Author, publisher, literary agent
Former hooker, madam, stolen-goods trafficker and convicted felon Vickie Stringer was one of Columbus, Ohio's most powerful drug dealers in the early 1990s. A decade later she became a publishing phenomenon when her first hip-hop novel, Let That Be the Reason, became a bestseller. Written during her prison term, the tough autobiographical novel was rejected by 26 publishers before Stringer decided to publish it herself, selling it out of the trunk of her car. Since then the book has sold over 100,000 copies and made the New York Times bestseller list. Stringer is at the forefront of a literary phenomenon that is credited with drawing black teens into reading and is compared favorably with earlier black literary movements, such as the Harlem Renaissance. Stringer is also a successful publisher. She set up Triple Crown Publications (TCP) with a $5000 personal loan in 2002. By 2005 TCP was the fastest-growing publisher in the United States with estimated sales of $1.8 million and a growing stable of writers. Stringer has used some of her wealth and influence to establish the Valen Foundation, named after her son, which helps reunite children with parents who have been incarcerated.
Born and raised on Detroit's East Side, Victoria M. Stringer became the second youngest of seven children in a church-going middle-class family. Her exact birth date is unpublished, although she was likely born in the late 1960s. Her father was an engineer and her mother a special educational needs teacher in the Detroit public schools system. Stringer was a conscientious student whose religious upbringing meant that she carried a bible everywhere. She was educated at Miller Middle School and graduated from Cass Tech in 1985 before going to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. After her freshman year she moved once more to Ohio State University in Columbus, where she met and fell in love with a drug dealer and leader of one of Columbus's most notorious gangs: the Triple Crown Posse. Stringer soon dropped out of college.
For several years Stringer enjoyed a lavish lifestyle funded by drugs, but when she became pregnant, the man she calls "Chino" in her first novel denied he was the father and left her to marry another woman. After a brief period working the streets after the birth of her son Valen, Stringer began recruiting girls for an escort agency while continuing to supply drugs around Columbus. When she was finally arrested in September 1994 police found almost $250,000 in her car, some of it in marked bills. Despite having been Columbus's most successful drug dealer, most of Stringer's family did not find out about her other life until her arrest. The following year she was sentenced to seven years in jail, a reduced sentence because she was willing to testify against others.
Stringer served five of her seven years. While in prison she began writing her first novel, Let That Be the Reason, longhand in the prison library, partly as therapy. The novel is deliberately autobiographical—she claimed 90 percent of it to be factual—and though the names are changed the details of life as a drug dealer are vivid. Many critics of "hip-hop fiction," or the "Gangsta-lit" genre, argue that the books glorify violence, drug-dealing, and prostitution. But Stringer remained unapologetic about the content of the books she writes and those she publishes. Unlike some other writers in the genre Stringer at least made sure that her work offered an overall positive message. In an interview with Inc. Magazine, she explained: "I do not glamorize a life of crime. I lost everything, and I want single moms out there to realize they don't have to get caught up in the drug game." The book was written as a warning to others not to make the same mistakes.
Stringer was released from prison in January 2001 and began trying to get her novel published. It was rejected by 26 publishers before Stringer decided to publish the book herself. With money she borrowed from friends and family, Stringer set up Triple Crown Publications in 2001 and published 2,500 copies of her book that she sold for $10 apiece from the trunk of her car. She hawked her book at such non-traditional locations as beauty salons and car washes. The book, which has been placed in the tradition of controversial writers such as Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, sold out in 3 weeks. A small Brooklyn-based publisher Upstream Publications, offered Stringer a $50,000 advance to publish Let That Be the Reason, and sold over 100,000 copies of it. Her follow-up book Imagine This, published in 2004, also sold over 100,000 copies. Both novels were on the Essence bestseller list for over a year.
Hip-hop fiction is mostly aimed at teenage readers and has credited with a rise in interest in reading among young African-American males, a group writers, publishers, and librarians find notoriously difficult to reach. Stringer's great achievement as a writer and as a publisher is to have tapped into that market. But her break into publishing came almost by accident. Having had success as a self-publisher she was contacted by a prison writer named K'wan who sent her a manuscript for a book called Gangsta. Stringer and her sister produced the book and sold 10,000 copies in a month. Since then Triple Crown Publications has recruited steadily and by the end of 2004 had published 34 books by 26 authors. Stringer had also begun to act as an agent on behalf of Triple Crown authors, making deals with large publishing houses and negotiating a six figure, two-book deal for herself with Atria Books. Just five years after Stringer went to the library to find out about publishing her company can command pre-orders of 10,000 copies before a book even goes into production and has revenues of around $1 million.
Since her release, much of what Stringer has achieved has been inspired by her Christian faith. She claimed to have been inspired by God to write her life story and to rewrite her future. Having spent five years away from her son, Stringer was desperate to rebuild her relationship with him upon her release from prison. She realized that for many people a period behind bars also meant the loss of their family. In 2004 she established the Valen Foundation to help reunite children with parents who have been incarcerated. She told Inc. Magazine: "If you are walking right, God is a restorer. I'm just thankful He gave me the chance to change my legacy."
Let That Be the Reason, A & B Distributors & Publishers Group, 2002.
Imagine This, Atria Books, 2004.
(With Mia McPherson) How to Succeed in the Publishing Game, Triple Crown Publications, 2005.
Dirty Red: A Novel, Atria Books, 2006.
At a Glance …
Born Victoria M. Stringer in 196(?) in Detroit, MI; children: Valen. Education: Attended Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, late 1980s; attended Ohio State University, Columbus, late 1980s. Religion: Christian.
Career: drug dealer and madam, Columbus, OH, 1990s; author, 2001–; Triple Crown Publications, Columbus, OH, founder and president, 2001–.
Addresses: Office—Triple Crown Publications, 4449 Easton Way, 2nd Floor, Columbus, OH 43219.
Black Enterprise, January 2006, p. 49.
Columbus Monthly, November 2004, p. 102.
Entrepreneur, May 2005, p. 20.
Essence, September 2005, p. 113.
Inc. Magazine, May 2006.
International Herald Tribune, September 10, 2004, p. 12.
New York Times, September 8, 2004, Section E, p. 6; January 4, 2006.
Publishers Weekly, July 19, 2004, p. 11.
The Writer, August 2004, p. 10.
"Street Lit Takes a Hit," Library Journal, www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6299839.html (July 10, 2006).
"Romancing the Hood," metrotimes: detroit's weekly alternative, www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=7856 (July 13, 2006).