A New Gateway Drug
The New York Times isn't sure that "urban fiction" is such great stuff:
In one book, the hero spirals toward a violent death dealing drugs on the streets of Laurelton, Queens, witnessing, along the way, a baby ripped apart by bullets. In another, a convict plots the seduction of his prison psychotherapist.So what. Once the reader finds something electrifying, exciting in a library, the chances for lifelong pursuit of reading and writing greatly increases. And that, I think, is good. After all, today's reader of Gangsta Fiction about drugs is about 2 yards away from reading Coleridge, Burroughs, and Hunter Thompson.
And then there’s Angel, a Versace-clad seductress who shoots her boyfriend in the head during sex, stuffs money from his safe into her Louis Vuitton bags and, as she fondles the cash, experiences a sexual frisson narrated in terms too graphic to reproduce here.
All these characters, and the novels they populate, are favorites of Shonda Miller, 35, a devoted library-goer who devours a book a day, enforces a daily hour reading time for her entire family and scours street stands and the Internet for new titles. She also acts as an unofficial guide and field scout for the Queens Library as it builds its collection of a fast-growing genre, written mainly by black authors about black characters and variously known as urban fiction, street lit or gangsta lit.
It’s not the kind of literary fare usually associated with the prim image of librarians. But public libraries from Queens, the highest-circulation library system in the country, to York County in central Pennsylvania, are embracing urban fiction as an exciting, if sometimes controversial, way to draw new people into reading rooms, spread literacy and reflect and explore the interests and concerns of the public they serve.