OPINION: Are Hood Books Real Literature?

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I just finished reading True To the Game  by Teri Woods (I’m know-I’m super late) and I liked it. For my money, it was better than Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and anything that I’ve read by James Joyce including (and especially) Ulysses.

It wasn’t better, however, than Omar Tyree’s Flyy Girl, Vickie M. Stringer’s Let That Be the Reason, Donald Goines’ White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief, or two of the greatest works of American literature over the course of the past 50 years-Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever and Iceberg Slim’s Pimp: The Story of my life.

I get into an argument all the time with my friend, writer Akil Kamau who absolutely refuses to read hood books on the grounds that they’re beneath him. Akil believes that every Black writer has a responsibility to be either the next Carter G. Woodson or the next W. E. B. Du Bois. He told me that once, he found himself reading a hood book, started to enjoy it and put it down, ashamed.

I was like, “Dude, you shoulda just finished it!”

He was like, “I couldn’t. What if I actually… liked it?”

One of the mistakes I think we make or that can be made is to think that every Black writer is a hood book writer. You guys are literate, I mean, you are reading now, so I’m sure you’ve seen either Usher or R Kelly or someone similar being referred to in a newspaper as a “rapper” and you’ve cringed.

Similarly, the idea of Toni Morrison as a hood book writer is horrifying. But is it insulting?

One thing I think to remember is that Shakespeare was, during his time at least, a populist writer. Writing was his hustle; he was just trying to get his plays put on to make some money.

By the same token, it’s easy then to imagine that one of these young talents we disparage as “hood writers” or “street novelist”; the populists of our time, could go on to have a mark as lasting and definitive as Shakespeare’s.

Or is it all garbage, you tell me?

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