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The emergence and existence of mainstream hip-hop has led to a huge cultural shift in the African American community. One new development which is widely popularized is known as "urban fiction" or "urban literature." Critics and publishers did not recognize this genre as profitable or marketable. They did not think anyone would take an interest in the inner city experience. Bookstores and libraries were not stocking this genre of literature. If someone wanted to read a book about the urban experience that was written by an African American author they would have to order these books online. Web sites were generated to cater to the audience of urban fiction. Will soaring book sales convince mainstream publishers, critics, media, and bookstores that this genre is marketable and profitable?
The authors of urban literature take readers on a journey through the inner city experience. Some stories are set in the fictional world of hustlers, pimps, thugs, and rappers demonstrating a street sensibility by using the language of everyday people in the hood. These stories generally revolve around the often tragic choices and journeys of young men and women that are drawn by the lure of easy money into lifestyle that is filled with drugs, prostitution, and criminal activity (Wright). Others tell the story of their own personal experiences. Some of the experiences landed them in places and in situations they did not find appealing. These situations were eye openers that made them want to tell the readers about the consequences one can face if they make the mistakes they had once made. Whether they are real or fictional, many readers can relate to the characters that are portrayed in these stories. This is just one of the many reasons there is a high demand for urban literature in the African American community.
In the 1970s, urban literature was marketed as "books from the black experience." In recent years they have been called ghetto fiction, hip-hop novels, street life novels, "blaxploitation" novels, and urban pulp fiction (Patrick). However they are labeled, these novels are popular among the hip-hop culture. Being able to relate to and understand these stories has sparked a surge in authors that want to tell their urban tale.
Urban literature's rise from street vendors to library shelves and six figure book deals can be accredited to Donald Goines and Robert Beck (Rosen and Barnard). Donald Goines, labeled the godfather of the street novel, may be the bestselling urban literature author to date. His books have sold over 10 million copies. In 1967 Robert Beck, who writes under the pseudonym Iceberg Slim, wrote his first book Pimp: The Story of my Life. This novel depicted the life of the mean streets of Chicago in the 40s and 50s. Telling his story catapulted Beck to obtaining international fame. Realizing the popularity of his first novel, Beck went on to write several more books. These authors paved the way for the future writers of urban literature. Even with Goines and Beck's popularity with the mainstream publishers the future authors of urban literature still found themselves having to overcome many obstacles to gain recognition in the literary community.
Today there are many more urban literature authors that are gaining success in the literary community. Due to the success of her books, best-selling author Nikki Turner (A Hustler's Wife), has been named the "princess of urban fiction (." Several of her books have landed on the Essence magazine's best-sellers list. Nikki still publishes her own novels as well as a list of other authors. Another literary great in the urban literature community is Vickie Stringer. While serving time in a federal prison for drug racketeering, Stringer penned her first novel. Once released from prison she submitted her completed manuscript to many publishers. Within weeks Stringer had a collection of rejection letters. Filled with frustration she decided to self-publish her novel. Let That be the Reason launched the start of Triple Crown Publications. Under her leadership, Triple Crown Publications has published 14 titles and sold over 300,000 trade paperbacks (Rosen). Armed with the success of her books and the title of publisher, Stringer decided to reach out to the authors of urban literature. Under her representation many of the authors that were published through Triple Crown Publications have gained much success.
Largely neglected by mainstream media, urban literature has evolved into its own alternative network for reviews, discussions, and marketing (Wright). Founded in 1991 and established as a nonprofit corporation in 1995, Go on Girl! Book main focus is to convince book publishers of African American consumers buying power. Started as an online community, the African American Literary Book Club was used as a way to promote urban literature (Reid). Fueled by the affordability of self-publishing and the Web's supercharged word-of-mouth, this genre has emerged from underground as a virtual conspiracy (Brown).
Although readers of urban literature range across the social and economic spectrum, librarians have been slow to purchase urban literature (Wright). Unfamiliarity or discomfort with the genre and the absence of reliable reviews are some of the reasons librarians are not taking interest in these novels (Wright). Getting the urban literature onto the shelves of most libraries can be a challenge, even with the increasing publicity it has received. Libraries wishing to remain relevant to patrons that are devoted to urban literature may need to take an aggressive, almost serials-based approach to stocking it (Wright). Some of the bookstore owners have concerns about the message these books are sending to the youth. The high demand for these novels has caused some store owners to change their perspective of urban literature and cater to the needs of the consumers.
In 1999, African Americans spent over $307 million on books, according to Target Market News, a Chicago-based market research firm (Brown). Mainstream publishers noticed the increase in sales and the high demand for urban literature in the African American community. With this knowledge, publishers are starting to reach out to the writers of this genre. Publishing companies are offering six-figure book deals to the writer of the best urban tale (Venable, McQuillar, and Mingo). Authors that once released their titles through self-publishing are now reissuing their books under the guise of mainstream publishers. Authors that once tried shopping their manuscripts to the big house publishing companies are finding themselves in contract negotiations with those same publishing companies.
For many years urban literature writers were not recognized as authors that had the ability to write interesting reading material. They were shunned because publishers did not think urban literature would be profitable or marketable. Both the literary community and publishers has realized there are readers that take interest in stories of the inner city experience. Urban literature authors are enjoying the success of their books being recognized as best sellers. Some authors are even mentioned in book reviews of mainstream media. Even with the newfound success of urban literature the internet is still its biggest marketer. Finding an urban literature novel is just as easy as walking into the nearest public library, Barnes & Noble, Walden, or Borders bookstore and heading to the urban literature section.