Urban Fiction Makes Its Way From Streets to Public Libraries
Urban fiction’s journey from street vendors to library shelves and six-figure book deals is a case of culture bubbling from the bottom up. That is especially true in New York, where the genre, like hip-hop music, was developed by, for and about people in southeast Queens and other mostly black neighborhoods that have struggled with drugs, crime and economic stagnation.
Writers like Mark Anthony — who at 35 is Ms. Miller’s contemporary and the author of “Paper Chasers,” based on his youth in Laurelton — found themselves being rejected by agents and publishers. So they paid to self-publish their books, with rudimentary design and cheap bindings, and sold them on 125th Street in Harlem, or on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, around the corner from the borough library’s main branch. Soon, a stream of people — high-school students, first-time library users, the library’s own staff — were asking for the books. And the librarians went out on the street to buy them.
Emphasis added by me.
I’ve seen a ton of these books for sales on the streets of Manhattan for at least ten years. I wondered if they were all self-pubbed or small press. Now I know.
One frightening thing. I got to read over the shoulder of someone waiting for the ferry and my hair stood on end. The page was blasted with bad spelling and punctuation. (And no, I don’t mean bad spelling as in jargonistic dialogue, I mean bad spelling!) If these are now being picked up by the dying dinosaurs of print, I hope they’re all undergoing remedial editing. I think I’d pass out if I saw a book in a public library that was like the one I saw.
Mainstream publishers saw dollar signs and jumped in. St. Martin’s Press now publishes authors from Mr. Anthony to the rapper 50 Cent — another Queens native, born Curtis Jackson — and a subgenre of black erotica led by the writer Zane.
Zane has been prominently featured in bookstore windows too. Zane has a monster following.
“There are black librarians who hate the genre, because they feel like it’s an embarrassment culturally,” said Vanessa Morris, an assistant teaching professor of library sciences at Drexel University.
But she says the genre tells the stories of African-Americans who survived the 1980s drug wars: “This is about documenting history, or, I should say, collective memory.”
Librarians point out that Harlequin romances, the Bobbsey Twins and even paperbacks were once considered too lowbrow for libraries — and that Stephen King and Ms. Collins also trade in sex and violence.
Well those objections are just stupid. As long as the books have all the words spelled correctly and the punctuation is correct too, put them in the damned libraries! Have these librarians never read crime fiction at all?! I think Derek Raymond would make them reach for some calming pills. And yes, Derek Raymond is in public libraries here in NYC.
Publish these as eBooks! Watch the market for eBooks and eBook readers explode!