Augustus titles interlace action, crime, and the urban lifestyle depicting the harsh realities of life on the streets. Call it street literature, urban drama, we call it hip-hop literature, this exciting genre features fast-paced action, gritty ghetto realism, and social messages about the high price of the street life style. The continued popularity of urban publishing is attracting readers from all demographics similar to the crossover appeal hip-hop music has had on the landscape of America. The interest level and the pace at which urban literature crosses over to multimedia is increasing as urban literature offers new and exciting content that caters to a growing demographic of Latino population, African Americans, and hip hop music fans.
In 1996, Whyte, a hip-hop journalist, was actively trying to sell his gritty novel about three inner-city high school girls to publishers. “They basically said my fiction didn’t fit,” he says, describing the publishing industry’s refusal to accept his hard-core story as a legitimate form of fiction. “They suggested I get an agent, but the agents I talked to lacked vision. No one wanted to touch tales from the ‘hood.”
It was when Whyte finally decided to take a gamble and self-publish his novel that he learned there was an even greater demand for his stories than he realized. After selling 4,000 copies independently, Ghetto Girls was promptly acquired by another imprint and went on to sell nearly 100,000 copies. When his new publisher went bankrupt, however, 40-year-old Whyte decided to take what he’d learned and go back to doing it for himself. This time, Whyte reached out to Claiborne, a creative director and Entrepreneur (and childhood friend) who had been creating groundbreaking album packaging for record labels like JIVE, VERVE, IMPULSE, MCA and GRP records. What began as a friendly request for creative direction and design help quickly evolved into a formal partnership and the two founded Augustus Publishing in 2005.
Since its humble beginnings in Claiborne’s living room, Augustus has consistently helped define the genre that major publishers once refused to believe there was an audience for. With the commercial successes of Augustus and other independent publishers of urban novels, mainstream publishing houses were no longer able to ignore public demand, but there was a new problem. “These titles were being labeled ‘street fiction,’” explains Whyte. Wary of being given a tag with negative connotations, Whyte and Claiborne coined the term “Hip-Hop Literature” and a new literary genre was born.