Critical Engagements: Adolesents African American Girls and Urban Fiction

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Although one of the ultimate goals of teaching English is to instill a love of reading, motivating students' engagement in texts poses a problem for many teachers. Despite research which suggest that adolescents, generally, do not read voluntarily (Strommen, 2004), adolescents, indeed, are often engaged with texts during their leisure time that are very different from those found in traditional classrooms that emphasize classical literature (Schultz & Hull, 2002). Creating bridges between their leisure reading interests and those presented in schools is one way of ideally bolstering more traditional forms of reading achievement within schools. Urban fiction is a form of text that is capturing the leisure reading interests of growing numbers of adolescent African American girls.

Within this exploratory investigation, six adolescent African American females engaged with an urban fiction text to unveil their complex engagement with the genre. Through the use of a literature circle format that took place over two months, participants' relayed insights about why they engage with the texts from the urban fiction genre and how they process those images found within the texts. Participants responses reveal several findings that help inform current understandings about adolescent African American girls' engagement with urban fiction. Extending beyond a culture of reading texts from the genre at participants' school, each participant suggested varying reasons for engaging with texts from the genre that extend beyond the hyper sexualized and violent content. Next, participants demonstrated that they used engagement with the text to explore their conceptions of beauty and gender roles for Black women, relationships, and sex. Finally, participants suggested that exposure to content from the texts serve as a demotivator for engaging in similar behaviors as the protagonists. Implications, based on students responses, are presented for in-service and preservice teachers, teacher educators, curriculum writers, and policy makers.