Earlier this week, a friend asked me what I thought about questions raised in this article about urban fiction. To sum up: libraries’ urban fiction (mostly African-American fiction) sections are growing, as are the numbers of enthusiastic black readers who borrow from them. Some writers and readers within the African-American community find the genre (also sometimes called street lit or black literature) “embarrassing” and feel that it perpetuates stereotypes. Others worry that segregating blacks to a specific section in the library or bookstore recalls uglier times and promotes the idea of separate cultures, separate literatures. But other writers, readers, and librarians are thrilled to see so many people in their community reading. They see these books as an escape, an education, and a gateway to other genres of literature.
This is a charged and complicated issue: by creating separate spaces and categories for genres like “chick lit” and “urban lit,” are libraries, bookstores, and publishers encouraging readers to segregate or populate? Are they ghetto-izing readers or opening doors for them? And should Toni Morrison novels be shelved with street lit?