Picture Me Rollin’ by Black Artemis

It’s now coming down to the final two books of the semester. I can finally see the light. It won’t be long before I can read what I want to read—although I can actually do that anyway (if I really really wanted). Every time I look over at my bookshelves I think about my summer reading list. I even spend a few minutes at a time daydreaming about what I should squeeze into my summer suitcase. It’s going to be a tough decision, but I’m sure I’ll blog about it . . . so stay tuned.

This weekend’s reading assignment includes Black Artemis’ Picture Me Rollin’. I’ll also explore the novel’s postmodern elements in a 8-10 page paper. So what is this book about? Who is Black Artemis? Since I haven’t started reading the book yet, it might be best to let the research provide us with some answers:

Black Artemis is the pen name of Sofía Quintero, a writer, activist, educator, speaker and comedienne born into a working-class Puerto Rican-Dominican family in the Bronx. Determined to write edgy yet intelligent novels for women who love hip hop even when hip hop fails to love them in return, Black Artemis wrote her debut novel Explicit Content. Explicit Content – the first work of fiction about female MCs in the hip hop industry – was published by the New American Library/Penguin in August 2004. Booklist said of the novel, ‘Fans of Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever (1999) will find this debut novel just as tantalizing.’ Her second Black Artemis novel Picture Me Rollin’ hit bookstores in June 2005 and brought a fresh twist to the home-from-prison tale, Picture Me Rollin’ tells of the story of a young woman whose obsession with Tupac Shakur leads her on quest to find self-love. Amidst the controversy over the popularity of street lit, Black Artemis’s novels have been hailed by critics of all stripes – reviewers, educators and readers – for being as intelligent and substantive as they are entertaining and accessible. Her third Black Artemis novel Burn will be published in August 2006. For more information about Black Artemis and her work, visit www.blackartemis.com.

You are proud to proclaim yourself as a writer of bonafide Hip-hop fiction. Your novels Explicit Content and Picture Me Rollin’ clearly show the difference between Hip-hop fiction and urban or street fiction, which is often mislabeled as Hip-hop literature. When you were first seeking a publisher, did the book industry understand this difference?

No, they did not, and largely they still do not although I often I feel like I’m waging a one-woman campaign to reeducate people both in the industry and the community. First, let me clarify the way I see it. There’s this large category called urban fiction. Now the industry uses the word ‘urban’ as a code to mean mostly ‘Black’ and sometimes also ‘Latino,’ but we all know that (1) not all Blacks and Latinos live in urban environments, and (2) not all people or phenomena that is urban is Black or Latino. So when I think of ‘urban fiction,’ I think of anything from what I write to the street lit of authors like Vicki Stringer or Teri Woods to even some titles in the chick lit genre like ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’

Then within urban fiction you have subgenres. The reason why I distinguish between hip hop lit and street lit – although overlaps may exist – is because street lit is frequently about street life, particularly about the underground economy. Hip hop can be – and has been – about much more than that. Not all hip hop is about gangsterism, and if we want to be consistent, not all gangsterism is hip hop. Were Meyer Lansky and John Gotti hip hop heads? No! J Furthermore, there are many people in the hip hop generation and community who do not participate in the underground economy or even aspire to that lifestyle. So as a hip hop activist, it unnerves me when the term ‘hip hop’ is unilaterally equated with ‘gangster.’ The occasional overlap is undeniable, but the terms are NOT synonymous. Many socially conscious people – especially young people and their mentors – utilize hip hop as a tool to fight injustice whether it’s the expansion of prison industrial complex or the spread of HIV/AIDS. To insinuate that they’re not hip hop because they’re not gangster is not only dead wrong, it’s insulting.

When I dropped my debut ‘Explicit Content,’ I sent a polite but impassioned email to almost every journalist that wrote an article about the rise of ‘hip hop lit’ as not a single one discussed hip hop as a culture that predates gangster rap with its roots in the Black Arts Movement of the 60s. Any street lit author will tell you readily and proudly that his or her predecessors are Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim. But as an author of hip hop fiction, my predecessors are Richard Wright and Piri Thomas. With the exception of The Black Issues Book Review which published my letter to the editor, no one responded to me. Yet over time I started to notice a difference. I still saw articles about ‘street lit’ that referred to it as such, and I’d like to think that my tiny gestures had an impact. (Read more . . . )

So, this is the part where I stop blogging and start reading.

Happy reading ya’ll.


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