Magazine article Newsweek

It's Gangsta Lit; Hip-Hop Novels Are Hot, and Now Mainstream Publishers Want In

Magazine article Newsweek

It's Gangsta Lit; Hip-Hop Novels Are Hot, and Now Mainstream Publishers Want In

Article excerpt

Byline: Peg Tyre, With Karen Springen

Drug dealer turned publisher Vickie Stringer addressed a booksellers' conference in Chicago last week, trying to explain the runaway success of her line of what she calls hip-hop novels. Her authors don't appear on the "Today" show. Their gritty tales of easy money, faithless love and betrayal are seldom reviewed. Their protagonists--gangbangers and hustlers--rarely end up in books. Her secret? "The stories," says Stringer, who edits and distributes the books herself, "are sympathetic to people who grew up rough."

Like the music that inspired them, hip-hop novels are finding passionate fans on the mean streets and among those who just visit them in their daydreams. In 16 months, Stringer's Triple Crown Publications has put out 14 titles and sold 300,000 trade paperbacks. Now New York editors who once rejected Stringer are snatching up her authors and rushing out hip-hop novels of their own. "Hip-hop fiction is doing for 15- to 25-year-old African-Americans what 'Harry Potter' did for kids," says Matt Campbell, a buyer for Waldenbooks. "Getting a new audience excited about books."

Stringer's journey from cocaine dealer to publishing mini-mogul may have been fast, but it wasn't easy. Five years ago Stringer, then 30, emerged from a five-year stint in federal prison with the manuscript of her first novel, the story of her own rise and fall in the drug trade, called "Let That Be the Reason." "I read a lot, especially in prison," says Stringer, who once pledged a sorority at Western Michigan University before dropping out to join the outlaw life. …

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