Report on, Phat* Fiction: Engaging Hip-Hop Literature in the Public Library (*phat=popular, hip and tempting fiction) session at ALA

I was looking forward to attending this PLA sponsored session at ALA and definitely wasn’t disappointed. I was familiar with some of the faces of the panelists (authors and librarians) but not all and walked away with feeling excited on learning more about all the resources they mentioned.
Much of the beginning of the session was focused around a discussion from the panelists on how they define ‘urban fiction’. Several authors were surprised to learn that they were writing what was being referred to as urban fiction as they didn’t necessarily set out to write it. As Kia Dupree said, she wrote what she knew. Some of the definitions from the panelists included:

• The definition itself is constantly morphing
• Stories that take place in urban environments
• Entertaining and fast-paced
• Realistic and escapist
• Subgenres are ‘chicklit’ and ‘streetlit’
• Usually contain direct comments about the system
• Speaks about experiences of people of color
• The genre that ‘gets jiggy’

Several of the authors said that at times the labeling of their work as ‘urban fiction’ was problematic. Author Coe Booth felt that when her books (Tyrell and Kendra) were highlighted in an urban fiction display they were being segregated from other books. While she (and others) said that it’s not a bad thing to include their books in such displays, but not to forget other opportunities such as displays on love and/or relationships as an example of a topic that libraries might frequently celebrate and are a common thread running throughout many urban fiction books.

The presentation was filled with resources and author recommendations. The presentation, panelist names, and some of the links are posted here:

Other recommendations for urban fiction from the panelists included:

What Librarians Say About Street Lit (School Library Journal, 2009)

Street Fight: Welcome to the World of Urban Lit (School Library Journal, 2008)

Inner City Teens DO Read (Vanessa J. Morris, 2007)

Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit by NYPL Librarian Megan Honig (February 2011)

Favorite authors of the panelists:
Tracy Brown

Shannon Holmes


Young Diamond books

Classics such as Native Son, Maggie, Girl of the Streets, and books by Dickens

Web Sites:
YA Literature Review (Simmons College)

The Brown Bookshelf

Street Fiction

Color Online

Urban Books

Miss Domino

YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list

Book Reviewer: Library Journal’s “Word on the Street Lit” (2008-2010)

Booklists: Street Lit for Public Libraries School Libraries (2005-2008)

Published by

Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

3 thoughts on “Report on, Phat* Fiction: Engaging Hip-Hop Literature in the Public Library (*phat=popular, hip and tempting fiction) session at ALA”

  1. I think there are some great points here. I read a lot of YA books & run a teen book club at my local public library. I think having the real life descriptions of characters who are young & have ‘had it tough’ is a great way to reach out to young readers about their own experiences.

    Thanks for the resources!

  2. Thanks for this write-up, Kelly!

    It is *very* important to draw a distinction between two very different sets of books here.

    1) The genre called “street lit” or “urban fiction.”

    2) Realistic young adult fiction with African American characters, urban settings, and themes of street life and struggle.

    Though these sets of books share some characteristics, such as urban settings, predominantly African American casts of characters, and a focus on the milieu of the streets, they offer very different reading experiences:

    *Street lit is plot-driven and most action is exterior.
    *Realistic YA fiction is character-driven and focuses on emotion and internal experience.

    *Street lit shows characters who do “whatever it takes” to survive, sometimes suffering consequences like death or imprisonment.
    *Realistic YA fiction shows characters for whom “doing the right thing” is important, and choices outside of this matrix result in negative internal and external consequences.

    *Street lit offers the escapist pleasures of voyeurism and wish fulfillment (and, for many readers, the ability to engage with familiar landscapes and experiences at a safe emotional distance).
    *Realistic YA fiction, with its focus on internal experience and struggle, offers a much more painful and emotionally difficult read.

    Though there are exceptions to any rule, offer Walter Dean Myers’s Monster to a teen looking for K’wan’s Gangsta, and you’ll see that readers have a sense of the difference between these two sets of books.

    If we can make the distinction between street lit and realistic YA fiction and truly treat street lit, a.k.a. urban fiction, as its own genre, a lot of the confusion and frustration around books being labeled urban fiction will disappear.

  3. Kelly,

    I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the discussion at this year’s conference! The creator of the PHAT Fiction Panel, Susan McClelland has received allot of positive feedback and requests to join the wikispace at We hope we can continue the PHAT Fiction discussion at next year’s conference in New Orleans.

    K.C. Boyd, Librarian
    2010 PHAT Fiction Panel Discusion

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