As someone who writes and publishes both of these genres, I get this question a lot. Actually, more than the question, I get people who lump both of these genres together, and I have to say that I find that a little bit frustrating. It would be like someone lumping Twilight in with Lord of the Rings because, hey, they’re both fantasies, right?
I imagine there are quite a few people out there who wouldn’t welcome that comparison, and they’d be right. Even though Twilight is a fantasy, it is a subgenre of a subgenre – teen paranormal romance – and because of this it plays by very, very different rules than Lord of the Rings. In the same way, street lit is a subgenre of urban literature.
How do I define each of them? Well, urban fiction, taken literally, is literature about people in urban settings. In essence, city stories. You wouldn’t think about it this way, but technically things like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl are urban fiction just as much as some of my novels are.
Street lit is different because it focuses on characters living in the inner city specifically, often people who are poorer, more ethnically diverse, and possibly involved in gangs. Typically, the main characters in street lit tend to be African American or Hispanic, but they don’t have to be. You look at something like Shameless on Showtime and any one of those very white actors could fit into the world of your typical “ethnic” street lit novel.
So, what is street lit? It’s urban fiction with action – guns and drugs, pimps and hos, cops and gangstas. It’s people working outside the system to survive and sometimes even thrive. It’s the Old West in a modern day setting of skyscrapers and subways and Section 8 housing.