Call for Papers on Street Lit

Call for Papers on Street Lit


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Not only will we give voice to the competing sides in the debate around street lit’s artistic

validity, but we will also chronicle street lit’s history as a sub-genre within African-American

letters about urban spaces and its contribution to current understandings of mass incarceration,

poverty and violence in America, and the market for books by and about black people.



Call for Papers on Street Lit


9 June 2012


The Takeover

Street Lit Subjects, Controversy, Commercial Phenomenon & Art

Keenan Norris, Editor


“First… there is a young, mass, black reading audience of such size that a black author can write for it exclusively without giving a thought to being highbrow or literary or to crossing-over for whites. Second, the taste of the masses is distinct from, and troubling to, the taste of the elite in large measure because the elite no longer control the direction and purpose of African-American literature; it is now, more than ever, a market-driven literature, rather than an art form patronized and promoted by cultured whites and blacks as it had been in the past. The fact that blacks started two of the publishing houses for these books, Urban Books and Triple Crown, underscores the entrepreneurial, populist nature of this type of race literature: by black people for black people.”—Gerald Early, “What is African-American Literature?”

“Mainstream publishing houses contort themselves to acquire books that glorify wanton sex, drugs and crime. This fiction, known as street-lit or hip-hop fiction, most often reinforces the stereotypical trademarks African Americans have fought hard to overcome. “—Bernice McFadden, “Black Writers in a Ghetto of the Publishing Industry’s Making”

You already know the topic and the controversy. We want to go beyond it.

THE TAKEOVER will assemble a collection of scholarly essays, articles, and interviews in order to develop the discussion around this emergent literature. Our anthology will present a wide-ranging exploration of the topic. This anthology seeks to provide more extensive and diverse opinion, information and critical analysis than any critical work on street lit has thus far. Not only will we give voice to the competing sides in the debate around street lit’s artistic validity, but we will also chronicle street lit’s history as a sub-genre within African-American letters about urban spaces and its contribution to current understandings of mass incarceration, poverty and violence in America, and the market for books by and about black people.



Deadline for Abstracts (250-750 words): August 10, 2012

Deadline for Complete Papers (4000-7000 words): November 15, 2012

Nov.-Jan.: Review chapters, request revision

Full manuscript: February 2013

Submit full manuscript to publisher: April 2013


*Please include contact info and full list of credentials with all submissions

Proposals should articulate a clear critical question in relation to a set of primary and secondary texts. Completed abstracts are due August 10 and can be sent to . If you must send a hard copy, please email me directly beforehand. The plan is to finalize the manuscript in March and submit it to Scarecrow Press no later than April 2013. I have received strong initial interest from Scarecrow Press and have every reason to believe it will be accepted for publication on this timeline.

Possible Topics (others are very much welcome):

Market analysis: Has street lit actually taken over the market for black literature?

A definition of the genre (writers should consult Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit)

A history of the genre from its origins to the current day

A description of street lit’s appeal, including reasons for its appealing, and to whom it appeals

Comparative analysis of the street lit genre to other literary genres

Comparative analysis of specific street lit text(s) to other works in African-American literature

Street lit’s relationship to hip-hop on the level of subject matter and/or business and marketing

Major street lit authors and their works

Major street lit publishers

Why street lit is loved and why it is castigated

Authors, novels, memoirs and poetry of interest

 (the following are suggestions, not constraints)

Vanessa Irvin Morris, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature (in particular, a critical response to or elaboration upon the history of street lit that Morris maps out)

Sister Souljah, No Disrespect and Midnight: A Gangster Love Story

“Basic Economics” by Tommy Bottoms

50 Cent, From Pieces to Weight

Kenji Jasper, Snow

Terri Woods’ trilogies: Dutch III: International Gangster True to the Game III, True to the Game: First of a Trilogy

Colson Whitehead, Zone One: A Novel

Nathan Heard, Howard Street

[Nathan C. Heard is considered one of the forefathers of “street literature”. Heard’s first novel Howard Street, published in 1968, depicts the underbelly of inner-city life of Black America. Howard Street sold more than 1 million copies. Heard also wrote five other novels in the Genre. Nathan C. Heard started writing while serving a seven year sentence for armed robbery at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. After his release, Heard taught creative writing at Rutgers and appeared in several “Blaxpoitation” films. During the 1970’s Heard wrote a column for the New York Times. Nathan Heard passed away in 2004 at the age of 67.]

David Bradley, South Street

[David Bradley is better known for his novel The Chaneysville Incident; it’s too bad South Street has all but faded into obscurity behind the other book, because on its own, South Street is an incisive, perceptive, and devastatingly funny novel about life on the street. “South Street” takes place in Philadelphia and introduces us to Adlai Stevenson Brown, a young black man trying to make his mark as a writer; tired of being kept by his upper-class girlfriend, he leaves the rarefied air of her high-rise luxury apartment and heads for the down-and-dirty environment of the ghetto, where life is lived raw on the street. The locus of much of the action is Lightnin’ Ed’s Bar and Grill, presided over by Leo the bartender, a benevolent 300-pound Buddha who keeps with a pool cue behind the bar just in case, addicted to soap operas and the losing Phillies, fending off the perpetual advances of Big Betsy, an aging hooker way past her prime.]

Keenan Norris 


Keenan Norris holds an M.F.A. from Mills College and is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Riverside, writing about urban literature and the publishing industry. He teaches African-American Literature, Basic Skills courses and promotes the AFFIRM program at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, California


His work, both fiction and non-fiction, has been published in the Santa Monica, Green Mountains and Evansville Reviews, as well as ChickenBones Literary Journal, Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California’s Inland Empire and Columbia University Press’s upcoming 24/7 Believe: Watching The Wire. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.—connotationpress

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

*   *   *   *   *


By Kenji Jasper

Nicknamed for his snowflake-shaped birthmark, the title character of Jasper’s taut, brutal inner-city character study is trying hard to preserve a shred of purity and decency, but the mean streets of Washington, D.C., make it a tough proposition. A murdering thief for hire, Snow manages to keep just out of reach of the cops, and of his archrival Kamau. Luscious Adele and baby Kayi are what he comes home to, and what he wants to quit for, if he can manage both to make a big enough score, and to get out of the business cleanly. Authentic and cinematically convincing details (a poker game puts “local weed and weight money, high four-figure money, in the middle”) underpin Snow’s inner struggle as, in flashback, he tells the story of his street education; they help move the latest from Jasper (Dakota Grand) beyond casual urban nihilism. But it’s Snow’s voice—at once sardonic, tough, tender and full of a bravado that can’t quite hide the cold fear underneath—that propels the novel forward.— Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

From Pieces to Weight

Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens

By 50 Cent

The rap superstar known as 50 Cent was born Curtis James Jackson III in 1976. His mother, a smalltime drug dealer, was murdered when he was eight, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing her profession. 50 Cent is unflinchingly honest about his mother, his drug past and just about everything else in this raw, literate memoir chronicling his rise from Jamaica, Queens, to the top of the Billboard charts. In his neighborhood, recalls 50 Cent, the only people with money were the drug dealers: “They were my role models.” By 11, he’d made his first sale. Over the next decade, 50 Cent evolved from a hustler selling capsules of crack cocaine (“pieces”) to a kingpin purchasing by the kilo (“weight”). With money came girls, clothes, cars—and trouble. 50 Cent describes spraying bullets at rivals, outrunning police on his motorcycle and waking up to a drug raid on his house. He avoided jail by serving time in a boot camp–style incarceration center, which did nothing but turn him into a “stronger, meaner, and more focused criminal.”—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

Midnight: A Gangster Love Story

By Sister Souljah

Souljah’s follow-up to her bestselling novel, The Coldest Winter Ever, is another gritty coming-of-age tale, picking up the story of Midnight (a character in Coldest Winter) as he tries desperately to navigate American culture, Brooklyn streets and the dicey business of growing up. The novel begins as seven-year-old Midnight and his pregnant mother, Umma, are forced to leave their privileged life in Sudan for a hardscrabble American existence. Midnight spends his formative years in Brooklyn guiding and translating for his loyal, loving and talented mother, helping her get a factory job while encouraging her to start a clothing line. Eventually, Midnight starts working at a Chinatown fish shop, finds love, joins a dangerous hustler’s basketball league and tries to disentangle his ambivalent feelings toward romance, family and personal honor. Souljah’s sensitive treatment of her protagonist is honest and affecting, with some realistic moments of crisis. Unfortunately, a slack plot and slow pacing cause serious bloat, and Souljah’s distinctive prose is woefully unpolished.— Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

Zone One

By Colson Whitehead

In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One—but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety—the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives. Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world.

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The White Masters of the World

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 10 June 2012




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