Author Spotlight: Vanessa Irvin Morris

Today I am featuring my fellow Warrior Librarian, colleague and friend, Vanessa Irvin Morris on MissDomino.  Morris is the Assistant Teaching Professor at The iSCHOOL at Drexel’s University’s College of Information Science and Technology in Philadelphia. She is the country’s foremost Street Literature Scholar and writes frequently on her blog, Street Literature.  Her research of the genre is thorough and extensive.   
Morris is also the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Street Literature,” published by ALA Editions.  She is also the creator of “The Street Lit Book Award Medal Booklist.” and explores what Street Lit does to and for us, and what we do to and for it.  This interview will be presented in two parts for your reading enjoyment. 

When did you fall in love with Street Lit and why is it one of your most favorite genres to read?
As a kid, I was exposed to Street Lit during the DonaldGoines/Iceberg Slim period. In 1999, I was reintroduced to the genre by new teens coming in to the library asking for titles and teaching me about this new wave in the genre. Street Lit is one of my favorite genres because of its honesty and unapologetic storytelling. Street lit tells stories from a space of courageous truth, and I like that, and I respect that. Also, I was born and raised in the inner-city, so as a reader, I can relate to the stories, as well.

Morris at her book release party, Nov. 2011
I read your book, "The Reader's Advisory Guide to Street Literature" and really enjoyed it.    I know that you have written articles, blogged and spoke at conferences on the subject. What prompted you to finally write a book about Street Lit?
I felt there was a real need for a text that fully unpacks the genre for educators.  I was seeing how teachers and librarians were resisting the genre while its readers, teens and adults, were embracing it.  I wrote the book to provide a bridge of understanding between readers of this genre and the educators who serve them.

Readers often think that Street Literature began with Claude Brown’s "Manchild in a Promised Land" (1965).  In your book you discuss the roots of Street Literature which may be a surprise to many.  Can you explain this further?
In the book I talk about how previous generations also had literature that told the gritty realities of street life. I talk about how this brand of street literature that we ostracize today actually has canonical counterparts in Western literary tradition. I date street literature in novel format back to the 18th century.

Vanessa, what frustrates you most about the critics, librarians or those who don't understand Street Lit.?
What frustrates me most is that people actually think they have the right to determine what qualifies as literature and what does not, for whole populations of readers. As a public librarian, such an elitist stance astounds me. Of course we all have our preferences in what we deem appropriate or interesting to read. However, I don’t agree with the idea that just because I am a librarian or a teacher or an author or whatever, that I can say this literature is bad or this literature is better or this literature is good for others. If that were the case, I would personally dictate that the entire horror genre be banned, because that genre is not my particular preference to read or engage. But you see how silly that sounds, right? I guess I am most frustrated at the silliness of some of the anti-street lit rhetoric that is out there.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming Friday, November 25, 2011


  1. "I don’t agree with the idea that just because I am a librarian or a teacher or an author or whatever, that I can say this literature is bad or this literature is better or this literature is good for others."


  2. I work as a public librarian in San Francisco abd urban literature has in many ways revived an interest in reading fiction in communities of color. The subject manner of these books are of interest to a wide range of patrons and they circ quite well. As an adult librarian I have to purchase urban lit and am please to have found this great resource.

  3. @ Keshia. This is why we can appreciate Vanessa's comments. She's brave and isn't afraid to challenge librarians re-think what they say or do.

  4. @ Naomij I'm glad you found this to be a good resource. Vanessa's research is well done and is thought provoking. The research presented makes librarians think long and hard prior to servicing patrons.