Monday, August 6, 2007

this may offend you

As a favor to a friend, I wrote up a review of a street fiction title, Flip Side of the Game by Tu-Shonda Whitaker. Figured I might as well get some extra mileage out of it.

From the back of the book:
Look out...cause here she comes!

Stepping to the forefront, award-winning author, Tu-Shonda Whitaker, proudly presents Miz Thing herself, "Vera Wright-Turner!"

"Don't hate the playah, hate the game!" is the anthem of this gold diggin' queen. Miz Thing is funny, passionate, and shoots it straight from the soul, as she welcomes you into her life of trials, tribulations, and triumphs of love.

After all, when she first greeted the scene, she was a newborn found in a plastic bag, crying in a trash dump, addicted to crack with a note that read: "Please forgive me, my mother's only fifteen." Well, that must've been a joke because, Vera's mother, also known as Rowanda Wright, is a chicken head that Vera Wants no part of. That is, until she meets six feet tall and deliciously fine Dr. Taj Bennett, who takes Vera on a journey that is one to be reckoned with; and this is just the beginning!

So, sit back, relax, and get yourself a drink or two, 'cause Vera has some Spike Lee-Hollywood-Oprahfied shit for ya ass!

You will soon discover that Flip Side of the Game is the story that the literary world has been waiting on!
My review:
For Vera Wright-Turner, life and love have been nothing but a "ma' fuckah". The first eight years of her life were spent surviving the Lincoln Street Projects with her mother and grandmother, both drug addicts whose first priority was their next high. Vera has seen and been through a lot, so, as she puts it, she "was born grown". She has every reason to cut ties with her past and all the people in it—no matter how good their intentions may be.

Now, life is good. Vera has a tight circle of girlfriends, her Aunt Cookie and Uncle Boy, and the education and beauty shop paid for with her tried and true gold diggin' ways. She's had enough hard times, she has learned the hustle, and has no intentions of getting played by love and "stuck on stupid". Vera comes to realize, though, that no matter what distance she puts between herself and life in the projects, it's never very far away. When she meets Dr. Taj Bennett, her ways and plays get called into question. She has to decide if she's willing and able to face her past, take a chance on love, and risk ending up on the flip side of a game she thinks she has mastered.

Some of the transitions and turns of phrase in the book are a little awkward, but Vera's humor and the descriptions of her exploits and experiences definitely make this worth reading. Tu-Shonda Whitaker delivers a great story line, dialogue, and characters with both wit and grit.

While not all street fiction books are the same, they are often very graphic and gritty depictions of street life: violence & crime; drug dealing & use; gold digging & hustling. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Also not for those who have low tolerance for shoddy grammar, misused or misspelled words, and mangled idioms. [These due in large part to the "big" publishers not signing street fiction authors...who then self-publish their work sans perusal by a careful editor. If their are never erors in you're writing, than throw the first rock.] In comparison to a couple other titles I've read, Flip Side is actually pretty tame on both fronts. Even so, I have to share just a couple gems from its pages:
"...he had my fat ass stretched out like the hum of a Negro spiritual." (pg. 13)

" 'What is wrong wit ya'll niggahs?' Aunt Cookie said, slightly drunk, but trying to maintain her composer.'" (pg. 166)
If you find these examples too repulsive or distracting, you won't likely enjoy this book. I enjoyed this book. Once I got settled into the vernacular, the spelling and grammar didn't phase me much. Think big picture.

The primary audience for this book and others in the genre is African American women, but in correctional facilities, street lit is a huge hit with just about anyone who can get their hands on it. Men who admittedly never picked up a book when they weren't incarcerated chew through several of these titles a week. I purchased Flip Side of the Game and its sequel, Game Over, was because I wanted to see what the frenzy was about. At the time, there was a huge waiting list of guys wanting to read them, and copies in the library's catalog had all been checked out and lost—no doubt still circulating, but from hand to hand, outside of the controlled checkout system.

With self-publication, then word of mouth, and now a change of heart by large publishers, this genre has exploded within the last few years. There's been some controversy about it within the black community. I've also heard varying opinions from librarians who work in corrections about whether or not incarcerated individuals should be allowed to read these books because they are believed to promote a negative lifestyle or because the books are checked out and never returned.

My opinions on the library stuff (because cause you know you want 'em):

First, people live their lives the way they do for reasons beyond any book's influence. As lives evolve, tastes and interests evolve.

Second, supply the material that people want to read and supply enough to reasonably keep up with demand. Create scarcity and you get hoarding. Provide enough of what people want, and they might actually think that you value them, might actually return books because there are enough to go around, and might actually feel like they have a place in libraries.

Have you read any street/urban/hip-hop fiction? No? Well, at least give it a try or Erin "will do a Rick James pimp slap summersault on yo' ass! Understand?" (p. 6)


Leila said...

hey Erin, this is amazing. Never really heard of street fiction, though I've read my share of bad writing published by small presses. How are these titles distributed other than libraries?

erin said...

There are a couple of publishers that began with one author self-publishing. Triple Crown Publications is a biggie that was established by Vickie Stringer, author of one of the first books to put this genre on the map, Let That Be the Reason.

Teri Woods is also a big name, and considered one of the forerunners. Another classic is Coldest Winner Ever by Sister Souljah. Hmmmmm...all black women who got tired of being put off and took matters into their own hands. Amazing is right!

I'm not sure what book sellers are in your area, but you can find these books in Borders, B&N, and on Amazon. Because of the popularity, the big publishers are creating imprints and signing on more and more authors from this genre.