Esther’s Space- journey through my life

March 31, 2008

If the world was a perfect place, I would eloquently argue…

Filed under: ENG 576: Literature in the Information Age — estherspace @ 12:06 am

That’s kind of as far as my eloquence goes in terms of articulating what I want to will write about. So, as far as it can be organized, here is what I have:

Topic: urban fiction

The premise I’m beginning with: The genre of urban fiction (or any of its alternate titles) is hugely popular among a very specific audience, and, for lack of better language, I would describe the audience as not ‘white-‘ or ‘mainstream ideals-‘ identified. There is evidence of both habitual readers and generally reluctant readers reading this genre, voraciously, and, while an urban novel might draw a reader into the habit of reading, it generally does not lead the reader into other genres, though he/she might begin reading much more often, selecting from the urban fiction genre. The urban novel has been a phenomenon that no one really expected to be as successful as it has been, with lots of money being made, and urban novels beginning to invade and overflow the ‘more respectable’ authors of the African American fiction section in bookstores.

The argument to be made:  What I want to discuss is the ability for this genre to so alienate academia and readers who would be described as white-identified or adhering to the hegemony of a traditional American education system that it (the genre) has created a ‘protected space’ around it, protection from appropriation into the language, conventions, and criticism of the (largely white) academia. This isolation allows the authors and publishers to explore variations on the way stories are written, why they’re written, and who they’re written for, and readers are given the opportunity to (and they do) ‘make meaning’ of the text in ways that would be considered unacceptable in a formal educational setting or environment where such criticism or analysis takes place.

Aspects I’m still working on:  Is it that academia just doesn’t want to appropriate this genre?  Is it the same kind of ‘trash’ that romance novels are, making it superfluous or dismissable in the eyes of those who make such decisions?  Or, now that we have postmodern theory, is it placed on some sort of continuum of literacy and reading and meaning-making that makes it important, in at least some way?

Number two, what is it that protects this genre from academic literary study?  Is it the ‘sex, drugs, and drama’ that the genre is built upon?  But none of those themes are alien to the canon.  Is it the largely urban settings?  Well, I’m pretty sure Dr. Rice has taught classes specifically on ‘the city’ in novels, so that can’t be it.  Is the problem then not with what urban novels have, but instead with what they are missing?  And, how could I suggest what they are missing when there is no handbook outlining the rules of what a novel should be in the year 2008.  Is it all about the fact that the urban novel rarely provides ‘solutions’ to the problems of sex, drugs, or drama, but instead tends to  promote those activities? (alternate moral code)

Number three, language to describe those reading and not reading urban novels.  All ethnicities read and do not read the novels, so what separates the readers and not readers?  From what I’ve gathered (though I’m not sure I could prove much of it), education level, socio-economic status, geographic distance to urban centers, and, to a degree, non-white racial status all tend to inform who reads these novels, but none of these characteristics are exclusive of readers or non-readers.  But, not everyone is reading them, and I’m not sure how to indicate the split.

Major problem I’ve run into:  It’s pretty darn hard to find articles discussing the alienation of academia in academic journals.  I’ve found a bit in education circles discussing the challenges of minorities feeling alienated from the  traditional texts used in classrooms, but not so much of literary scholars discussing their feelings about the urban novel.  I’m afraid that this paper might  require a lot of conjecture, which is certainly a dangerous thing that I’m not willing to do.

Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.


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