December 12, 2017

Exploring urban fiction

In my days working at the Main Library in beautiful downtown Durham, N.C., the majority of my adult readers' advisory questions came from avid readers looking for urban fiction.

Witnessing the rise of this spectacular publishing movement with the help of a dedicated community of readers was an RA librarian's paradise. I had juicy books to discuss, lots of subgenres to learn about, and an ever-shifting array of authors, publishers, and sequels to recommend.

However, I also remember how difficult it could be to find reliable information and recommendations about the books and authors my readers loved. Hit books tended to be one-offs, constantly checked out, and barely reviewed in mainstream library sources. I sometimes felt like I was operating in a parallel universe!

Fortunately, NoveList has lots of features and content that I wish I had known about back then, as well as staff members, like Christine and Lauren, who are dedicated to applying metadata to urban fiction with knowledge, care, and expertise. Let me show you what we've been doing…

NoveList uses four genre headings to delineate urban fiction subgenres for adults. 

Urban fiction

Urban fiction books are about characters, often young people, surviving at the margins of urban life, but who dream big (and ruthless). Getting rich, getting even, getting respect, and getting out -- into a stable, safe existence -- frequently motivates characters' choices, which though they may be violent and amoral, are framed sympathetically.

Think: A Hustler's Wife by Nikki Turner; The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah; The Streets Have No King by JaQuavis

Drama lit

Drama lit books center on the contentious relationships between friends, family, or lovers. Jealousy, backstabbing, betrayal, and sudden reversals are hallmarks of drama lit. Drama lit often has an aspirational quality in that the wealthy characters have roots in street life which may both give them an advantage because they are streetwise and come back to haunt them once they have made it to the upper echelons of society. 

Think: Deja King's Precious Cummings novels; Ashley's the Cartel novels; Carl Weber's Family Business series  

Urban erotica

Urban erotica shares many elements with urban fiction and drama lit, but with an emphasis on the explicit portrayal of sexual intimacy between characters. Zane is the undisputed queen of this sub-genre, and readers are likely to be familiar with her work and her publishing imprint, Zane Presents.

Think: Authors like Zane, Cairo, and Allison Hobbs

Christian urban fiction

In Christian Urban fiction, the relationship between God and the protagonist is of central importance. Lead characters are often clergy or prominent figures in the church. While characters will face contemporary dilemmas and crises of faith that can be quite explicit or troubling, the storyline focuses on these challenges being handled in a manner consistent with Christian scripture and practice.

Think: Kimberla Lawson Roby's Curtis Black series; E.N. Joy's Forever Divas series; Michelle Andrea Bowen's The Pastor's Aid Club series

You can easily see all the books in NoveList under any one of these genre headings with a field code search. For example, to see all the books in Drama Lit, type GN drama lit into the search bar. From there, you can use the limiters on the left to narrow your searching down to your (and your readers’) content. For more information on searching NoveList by using these genres (or any others), check out this video tutorial!

Interested in learning even more about NoveList genre headings? Download our genre guide

Autumn Winters is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList.

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