It Was Written

There are a few things that I hold to be sacred: Lakers basketball, Soul music, good vodka, great movies, smart television and literature. I’m offended when the sanctity of any of those listed is compromised, because I believe them to be pillars of our culture and much of my life has been shaped around them. So imagine how my blood boils when I’m in a bookstore and see a James Baldwin classic like “Go Tell It on the Mountain” sandwiched between titles like Stick N Move or Candy Girl 3? Those titles belong next to each other about as much as NeNe Leakes belongs at a table with Michelle Obama.

Like thousands of others I was exposed to Donald Goines’ gritty accounts of ghetto life as a teen and was completely enthralled by his detail, the way he painted a picture of the depravity and filled my library with his catalog. From Goines I moved on to Robert Beck aka “Iceberg Slim” and eventually landed in Chester Himes’ collection with If He Hollers Let Him Go and Yesterday Will Make You Cry. All three of these writers belonged to a certain genre, but their writing styles and life experience distinguished their books from one another, thus given range and diversity to their stories. They had another thing in common; they were all criminals, so there was an authenticity lent to their stories, as was the case of Claude Brown and his classic, Manchild in the Promised Land. Manchild was an intimate portrait of the writer as a young man and an addict and in larger context, Harlem, as it transitioned from a community to a hood. As much as it was autobiographical, it was also a true cautionary tale of what life looks like when you choose dereliction as opposed to scholarship and progression.

Their transitions from the penitentiary to the pen was not solely based on what they lived and witnessed, but also a skill they had largely ignored as they attempted to feed themselves through criminal activity. Writing only became an option after the realization that crime wasn’t going to be paying much longer. Sadly, the fact that they had talent is overlooked as many former criminals are channeling their inner Goines and penning their own tales from the hood. The problem is, many of them don’t know how to write and are simply throwing words together to concoct these nihilistic yarns filled with violence, sex and grandiose street dreams.

It’s become the thing to do, it’s the new hustle. So now all the boys in the hood (ladies too) are calling themselves authors and peddling their self-published books for $15 (prices may vary). That’s the hook. The costs of self-publishing is so low that anyone who’s sold crack or Girl Scout cookies thinks they can put a few words together and make a few bucks. The trouble is, it’s working. It’s working because not only have we dumbed down music and TV/Film, but literature is being assaulted. These so-called authors are piecing together recollections and poorly crafted fantasies, and then present them to a culture that embraces anti-intellectualism.

Every nigga that wrote a book, ain’t write a book!
It’s not so bad that adults are eating this crap up, but they’re feeding it to their young, who in turn gobble it up and it becomes gospel. I hear folks say, “As long as they’re reading” all of the time and it makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit each time I hear it. Your kids are in competition against students who read Chaucer, Frost, Lorde, Shakespeare and others by 8th grade, but we’re so far gone that we’re cool with them reading “authors” that can’t get the correct usage of “then and than” down. Then we want to raise holy hell when standardized test scores show your child is reading on a fourth grade level. Talking about lowering the bar...

They say I’m nice with metaphors, but these are similes...
Street Fiction is like the crackbaby of the Blaxploitation film era; playing into every stereotype imagined under the guise of empowerment and just as poorly produced, but widely consumed. The literary value is non-existent and the themes redundant: the struggle, the come-up, and the fall, littered with your requisite gun battles, big money flips, sex scenes and treacherous crews. It is not escapism, as some will claim, because it sensationalizes what many of us can find right outside of our doors and glamorizes it to the point of attraction for many misguided minds.

The main problem is that Street Fiction, when the writer has taken the time to hone his craft, is necessary and these stories have their place in the conversation. However, so many people are disrespecting the art of the written word and turning out these books that it’s getting ridiculous. Just because you’re within arm’s length of a keyboard doesn’t make you a writer, just makes you a nigga with a laptop. The genre could improve greatly if these “authors” enrolled in their local community college and learned the fundamentals; take the time to learn syntax, transitional phrase, subject-verb agreement, all of those things taught in third grade. Then, enroll in a creative writing course and learn how to develop characters completely, descriptive writing techniques and how to fully explore an idea.

But you’re going to continue to buy these books and more and more people are going to become authors, reflecting the quality of our education and the deplorable condition of our community. Plus, I’m going to be called a hater and someone’s gonna tell their favorite “author” what I said...just pronounce my name correctly! Now runteldat!

You’re only a customer...