PHAT Fiction at ALA and the PHAT Fiction Wikispace

Please note::  If you missed the PHAT Fiction panel discussion that was held last month at the American Library Association Annual Conference, you can listen to a audio recording at: LiveScribe.  Special thanks to
Vickie Beene for doing this for us.   Also, don’t forget to join the
PHAT Fiction Wikispace and participate in the discussion.

Last month, I served as a co-moderator for the PHAT Fiction Panel discussion at the 2010 American Library Association Conference in Washington, D.C. For me, participating on this panel discussion was a dream come true. The panel discussion about the Street Literature genre was organized by Susan McClelland, Reader’s Advisory Librarian for the Evanston Public Library in Evanston, Illinois. PHAT Fiction stands for popular, hip and tempting fiction and is also the title of her PHAT Fiction blog. I have been an avid supporter and advocate of the Street Literature genre for several years and have often times been ‘beat to the pulp’ for doing so (I have the scars to prove it). So you can only guess I was ‘geeked’ about participating.

Participants on the panel consisted of a mixture of school/public librarians, authors and university professors. It was a refreshing to be in the presence of these like-minded professionals that share the same passion as I do about the genre. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to hear the interesting stories about the promotion of these books from Librarians, Christopher Lassen of the Brooklyn Public Library and D.L. Grant, San Antonio Public Library. (I’m using D.L.’s suggestion for interesting book displays very soon) I found authors Coe Booth, Paula Chase-Hyman, Kia DuPree and Tachelle Wilkes to be warm, down to earth sisters that are committed to writing stories that are of value and interest for teens/adults. Finally, I had the opportunity to meet three of my “Library She-Roes,” Simmons College Professor, Amy Pattee, New York Public Library- Young Adult Librarian, Megan Honig and Drexel University Professor, Vanessa I. Morris. The writings of these ladies have provided me with the ‘language’ to defend the Street Literature genre when fellow librarians, classroom teachers, school administrators and parents complained.


When I was a child, my father used to ask me, “What did I learn in school today?” I usually struggled with answering this question because I didn’t pay attention to the lesson, tuned out my boring teachers and read a book during class. The following is a description of what I learned from this experience and my thoughts about the panel discussion:

Remain Abreast of What Critics and Supporters of Street Literature Are Saying – Besides catching up on some book readings and events at work, I did not provide a post about the conference for one main reason. The June 29, 2010 blog post by Vanessa Morris called, “Urban” Is Not the New “Black”, really made me stop and think about the “Urban Fiction” label. I totally ‘get it’ and I’m not ashamed to call it what it really is: Street Literature, reality based stories about the streets that are authentic, unapologetic and truthful. As a result of this insightful post by Morris, I am no longer using the label ‘Urban Fiction’ to describe this genre. Suggestion: Google Reader is an excellent tool that can be used to find current writings about Street Literature.

Street Literature is a Loud Business: Defenders of the Genre Must Advocate For It –

During the panel discussion, author Paula Chase-Hyman commented that book selling has become a ‘loud business.’ Authors that experience difficulty in landing a book deal will self-publish and sell their books on the street, beauty/barbershops and at street fairs. These authors must get the attention of potential readers and compete with the hustle and bustle of today’s society. So a little volume is needed to sell books.

When I think about the ‘Loud Business,’ of selling Street Literature I immediately think of the determination and drive of author Relentless Aaron. Years ago, Aaron was rejected from the major publishing houses devised another plan. He sold his books on 34th and 7th in Manhattan during the middle of very busy New York rush hours (video).  Another successful author Terri Woods sold her classic book, “True to the Game,” out of the backseat of her car in front of the Mart 125 in Harlem, New York. (video) Since then, both authors have landed book deals and the publishing industry marvels at their successes and the sales of their books. Sometimes a little volume can make an indelible impact.

I have been beat up for the last couple of years for defending and including some acceptable Young Adult Street Literature in my middle school library collection. I’ve heard comments from teachers, principals and fellow librarians that ranged from, “Don’t you think this is a little ‘spicy’ for middle school students” to “Street Literature is not real literature because it’s not professionally reviewed or it’s self-published.” The most repeated question/challenge and probably the most disheartening one I’ve received from school librarians has been, “Why would you want to open yourself up to a challenge? Send the child to the public library or bookstore if they want to read the book that badly.”

Its hard working in a school/district where you and a very few colleagues value and support the genre. Lately, I’ve been criticized during presentations that I have given about the inclusion of Street Literature in school library collections…don’t get me started. Despite these obstacles, I continue to move forward because I see the end result: This genre touches and impacts the lives of tweens and teens in positive ways. Here are just a couple of the first hand observations I’ve made over the last couple of years:

1. Students and their parents are reading! The genre is reaching a group of readers that have historically been ignored by publishing companies.

2. The stories are cautionary tales that takes the reader on a journey that forces them to compare the stories to their own lives. The students can directly relate to the characters and empathize with their struggles. For some students, the situations that the characters are experiencing in the story are parallel to their own lives.

3. The stories within the genre serve as a platform for discussion/dialogue for tweens and teens with adults.

4. Some students are avid readers and are looking for a challenge when reading Street Literature.

5. Some students possess the emotional maturity to understand and handle the content in these books.

Promote and Support Other Blogs and Websites That Support the Genre – Check out my K.C.’s Blog Roll on this blog, enough said.

ALA Conference 2011-  New Orleans, Louisiana – Since returning from the conference, Susan and I have been contacted by a number of people that wished they could have attended and want to see the discussion continue. Hopefully, Public Library Association will have us back again because these discussions about Street Literature need to continue. There is still a population of librarians that need to be educated about the genre.

Street Literature Is For All Readers and Not Just For Reluctant Readers - In Carl Smith’s book, “Helping Children Understand Literary Genres,” he states the analysis of different types of literature promotes cognitive development because it gives students an opportunity to apply similar skills and strategies, such as identifying themes discussed in one genre—fiction, for example—to other genres like poetry, reports, descriptive pieces, and plays. The more experience students have in reading different genres, the more successful they will be when meeting and understanding people from all walks of life.


Aaron, Relentless, Relentless Aaron Has Done It. 2006. ABC Nightly News video courtesy of YouTube.  .

Morris, Vanessa I. 2010, “Urban” Is Not the New “Black.” .

Smith, Carl B. 1994. Helping Children Understand Literary Genres. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication.

Woods, Terry, Terry Woods, True to the Game. 2008. Books Video TV courtesy of YouTube.

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