by Khristan Antoine
When Cupcake Brown talks about her mother’s addiction to drugs and her kids being taken away and placed under foster care, I related it to my life and friends I have lost because of this same issue. Books like “A Piece of Cake” by Cupcake Brown — urban literature — make me smile, laugh, cry, and see my life in a different perspective.
I enjoy reading urban fiction books (or street lit) because they express fictional situations that are related to what happens on a daily basis in Oakland and portray people interacting with each other realistically. No aliens or vampires for me, please. They’re just too ugly and non-realistic.
Dialogue fuels urban fiction. I can relate to and understand the dialogue because I see and hear most of the things described in these books or memoirs like “A Piece of Cake.”
I have nothing against mystery thrillers or romances, though they tend to be too predictable. The closest novel to urban fiction is a classic, “Black Boy” a memoir by Richard Wright, which expresses so many of the experiences and characters that I see in my daily life: he is shuffled back and forth between his sick mother, his fanatically religious grandmother and various aunts and uncles. As he ventures into the white world to find jobs, he encounters extreme racism and brutal violence, and some of the things he expresses I related to and understand deeply.
In her book, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature, Vanessa Morris notes that some”classics” could be considered the urban fiction or “street lit” of its day. Books like Stephen Crane’s Maggie, A Girl of the Streets or even Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. So urban fiction is not just for African Americans or Latinos, but part of a long tradition of stories from diverse cultural and ethnic experiences. Just more readable — because of the street language — than Shakespeare.
Like Richard Wright, author of “Black Boy”, who writes about the failure of his environment to support and nourish him, I have found a literature that is appealing to me as well as easy to understand. Urban literature allows a story to be told without the excessive use of an extensive vocabulary. A language that is not often used and practiced in the streets of Oakland. I am not able to connect with a story in a deeper way if I cannot understand a word the author is using.
“It was not a matter of believing or disbelieving what I read, but of feeling something new, of being affected by something that made the look of the world different,” -Richard Wright, “Black Boy.”