Some educators view the popularity of urban fiction as a way to get people in areas like the South Bronx, where 45 percent of the residents over the age of 25 lack a high school diploma, to become readers.
But others, like Maria Cronin—the director of SoBRO’s adult educational programs—don’t think the books belong in the classroom.
Cronin works to promote adult literacy, and says preparing students for the workplace is the program’s top priority. Urban fiction, she says, doesn’t factor into that goal.
“Urban fiction, the books that I’ve looked at, every other word is a profanity, and there’s a sexual component to it, and there are drugs and guns,” said Cronin. “It’s the stories of the street.”
Where Cronin sees the glorification of the street life, urban fiction author Julie Ojeda Nin sees an alternative to it.
“I can’t speak for others, but I don’t think that I glorify it,” said Nin. “I want to express to the youth, that if you are angry, you can write about it instead of doing it in real life. Once you figure out where your pain is, you can get over it.”
Nin acknowledges that her work can be violent, but says it is also meant to depict growth.
“I write very raw, brutal stories. I capture my people in a feeling of pain, and also a feeling of gain,” she said.
“It’s a learning process, and we can better ourselves,” she added.
Content aside, though, Cronin has another objection to urban fiction that’s pretty important to a literacy educator.
“The grammar: we’re trying to teach them proper grammar,” she said. “That’s not proper grammar in those books.”