Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Staff Pick - The Readers' Advisory Guide to Street Literature by Vanessa Morris

Admittedly this is not our typical leisure reading oriented staff pick. The Readers' Advisory Guide to Street Literature (M) by Vanessa Irvin Morris is obviously a reference /professional development book. But it does relate to leisure reading and I personally enjoyed reading it!

This book is part of ALA's Readers' Advisory series, for which RA Gurus Nancy Pearl and Joyce Saricks are series editors. Given the pedigree of those involved, this book definitely has street cred among readers' advisors and librarians.

Street literature has been steadily gaining readership in libraries for many years now. It has been called by many names: such as urban fiction; ghetto fiction; hip-hop lit; gansta-lit; ... but street lit seems to be best fit and the most widely accepted term.

This guide features an excellent forward by street lit author Teri Woods (Dutch (M)), where she highlights the challenges faced by her as an author, and by extension, the genre itself. The main text is written by Vanessa Irvin Morris, a former librarian in Philadelphia and now an ass't professor at Drexel University. You can really tell that she has a true passion for the genre and it's readers!

The book ably describes the history of the genre, highlighting the key titles and authors who where the pioneers, ranging from the memoirs of Donald Goines- Whoreson: the story of a ghetto pimp (M) (1972) to the more recent fiction of Sister Souljah - The Coldest Winter Ever (M) (1999). Morris evens makes a strong case for the inclusion of some literary classics, such as Maggie: a girl of the streets (1893) by Stephen Crane and Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (M)(1722).

The book reveals why readers enjoy street lit. i.e the appeals and how RAs can help readers find their next read. I found the book particularly insightful in terms of the author's discussion of why the genre is more than just entertainment, i.e. that these books also serve to educate, motivate and connect readers. Morris is quite articulate and reading her points of view will help any librarian who is ever faced with justifying the inclusion of street lit in our collections.

The are also practical suggestions for serving younger teen readers, as well as a chapter on building a core collection. There are many related non-fiction reading suggestions provided. Genre sub-genres and crossovers are also highlighted, e.g. "thug-love", which features romantic and often erotic sub-plots, e.g. Wahdia Clark's Thugs and the Women Who Love Them (M).

I endorse this title for professional development among RAs in public libraries, as well as for interested readers looking for insight and direction into the exciting literary world of Street Literature.

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