Driven by the Market: African American Literature after Urban Fiction

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Abstract

In 2007, the African American writer Omar Tyree released a thinly veiled fiction about his place in the publishing world. He had come a long way since his self-published novel Flyy Girl (1993) was picked up by Simon & Schuster and repackaged as a hardcover book in 1996. Over the next decade, Tyree wrote about a novel a year, building his reputation as a prominent author of modern Black heterosexual romance. Before long, his books made their way onto bestseller lists in white-controlled media (The New York Times) and Black outlets (Essence magazine) alike. But with that success came competition, and around the turn of the millennium, Tyree witnessed the publishing industry take up what he considered to be a degraded form of the romance genre: urban fiction, otherwise known as street lit or hip-hop fiction. Inspired by the 1990s boom in gangsta (West Coast) and hardcore (East Coast) rap, urban fiction emerged as a grittier alternative to romances that affirmed a middle-class worldview centered on education and self-help. Like his better-known contemporaries Terry McMillan and E. Lynn Harris, Tyree had long boasted a large readership among African American women. Urban fiction threw his sense of that readership into doubt, exposing fractures along class and taste lines. His book tried to come to grips with this new situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-349
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Literary History
Volume33
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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