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Practical Politics 

This past Monday, the Pulitzer Prize winners for American Literature  2023-24  were announced. There were no Colson Whiteheads ("The Nickel Boys"), Alyssa Cole ("When No One is Watching"), or Yaa Gyasi ('Homecoming") or other Black authors among the honorees. There was not even a non-fictioner like Ta-Nehisi Coates or his ilk listed.

Former Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar has been lost in the weeds of a ghetto shouting match with Drake as  his latest musical literature, after becoming the first Black street poet (of the hip hop generation) to win a Pulitzer Prize for writing, a few years ago (following a similar award to poet-singer Bob Dylan), so he was not even in the latest running. But Black artists writing and publishing has neither diminished nor disappeared, in spite of appearances. Apparently, one place to find them is a Black Tick Tok outlet, called Black Booktok.

Since there is clearly a national-international argument being crafted and promulgated within mass media around the idea of keeping people as ignorant as possible so they will accept some future nefarious deeds, it will clearly behoove Black folk to keep reading and writing in order to keep up and current. Our talking alone will clearly not save us from catastrophe.

What happened to our "Street Lit"? Wasn't it supposed to keep us wary and warned about any new developments? As the rest of American society seems to have retreated to politics as the main course in our daily fare, weren't we supposed to have kept the real knowledge of what's happenin' in our own Black talk, as we've always done in this society? With Black talk--Black jivin', jakin', bedeviling, slang, ebonics, etc., aren't we always ready to communicate beyond the regular standard in order to communicate beyond the obvious?

Street lit, or Urban lit, as one significant form of this process, since the mid-1990s, brought a reality-based, grungy story-telling style to the fore, and it is still alive and well.  Many of "street lit's" authors and story-tellers were former gang members or convicts, and they added their real-life phrasings to those read in 1970's pulp writers like Donald Goines ("Whoreson", "Daddy Cool") and Robert Beck, better known as Iceberg Slim ("Pimp"). This "urban lit" was usually (and still is) based in formulaic Black community-situated stories within an environment filled with sex, drugs, guns and cash, and that still find a way to emphasize redemption and/or salvation of some sort, and that can serve as cautionary tales for young Black folks. 

There are still some titles selling up to 100,000 units, and some mainstream publishers have jumped in to cash in on this bonanza.  Many lucrative contracts have been offered to former  self-published authors, and the hard-scrabbled fortunes of many "Street Lit" authors have benefitted, thus creating a new contemporary agency for young Black writers. This is where the contemporary 'street talk' is supposed to keep Black folk informed and sane enough to cope with this new political craziness threatening to swallow us all up. 

So with or without the prizes this time around, Black "street lit" must still continue performing its function of keeping Black folk informed beyond the headlines and self-promotions.

 "Write-on," Black folk. "Write-on."

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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