Getting ghetto lit

Juan Williams wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about ghetto lit in America.

Williams is very down on the genre, writing, "Not only the best but the worst that can be said about these books is they are an authentic literary product of 21st-century black America. They are poorly written, poorly edited and celebrate the worst of black life."

So here's the question: is it better to have ghetto lit, or to get rid of it and potentially have all of those readers not read anything? Is this the same situation with condemning kids who read Harry Potter?


  1. I don't think getting rid of it is an option; from what the article said, the roots of ghetto lit are in self and small publishing. And there's obviously a market for it.

    What will be interesting is to see how the movie Precious 'translates' what's in the book, and whether S&S and others who will be publishing in the genre will interpret ghetto lit. Will ghetto lit morph as it gets more mainstream?

    Interesting topic.

  2. books are books. Ghetto lit or not, I think genre writing, etc. will all have it's time. It's more about the trends and keeping up with things like television, movies, and even youtube videos. If books want to succeed and continue to be a form of entertainment, then I think they have to write to genres, and honestly... that makes me happy. :)

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  4. Thanks for the fascinating article! To some extent, I'd like to argue that what the author defends as worthwhile or literary writing by or about African-Americans has been influenced by the dominant white culture for so long that we don't even recognize or acknowledge it. Who is he to compare these books to a literary canon that has been dominated and defined by white male authors (who sometimes allow black or female authors in when they play by the rules, or don't break them too badly)? Who says they lack literary merit?

    But then again, I am really interested in the power of cultural products to change the culture, and I think the author has a point about the power of ghetto lit to convince both white and black America that African-American identity is rooted in poverty and violence.

    In the movie Precious, though, it sounds as though these characters are transcending the "ghetto lit" stereotypes this article talks about. In fact, take away the description of the character as an overweight black girl, and you could have a pretty standard, mainstream movie's plot. Surely not all of these books have no merit whatsoever, and perhaps even those that are poorly written and poorly edited could lead readers to reach outside the genre.

  5. If it resonates with someone, then it's valid art.

    I'm made rather edgy by the "get rid of it" comment. It's not our right to say what others may read.