Last week, while being interviewed by the lovely ladies of Hip-Hop is For Lovers, I was asked if I was okay with the term “urban lit” being used in regard to my novel Guestlist.
At the time, I said that I didn’t have a problem with it. After all, self-published urban lit pioneers like Vickie Stringer, Nikki Turner, and Teri Woods were massive influences on how I put Guestlist together and readied it for he masses.
But not necessarily on the story or how it was written.
And so, after thinking on it a bit more, I have to say that I don’t believe Guestlist is urban lit at all.
I question why it would even be classified as such? Is it because the protagonists are young people of color? So are the main characters in Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, but you wouldn’t peg that as urban lit, would you? Further, while some of the characters in Guestlist are rappers, athletes, and other assorted entertainment industry personalities, there’s no real focus on criminality or violence, which seem to be staples of what we generally classify as or associate with “urban lit.”
I have often aligned Guestlist more with the works of Candace Bushnell, Amy Sohn, and Lauren Wesiberger. Stories about young, professional women trying to find love and meaning in the big city. Or, in other words, chick lit. (Why else do you think I’m reading Cathy Yardley’s Will Write For Shoes? I think chick lit is definitely in my wheelhouse.)
I won’t lie, though, I was worried that Guestlist wouldn’t find an audience. Would literary readers look at it and immediately think it was “urban lit” and thus not give it a chance? Would those more into those streetcentric tales think Guestlist too bourgie and, as a result, reject it? One friend refused to attend my book release party because, after reading the synopsis on the back of the book, she instantly knew Guestlist was “not [her] type of fiction.” But what does that mean?
Interestingly enough, BEAUTIFUL, the novel I’m currently working on, delves wholeheartedly into the urban lit genre, with its cast of drug dealers, boosters, crooked cops, and other assorted ne’er-do-wells and its setting of Orange Mound, Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, it’s being written with a heavy dose of irreverence and subversion, so it isn’t going to be your usual street tale. At least, I’m hoping it isn’t.
For those of you who’ve read Guestlist, what are your thoughts? Would you deem it “urban lit”? For those who haven’t read it but are interested in doing so, what were your initial impressions of the story? Don’t leave me hanging, people – leave some thoughts in comments below!