Book Expo America’s town hall meeting at the Washington Convention Center on what Black people are reading versus what they should be reading turned into a rambunctious, passionate debate. The meeting billed as “Their Eyes Were Watching Smut” pitted traditionalists versus those who write and promote hip-hop influenced, sometimes self-published books categorized as urban fiction or street literature.
Ida Jones, Port of Harlem book reviewer attended the event and recalled that the audience gave much thunder to one lady who said she was raised in a middle-class family, but has a cousin named “Ray-Ray” who is in and out jail. Jones recalled her adding, “we all have a cousin Ray, Ray that we have to acknowledge.” Jones reasoned, “That how she justified including street literature in our diet of reading choices.” On the other end of the debate, Jones recalled another lady declaring, “We all have a voice and we all can sing, but we should not all cut a record!” About 4 of every 10 of the participants were male.
Some traditional publishing houses are now publishing works by such artists as Nikki Turner, author of The Hustler’s Wife and Project Chick. After the book expo, Jones received a review copy of Thug-A-Licious from Random House. Jones, who also has a piece in the upcoming National Geographic Society’s Legacy: Treasures of Black History, added, “The difference between Black and White literature is that they have the same dirt, but they have never let it become their mainstream voice.”