Urban Fiction gets African American teens excited about reading - FOX 32 News Chicago

Urban Fiction gets African American teens excited about reading

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The story and characters don't have to be familiar for a reader to get lost in a good book, but everyone likes to see their experiences in a story.

Until recently, African American teenagers have had very little fiction they could relate to. Publishers are now opening the book on a booming Urban Fiction market.

The blockbuster success of book series like Hunger Games and Twilight got publishers paying attention to teenage fiction readers.

"It won't stay on the shelf," librarian Keisha Garnett said. "If they come in, if the library orders ten copies of a book, one teen may come in and get all of those, and they're going to read them in three weeks, and their friends are going to come in and say I want that book that my friend read."

Garnett said Urban Fiction is the reading magnet black teenagers have been craving.

"The more books that you put out there that have the issues that they can relate to, they read more," Garnett said.

Author Earl Sewell had a successful career in adult fiction for African Americans when he saw the void.

"I ran into parents at book clubs and other settings that said, `I really love the fact that my child wants to read, but I don't necessarily want them to read adult fiction. Why isn't there young adult fiction available?'" Sewell said.

Sewell and publisher Harlequin Books are on the eighth book in the "Keysha" series. The stories are about a heroine with a mother who is not fit, and a father she has not met.

For young readers, Sewell said the serious subjects are handled with care.

"I mean you can get high drama without all the bad language through the characterization and what the person is going through," Sewell said.

"We didn't have anything to offer the younger reader, and Mr. Sewell's books fed that," Garnett said of the series.

Garnett said the emergence of quality Urban Fiction for teenagers follows an explosion in the adult market.

Publishers are getting hip - and even hip hop is getting into publishing. Cash Money Books, for example, is a spin off of Cash Money Records.

With new age appropriate material, maybe reading can compete with rapping.

"You can go through a situation and then like you can read a book also, and you be like, `Oh my God, I went through this, or `Oh my God, I understand what's going on' or `Oh my God, I can relate to what's happening in the book,'" Laquetta McGee said.

"They have books now that they can really identify with, as far as seeing more children that look like them. And that's very important," Marilyn Jackson said of her two daughters, ages 12 and 14.

Sewell is working on book number nine, trying to keep up with the demand and the times.

"We get to find out what happens with Keysha and her best friend and all the drama that they had to deal with, with sexting," Sewell explained.

The Chicago Public Library is highlighting urban fiction this month and you can meet author Earl Sewell in person.

He will be reading from his latest "Keysha" novel at a branch on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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