Urban Fiction, Its Scope, and Subgenres
Just to be academic, I figured I'd ask some questions about what you all think Urban Fiction means. In fact, I don't think we need to answer such questions: anything goes, and genre classification is just a label, maybe useful for marketing or something, and not much else. But in terms of trends, I've been wondering how strong the trend has been to sort of merge Urban with Romance and or Erotica. My first thought, when I hear Urban, is Street Lit as typified by Iceberg Slim. His writing has some nasty sex in it, but I would say it's pretty anti-erotic and anti-romantic... it's a dehumanizing hell. But I think something like that is a rarity today, and the focus is increasingly on relationships, sometimes messed up ones, sometimes good ones, but usually ones with some promise to them. So anyway, I don't know, what do you think.
If I was going to guess, I'd say today an Urban Fiction novel can be almost anything so long as it addresses some part of the experience of black folks in urban settings, in a real-world or semi-real-world mode... "fantasy" in the soft sense of far-fetched but plausible is possible, but not unicorns and dragons and such. And all of the above could be stretched... I can imagine Chicano Urban Lit, for instance, or similar concerns in a less urban setting.
But then that leaves open further questions such as how much the experience of individual black characters are to be read as archetypal or representative of a shared experience, and to what extent they're free to be specific, personal, unique, and non-generic. And where does "upmarket" urban fiction come in... i.e., when does urban fiction cross over to being less generic and more in line with "general," "contemporary," or "literary" fiction?
P.S., asking questions is obviously easier than answering them!
I would broadly say my take on urban fiction is that it's inner city, street level, type of stories. But not exclusively that. You could take one aspect of what you might call urban fiction and set it somewhere else. From there I try not to pin it down further because it tends to lead to stereotyping characters or situations. And that's unlikely to create original or compelling characters / stories.
There is a crossover that can be seen with other genres that are in similar settings and have similar sorts of characters. I like that. Anything that switches up or challenges the norm for the genre has to be a good thing.
...Anything that switches up or challenges the norm for the genre has to be a good thing.
Fair enough, I'm definitely interested in seeing fiction go in new directions.
Here's another angle: How much do you think Urban fiction is defined as a challenge to the status quo, whether as a cry for justice, criticism of one's own cultural climate, a challenge to conventional morality, or a call to arms? I.e., is Urban Lit dissatisfied and critical, more so than most other genres?
(Books I've read have had as themes: Pimpin' Ain't Easy, And I Really Shouldn't Do It; It's fucked up what we gotta do to get ahead in this life; and we're trapped in a cycle of hurting one another and ourselves when sex becomes about taking and never giving.)
My comparison has always been with hip-hop music. It gives voice to those in society who are more often marginalized by the white mainstream, either as characters or authors. And it's content will be as varied as hip-hop. Some will be about money, parties, and jewelry, and others will be socially conscious. I also think that urban fiction is getting set to go more mainstream, just like hip-hop did.
.... I also think that urban fiction is getting set to go more mainstream, just like hip-hop did.
Ooh, is that a good thing, though? In hip-hop I'd say going mainstream may have been good for some of the artists, but not necessarily for the art. Not that any individual is going to say "no" to a bigger audience and more money when they can get it, but it could have a corrupting influence. For further consideration: For the fringe artist, is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, a small fish in a big pond, or does it make no difference?
Keep in mind that the biggest hip-hop hit of all time is... Gangnam Style (not that I begrudge it.)