vers Row imprint makes its debut As the market for African-American books grows, mainstream publishers are seeking new ways to meet the demand. The readership is evolving quickly in its hunger for a more diverse, increasingly sophisticated array of books a challenge that has sent publishing houses scrambling to find fresh ways to keep that momentum going. One of their approaches has been to create specialized imprints geared to the African-American customer, producing books that are soulful and innovative but with a commercial touch.

At last count, seven such imprints, all backed by large mainstream publishing houses, are currently in competition to woo black readers. The imprints are Ballantine's One World Books, Doubleday's Harlem Moon, Kensington Publishing's Dafina Books, HarperCollins' Amistad Press, Hyperion's Jump At The Sun and Warner Books' Walk Worthy Press. The latest entry is Strivers Row, launched by the Villard division of Random House, which joined the publishing marketplace in January with its first offering of new books. Under the savvy leadership of associate editor Melody Guy, Strivers Row plans to be out front with a daring, ground-breaking series of new voices in its line of African-American literature published as trade paperbacks.

"We're going to find those books which are quite important but were first self-published or published by small houses," Guy explained to BookPage. "By publishing these books as trade paperbacks with a lower price, we can take a chance on new authors and build careers. There will be many new names introduced to readers who will both surprise and enchant them." Strivers Row will publish nine titles a year, mainly works by first-time authors. The imprint's debut list includes: Parry A. Brown's novel, The Shirt Off His Back, a riveting look at a black single father's dogged effort to create a loving home for his 11-year-old twin girls; Guy Johnson's debut historic epic; Standing at the Scratch Line, the tale of anti-hero King Tremain who will stop at nothing to preserve his family; and Nichelle D. Tramble's searing "hip-hop noir" novel, The Dying Ground, a dark thriller of drugs, deception and secret lives.

Coming later this year, Strivers Row will offer two previously self-published works: Travis Hunter's revealing fictional male relationship saga, Hearts of Men; and Satin Doll, Gloria Mallette's sexy suspense novel of an adulterous woman who finds the tables turned on her when the wife of a lover starts to stalk her. Also coming up is Solomon Jones' hard-edged mystery, Pipe Dreams, a no-holds barred story of a Philadelphia politician found dead in a crack house and the ruthless hunt for his killers.

"We're looking for new voices and new visions," Guy concludes. "We want to expand the boundaries of African-American literature, and Strivers Row is just the vehicle to do that. There are readers out there seeking something different and challenging. We're going to provide that for them."

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