personally don’t think we have the right to tell others what not to buy. And (no disrespect), but why oh why did Nick list specific urban lit titles in his article? Telling people what not to read only made those individuals want to go out and buy those books even more. People want what they’re not supposed to have. Maybe if he said, “Hey, do NOT read Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s so filthy and nasty, and smutty,” that would have sent droves of people to the bookstores to buy Zora Neale Hurston’s book.
Obviously, publishing urban fiction was a business decision. No would-be author placed a gun against an editor’s head and said, “Either publish my book or I’m gonna pretend like I’m a character in my book and shoot you.” The stuff sold, sells, or whatever it’s doing these days.
I just think it’s naïve to believe that street flavored stories which resonate with certain groups of the African American culture will be ignored. It won’t be ignored. It’s new, evolving, and young folks like to read these stories. It represents their lives, communities, and neighborhoods. Some (like me) read a few street lit books out of curiosity, because it is so different from what we personally know.
Rather than bash ghetto lit, why not invite people to also read the literature of Richard Wright, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison? Allow us to experience both sides of the fence. Let me listen to my jazz, my pop, my gospel, and my R&B. Because to think I’ll only want to listen to Louis Armstrong or Stevie Wonder just isn’t reality.