Street Lit Moves to the Mainstream

Posted on February 13, 2006

The New York Times has an interesting article about a new subgenre of books: street lit. The article focuses on author Dewitt Gilmore, 41, who is an ex-con. While he was in prison, he wrote 30 manuscripts. When he served his time (for check cashing fraud) he self-published twelve of the books. He is an aggressive self-promoter, handselling the books at prisons, on the Internet, on sidewalks and in indie bookstores. He just signed a six figure contract with Monique Patterson, a senior editor at St. Martin's Press. His first novel will come out later this year.

Ms. Patterson said she had first seen Mr. Gilmore's books for sale on sidewalk tables in Brooklyn, where she lives. Then last June, George Witte, editor in chief at St. Martin's met Mr. Gilmore at the Book Expo America conference in Manhattan, where Mr. Gilmore had taken a booth.

Mr. Gilmore's prison pedigree gives him a street credibility that is almost as vital as his written word, Ms. Patterson said. Readers of the genre want to feel that the author is drawing upon his own hard-knock experience as grist for his books.

"He's really writing about what he's been through," she said. "It's similar to the way hip-hop appealed to a mainstream audience."

Mr. Gilmore's first book for St. Martin's, "Extramarital Affairs," is scheduled to come out this year, Ms. Patterson said. Mr. Gilmore called it "a story about a married couple addicted to sex" who get caught up in a murder. It was written after his release from prison.

Street lit, eh? Publishers would love for a genre to take off like hip-hop did for music. Mr. Gilmore's story is certainly the most unusual self-publishing success story we've heard so far.

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