Esther’s Space- journey through my life

March 12, 2008

Paper, paper…the only thing that rhymes is caper?

Filed under: ENG 597: Literature in the Information Age — estherspace @ 10:26 pm

I am sorry to be putting you through my musings, but, hey, I read yours, too. As you all know, I am currently interested in the concept and realization of the “urban novel” (aka ghetto fiction, black books, urban tales, hood books, gangsta lit, hip-hop fiction). I want to know who’s reading these books, what attracts them to them, why they continue to read them (because one tends to lead directly to another), who writes them, why are they written, who has a problem with them, what problems they have, and what impact they are having on society/academia/the Book. I think I could go on. Obviously, I’ve got a lot to chew through here. I already began thinking about the intentions of one particular novel, and the urban novel’s position as a dessiminator of literature to previously alienated social/cultural audiences (perhaps) here, if you need to review.

As for the list we were compiling yesterday, I’ve narrowed it down to a few categories that I would like to address, namely:

  1. role of the reader
  2. alienated readership
  3. role of literature
  4. quality
  5. multiplicity of literatures
  6. role/responsibilities of The Book
  7. who owns/controls The Book
  8. reader response theory

Obviously, since I’m not working on my Ph.D., I have an overabundance of interests problem. I can’t figure out how to narrow this field while still doing justice to my topic (as in, I don’t want to leave anything out).

I do know that I want to work specifically with Sister Souljah’s novel, The Coldest Winter Ever. I’ve read it, and, since Sister Souljah is a black activist, there is a good amount of information re: her impetus for writing the book, which is not as available with novels such as Sheisty or G-Spot: An Urban Erotic Tale (all of which are available at your local public library, if you are so inclined). Admittedly, I do not read a lot of urban fiction. Honestly, TCWE is as close as ‘urban fiction’ can come to ‘general fiction’ without being classified as such. I recognize my own valuing system at work here, and I am concerned that it will have an undue influence on my reading of the novel.

With TCWE, I noticed that, based on Amazon reviews of the book (great site to cite, right?), the way many readers read the book is not necessarily along the lines of the intentions that Souljah had for the book. Souljah is a college-educated girl from the projects, and according to her website, she has spent a great deal of time travelling through Europe (which the very act of will ‘culture’ you, right?), and “Today, Souljah is a 21st Century multidimensional woman.” My point is, perhaps she is asking her readers to read in the academic way she has been trained to read, but they have not been educated in, causing them to focus largely on the plot, rather than implications the text may be making.

Any suggestions about which of the above-listed topics would be most appropriate (and interesting) for a study of the place of the urban novel in whichever cultural/social/environmental/ideological world you choose?

And now, since you’ve been such good readers, here is the music video (I guess that’s what you would call it) for “The Final Solution; Slavery’s Back in Effect” from Souljah’s hip-hop days. This video alone makes me want to go into race studies. If that’s a field.

If the above link doesn’t access the video directly, the website is:

(and I know that it still works there, despite what lies the above link tells you)



  1. Wow Esther, you have a lot of stuff on your mind. I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to leave out anything, but don’t think about it that way. Think of it as giving all the topics potential to be their own research papers. Personally, I took interest in alienated readership when reading through your list. Maybe you could focus on one sub-genre like gangsta lit and focus on alienation and a specific novel. Whatever you choose to do, I’m sure it will turn out awesome.

    Comment by Allison — March 17, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  2. Man, why do I have to follow Allison?!! I can’t believe I never thought of this before, but holy cripes! The alienated reader and urban fiction! Yes!! There’s a paper for you. Think about the ways that mainstream white middle class culture has moved to continually appropriate and de-politicize black culture. Is urban fiction the last hold out? Are we so alienated by it that we can’t appropriate it? How does it achieve that? Love it!!

    Okay, fewer exclamation points now. I took a look at the first two pages of reviews (which is nothing, given how many there are). There are a couple of other trends in the reviews that are interesting: first, a number of people comment on how fast, and how many times they themselves read the book, and also how many people they know read it. So, one of the things to be attentive to is that this book promotes the act of reading, in and of itself, in a community with high rates of illiteracy. Second, there seem to be a number of claims to truth value–as in, I read it because it’s true; I read it because it teaches me how to deal with girls like this; I wanted to slap that girl upside her head (visceral reaction to reality of character, I imagine). So, the readership here is reacting to this book on a level that is related to representation (a note that Souljah herself mentions).

    From a cursory glance, I’d say that the readers are getting something out of this book that they’re not getting from Anna Karenina, and they’re not even getting from Toni Morrison. That might speak to a renegotiation of the idea of “quality”—as in, this is a book that registers as one of quality in this readership. The definition of that, however, might contrast significantly with that of literary scholars. What does that tell us about ourselves, as well as this book?

    Comment by kmiddleton — March 23, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

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