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Urban Literature // Writing in the Key of Black

As much as I would like to say that my journey as a bookworm started with Dr. Seuss and progressed steadily to Shakespeare, it did not. The truth is, I started reading off reading sugary pre-teen books like The Babysitters Club, Full House (Michelle and Stephanie stories only), and Goosebumps books by the truckload. But as I reached my informative teenage years my palette yearned for something more mature. Something more complex. Something more…relatable.

I did not have to look far. My Mom is an avid reader and it wasn’t out of character for me to find her on the couch buried in a book on the regular. Titles with Black women on the covers. I wanted to read that. After she’d finished reading one particular book, I picked it up off the table and cracked it open. My mind was blown by a fly girl.

Flyy Girl is a coming of age tale by Omar Tyree (Godfather of Urban Lit), but it’s not your typical one. This book takes place in a neighborhood like the one where I grew up in Brooklyn. Some of the things in this story reflected my life so closely that I thought he’d hidden a hot mic in my Full House books.

This story had house parties like me and my friends went to. It had characters with skin tones that matched mine and neighborhoods that oozed the same slang and swag that mine did. I could see myself and my friends in the characters. I could envy the main character, Tracy, and hope for her style and finesse and later be happy that I got to watch her mess unfold from the safety of twin bed.

I was full off of this book and once it was done I looked for more. I was not disappointed. I discovered that authors like Sister Souljah, Terry McMillan, Eric Jerome Dickey, Vickie Stringer, Terri Woods, and Carl Weber were churning out tales of people navigating the gritty, the raunchy, the dangerous, and the beautiful of Black like. The characters were so deep and multidimensional covering the full diaspora of Blackness. What. Was. This?

I chewed up book, after book, after book until I lapped my Mother. It wasn’t long before I was passing books to her to read and we’d comment and connect with one another and have such important conversations over these books. We’d talk about womanhood, relationships, and life’s ability to messy and anything but black and white. We waded in the gray. I grew in the gray.

Up until then, I’d never read a story about Black life that wasn’t autobiographical, about slavery, or the Civil Rights movement. But there, right there in those pages were Black people living, being intuitive, clueless, loving, outrageous, risky, timid, hilarious, and witty.  They openly appreciated every facet of their reality from their neighborhoods to their friendships and jobs.

They explored issues of sexism, colorism, poverty, patriarchy, addiction, crime, marriage, mental health, and motherhood. I saw Black people as high powered attorneys, advertising execs, and Doctors. The fiction only applied to the storylines for me because those characters, those people, were so real. I knew a version of all of them in real life.

Since then, my love for reading has expanded to every genre. I love anything that tells a good story. But for with these books, besides keeping me thoroughly entertained, the most important thing they showed me was that I didn’t have to write about things I didn’t know. I didn’t have to imagine a story that took place at a prep school in California or a small town in Idaho. My culture, my hood, my friends, and my family had a place in literature. A place where they weren’t in chains or simply not allowed.

As I’m writing my novel that revolves around a Black girl coming of age and I worry about whether it’s relatable, or whether people will get it I think of those books and remember that our stories–Just as they happened. Just as we looked. Just where we lived–are enough.


My first novel, “Say When“, is available on Wattpad. Read and enjoy for free.

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