TU Berlin

Center for Metropolitan StudiesGraaff, Kristina

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Kristina Graaff


Center for Metropolitan Studies (CMS)
TU Berlin
Ernst-Reuter-Platz 7, TEL 3-0
10587 Berlin


"Ethnoracial Confinement in the 21st Century: The African American Genre of Street Literature and the Street-Prison Symbiosis"

The dissertation examines the popular African American literary genre known as Street Literature or Urban Fiction. Emerging in the late 1990s in U.S. prisons and the country's neglected urban cores - spaces that also the publishing industry and book distribution networks never imagined would be commercially viable - the genre was established mainly through the practices of self-publishing and street vending.

Often written by first-time authors - many of them current or former prisoners - the stories deal with the inner urban drug trade as well as the common experience of incarceration and illustrate how the hierarchies, gender relations and value systems among the characters are determined by daily life in these marginalized spaces.

Since street and prison not only represent the novels' narrative spaces but also their places of production, distribution and marketing, I am choosing an approach that combines literary criticism and ethnographic research, analyzing the novels' narrative spaces against their material ones. Contrasting the in- and outsides of the texts thus allows to interlink urban with literary economies, textual with spatial appropriation strategies and realism as a literary device with its use as a marketing tool.

Aim of the dissertation is to illustrate how the linkage between street and prison represents a new institutionalized form of exclusion that particularly affects members of African American low-income communities. As my work exemplifies, Street Literature takes an ambiguous position towards this ‘street-prison symbiosis': On one level, the narratives and their distribution further institutionalize the link between the two locations; on another level, Street Literature directs attention to the street-prison symbiosis and brings about new forms of economic participation that centrally contribute to undermining it.

Lebenslauf / Curriculum Vitae

Since 09/2011
Research Assistant at Humboldt University Berlin, Germany, Department of English and American Studies

01/2008 - 01/2011
DFG Fellow at the Transatlantic Graduate Research Program Berlin - New York,
Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin, Germany

Fall Semester 2008 + 2009
Visiting Scholar, Fordham University, African American Studies Department, New York, USA

Summer Academy ZEIT foundation “City and Urbanity in the 21st Century”

2006 + 2007 German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), New York
German Studies Coordinator

2004 + 2005 Berghahn Books, Academic Publisher, New York
Junior Editor/Publicity Manager

2004 Goethe Institute, New York
Conceptualization of German-American literary series “Reflections on the City: The Metropolis Novel of New York and Berlin”

2004-2006 Tageszeitung taz, Berlin
Freelance Journalist

2002 – 2004 Deutschlandfunk, National Public Broadcaster, Cologne Freelance Journalist

2003 Free University of Berlin, Germany
Master's Degree in General and Comparative Literature and Media and Communication Studies, graduated with honors
Thesis: Disasters as Television Reports: An Analytical Study of the German
News Coverage of the Events and Consequences of September 11, on the Basis of ARD, ZDF, RTL and Sat 1.

1999 Erasmus Scholarship, Comparative Literature Department, University of Paris 8, France

Publikationen, Lehre, Vorträge etc. / Publications, Teaching, Lectures etc.


forthcoming: Street Literature and the Mode of Spectacular Writing: Popular Fiction between Sensationalism, Education, Politics and Entertainment. In: The Living Canon: Theory and Pedagogy in Contemporary African American Literature, edited by Lovalery King and Shirley C. Moody. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

forthcoming: Street Vending: A Global Perspective on the Practices and Policies of a Marginalized Economy. Ed. by Kristina Graaff and Noa Ha. New York / Oxford: Berghahn Books.

The Street-Prison-Symbiosis - Urban Segregation and Popular Black Fiction in 21st Century America. In: Thick Space: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Metropolitanism, edited by Dorothee Brantz, Sasha Disko, Georg Wagner-Kyora. Bielefeld: Transcript 2012.

"Reading Street Literature, Reading America's Prison System." In: Pop Matters. International Magazine of Cultural Criticism, February 12, 2010.

Conference Report, The City and the State of Exception/State of Emergency. Ausnahmezustand and the Urban Condition. 5. Annual Conference Transatlantic Graduate Research Program Berlin-New York, Center for Metropolitan Studies, by Kristina Graaff, Jan Kemper and Tim Opitz, H-Soz-Kult, 09. August 2009.

Review of Sister Souljah: Midnight. A Gangster Love Story. New York: Atria Books 2008. In: Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World: A Review Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, January, Spring 2009.

„Pimp mein Buch. Die Urban Novels des New Yorker Autors Relentless Aaron“, taz vom 21.10.2006.


Fall Semester 2009
Fordham University, New York City, Urban Studies Department, Master Course
Hip Hop Street Lit Narratives

Spring Semester 2011
Humboldt University Berlin, American Studies Department, Master Course
Street Literature: Reading Urban Segregation and the U.S. Penal System through African American Popular Fiction

Fall Semester 2011
Humboldt University, American Studies Department, Bachelor Course
Crime and Punishment in U.S.-American Society and Culture

Fall Semester 2011
Humboldt University, American Studies Department, Bachelor Course
Introduction to Literary Analysis & Criticism (American Studies)

Spring Semester 2012
Humboldt University, American Studies Department, Bachelor Course
Paradigms of Literature: US-Prison Writing of the 20th and 21st Century


"Storing a Surplus Population: The ‘Ghetto’-Prison Symbiosis and its Significance for the African American Popular Genre of Street Literature", Conference at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies Arm, nicht Sexy. Repräsentationen von Armut in der Amerikanischen Gegenwartskultur.

"A sucker for drama: Street Literature and the Mode of Spectacular Writing", The Fifth Conference in Penn State's Literature & Culture Series, University Park, Pennsylvania.

"Street Literature's Construction of an 'Urban Underclass': Forming Figures and Space between Stereotypes, Aestheticism and Politics." Workshop "All Quiet on the Wrong Side of the Tracks? Inquiries into the Interrelation of the Other and the City Today." Berlin, Center for Metropolitan Studies.

"Literary Entrepreneurialism and the Re-Appropriation of Public Space: Selling Street Literature on Harlem's 125th Street." Workshop "Urban Street Vending. Economic Resistance, Integration or Marginalization?" Berlin, Center for Metropolitan Studies.

“Street Literature from Urban Spectacle to the Transliteration of the Literary”, Annual Conference of the Popular Culture & American Culture Association, New Orleans, Louisiana.

“Testimony, Self-Commodification, and Entrepreneurialism: Street Literature as Product and Producer of the Postfordist Condition,” Annual Conference of the Transatlantic Graduate Research Program Berlin – New York „In Search of the Postfordist City: Concepts and the Meaning of Urban Space and Society,“ Fordham University, New York.

"Dope Dealer, Preacher Figure, 12th Floor Corporate Yes Man Wigger" – Strategies of African-American Self-Construction in the Genre of Street Literature", International Conference "Divided We Stand - United We Fall. Perspectives on Inclusions and Exclusions in America", Graduate School of North American Studies, Free University of Berlin.

"The Streets can make you and the Streets can break you – The 'Hood as a Site of Self-Representation in the Writings of Teri Woods and Jihad", Annual Meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association, Long Beach, California.


American Comparative Literature Association
Modern Language Association



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