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OT: Omar Tyree Retires from Street Lit

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  • Chris Hayden
    An Urban Street Lit Retirement Omar Tyree | Posted June 19, 2008 9:49 AM FOUNDING SPONSOR For the record, I never called my work street literature and I
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 28, 2008
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      An Urban "Street Lit" Retirement
      Omar Tyree | Posted June 19, 2008 9:49 AM
      FOUNDING SPONSOR

      For the record, I never called my work "street literature" and I
      never will. When I began to publish ground breaking contemporary
      novels with Flyy Girl in 1993, and Capital City in 1994, I called
      them "urban classics." They were "urban" because they dealt with
      people of color in the inner-city or "urban" population areas. They
      were "classics" because I considered myself one of the first to start
      the work of a new era. But now, after sixteen years and sixteen
      novels in the African-American adult urban fiction game, I feel like
      the man who created the monster Frankenstein. Things have gotten way
      out of hand. So it's now time to put up my pen and move on to
      something new, until the readership is ready to develop a liking for
      fresh material on other subjects.

      To a degree, it now seems hypocritical for the man who self-published
      the first gold digger book with Flyy Girl, and the first drug-dealer
      book with Capital City, to turn around and cry wolf about a
      readership who-fifteen years later-seem stuck on the subjects.
      However, I never intended to remain on those same topics. And I
      didn't. I moved on to cover a dozen other community issues through my
      work.

      Nevertheless, the new young writers, who became inspired by my
      earlier work; Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Nikki Turner, Shannon
      Holmes, K'wan, and several others, related to my "urban classics"
      alone, and they began to match it, writing from their own sources of
      hardcore street knowledge. And I can't knock them for writing their
      honest stories. I can't knock them for wanting to be published. I
      can't knock them for earning an honest living. But after awhile, as
      dozens of other new writers began to follow in their footsteps,
      creating more gold-digging, ghetto girl, gangster love, drug-dealer
      stories, I had to seriously ask myself, "Don't we have some other
      things to write about it?"

      This new form of "street lit" began to remind me of a similar
      destruction of hip-hop, where the same ghettocentric stories began to
      take precedence over the creative perspectives and multi-faceted
      voices and subjects of our urban music. All of a sudden, you could
      not succeed as a rapper unless you had sold drugs, committed violent
      crimes, and claimed to be an unruly gangster, who had done hard time
      in prison. You couldn't rap about the normal joys of life anymore.
      These new kids on the block rejected how Ice Cube had had a good day,
      while preferring to hear how dark in hell it was for DMX.

      That hardcore fact -- of an urban audience's preference for
      denigration -- remains to be our most pressing issue here. The fact
      is, when I began to write about good black men with A Do Right Man in
      1997, the importance of black family with Single Mom in 1998, the
      reality of black-on-black love with Sweet St. Louis in 1999, the
      indulgences of superstars with Just Say No! in 2001, the ugly face of
      New Orleans poverty with Leslie in 2002, or the challenge of positive
      feminine power with Boss Lady in 2005, few readers bothered to listen
      to me.

      In fact, after trying to educate and uplift the same young, urban
      readership who fell in love with Flyy Girl with the sequel book, For
      The Love of Money -- which hit the New York Times bestseller's list
      in 2000, and won me an NAACP Image Award in 2001 -- the positive and
      progressive voice that I become so proud of, had lost me the support
      of my young urban audience. They bought Flyy Girl sequel, For The
      Love of Money, in droves because they were certain that I would
      return to the "streets" with the reckless young character they had
      grown to love in the first book. But when this same character grew
      up, finished college, earned a Master's Degree, and returned home to
      find that her drug-dealing lover from high school days had been
      released from jail, and was now a self-respecting Muslim man with a
      new wife and kids, the lack of expected drama and bullshit caused a
      national riot.

      I began to receive hordes of e-mails from passionate, young, urban
      women you had obvious tantrums with me for not writing a
      second "street book," while they began to brag about the hardcore
      tale of Sister Souljah's new title, The Coldest Winter Ever. And
      suddenly, I found that my urban voice and validity had been quickly
      replaced.

      That replacement of significant voice had nothing to do with the
      publishers preferring "street lit" over "responsible lit." It had all
      to do with an urban audience who preferred grit over polish. And that
      love for grit, crime, sex, broken hearts, drama, and other bullshit,
      reinforced the sales that I enjoyed for Diary of a Groupie in 2003,
      and What They Want in 2006. These were both books where I wrote about
      the subjects of sex, idolization, blackmail, and black women getting
      their fantasy freaks on, that urban readers had begun to love from my
      good friend Zane, and her various Sex Chronicles. Again, I can't
      knock a sister for expressing her inner freak. I would want a woman
      confident enough to show me what she got as well, just not on every
      other page.

      Nevertheless, that's what the majority of the black readership, based
      on recent sales figures, are choosing to read nowadays. So as I hear
      some of my more responsible peers in the book industry, complaining
      about the publishers, who market and sell the work, I have to remind
      us all that publishing is still a business. The majority of
      these "street lit" and sex titles are still being self-published
      anyway. In fact, the only people making any significant money from it
      are the chain book stores, and the small houses who score off of
      quantity over quality.

      Hell, let's sell it all if we make money from it all. The book on the
      philosophy is called The Long Tail. And if there's another new street
      writer willing to make a few bucks around the corner, then let's
      publish them and make more money. In the meantime, only Teri Woods
      can sell major numbers of a new "street lit" title. The readers
      barely know the names of a hundred other writers. Unless of course,
      we count Karrine "Superhead" Steffans and her book, Confessions of a
      Video Vixen, published two years ago. Her real life sexcapades and
      celebrity name dropping created a real storm. Now she's back for
      seconds.

      With all that in mind, I couldn't even name my latest book The
      Writer, about a New York Times bestseller author, who ends up on the
      run for his life when he agrees to write a true-crime book in the
      contemporary "no snitch" zone of Harlem, New York. The retail book
      stores actually informed my publisher that the title wasn't specific
      or gritty enough. They needed something edgier. Well, that was the
      straw that broke the camel's back for me. I can't even name my damn
      book titles what I want now because of what retail says about African-
      American readership.

      So I said, "To hell with it then. I'm done with writing all urban
      fiction. Tell the stores we'll call it The Last Street Novel and move
      on to something else." I then enlisted my other good friend, the
      queen bee of "street lit" publishing herself, Vickie "Triple Crown"
      Stringer to remind the world that I started this shit, and now I'm
      closing the book on it all with another "classic" that lands way
      above the rest. Nevertheless, since The Last Street Novel is an
      unabashed guy's book, like the original "street literature" of
      Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim, and Donald Goines that I read, in this
      new era of 99.9% women readers-excluding the brothers who read while
      on lock down-you can expect another Omar Tyree "classic" to be
      overlooked by the smokescreens of featherweight material until
      Martians land on earth a few thousand years from now and find me
      buried inside of an obscure library.

      So with my publishing contracts running out, I wrote my final adult
      fiction novel to be published in September, entitled Pecking Order,
      which is all about the innovation and hustle of making legal money.
      That's what it all comes down to, folks. Either the product makes
      money like "street lit" and sex novels do, or it fades into obscurity
      like a VHS video tape machine. But if the only way I can earn a
      living now in African-American adult fiction is to sell my people the
      same poison that they've become addicted to, then I quit with my
      artistic integrity still in tact, while moving on to a more
      progressive mission.

      Such is the way of all leadership in industry; to remain above the
      pack, we must successfully diversify of services and products for the
      betterment and advancement of the overall community.


      Omar Tyree is a New York Times best-selling author who has published
      15 books and has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide.
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