During the early 1970s, a new literary genre emerged that dealt directly with the plight of African Americans and other ethnic groups living in highly-populated urban areas. This style of literature took a ruthlessly realistic, hard-hitting look at the circumscribed, limited lifestyle choices imposed upon people of color because of poverty, lack of education and lingering social and race stereotypes.
These flaws and widening cracks in the American social structure were exposed in a type of writing that came to be known as urban fiction.
Urban fiction portrayed a multi-ethnic segment of American culture that was especially vulnerable, because of social inequalities, to the devastation wreaked by elements such as violence, drug abuse and crime. As the decade progressed, urban fiction began to influence films and popular entertainment, although it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that serious films about the black urban experience (as opposed to the “Blaxploitation” crime fantasies of the 1970s) made their way into popular culture. Among this generation of writers, one of the most powerful was Donald Goines, who wrote exclusively — and extensively — about a life that, tragically, he knew about from firsthand experience.
One of Goines’ most influential works is his novel, “Black Girl Lost,” which was published in 1974, the year of Goines’ own violent — and still unsolved — murder.
In spite of the fact that it came out nearly 40 years ago, this pivotal saga of American urban culture resonates just as meaningfully today as it did when it was first published, largely due to the unhappy reality that the crimes Goines wrote about are still as prevalent on today’s streets as they were four decades ago. Revisiting the fashions, music, art, clothing designs and hair styles of the era may seem like an exercise in nostalgia, but the gritty relationships of love, friendship and criminal enmity, as well as the social problems caused by drugs, crime and violence, remain the same.
The plot of “Black Girl Lost” involves a protagonist named Sandy who is abandoned by her father and raised by an alcoholic mother. While still in school, she falls in love with a drug pusher who is eventually arrested and incarcerated in a correctional facility. While he’s gone, Sandy is left vulnerable and unprotected, and is robbed, beaten and raped by a local gang. After learning this, her lover escapes and wreaks vengeance upon the criminals who harmed Sandy
The novel served as an inspiration for a generation of writers and musicians who saw the plot as a social wake-up call involving not only the future of youth, but of African American women in particular.
In 1996, a young musician named Nas released an album called “It Was Written,” which made history as one of the best-selling hip hop recordings of all time. The album, which achieved double platinum status the year it was released, contains a song called “Black Girl Lost,” a direct evocation of Goines’ novel. In the tradition of its literary predecessor, the song chronicles the struggles and hardships faced by contemporary African American women. Today, an entire generation of writers and musicians have continued to create works full of relevant social commentary, with themes that not only resonate today, but also provide a link to the social issues examined — and exposed — by earlier writers such as Donald Goines.
Thanks to artists such as Goines and Nas, young African American women have been given a powerful voice, and their struggles are represented in the cultural idioms of mainstream American consciousness. Today’s black girl is found, not lost, because she knows that she is not alone.
Copyright © 2013 [Sunday Kinfolk]
Black Girl Lost: Renata Cherlise
Photography courtesy of Lawrence Agyei
Model: Imani Amos
Purchase Black Girl Lost by Donald Goines here.