Author Eric Jerome Dickey, whose novels of romance, mystery and adventure were best-selling page-turners over more than 20 years, has died aged 59.
The US writer wrote 30 novels about breathless relationships and thrilling adventures involving young African American characters.
They included Friends & Lovers, Milk In My Coffee, Cheaters and Finding Gideon.
He also wrote a series of Marvel comics about a love story between Storm from the X-Men and the Black Panther.
"His work has become a cultural touchstone over the course of his multi-decade writing career, earning him millions of dedicated readers around the world," his publicist Becky Odell told USA Today in a statement.
Writer Roxane Gay was among those paying tribute, describing him as "a great storyteller".
I am truly saddened to hear about the passing of Eric Jerome Dickey. His were some of the first novels I ever read about black people that weren’t about slavery or civil rights. He was a great storyteller.— roxane gay (@rgay) January 5, 2021
Other authors to add their voices included Luvvie Ajayi, who described him as "a literary legend", and ReShonda Tate Billingsley, who said he was "an amazing author and an even better friend".
Eric Jerome Dickey was a literary legend. Had a whole generation reading and coming to school the next day like "DID YOU FINISH YET??? We have to talk about it when you do!"— Luvvie is the #ProfessionalTroublemaker (@Luvvie) January 5, 2021
May he rest peacefully.
I remember sneaking around with my copy of "Friends and Lovers" in middle school like it was contraband. Secretly reading an Eric Jerome Dickey novel was a teenage right of passage for a generation of black Americans— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) January 5, 2021
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Dickey started out as a software developer in the aerospace industry. Being laid off from that job gave him a chance to take writing classes and see whether he could make it as an author.
He emerged during a boom for African-American literature in the 1990s, and his 1996 debut Sister, Sister - about the lives and loves of three siblings - was recently named one of the 50 Most Impactful Black Books of the Last 50 Years by Essence magazine.
He was particularly praised for his ability to write "believable" female characters, and many of his readers were women.
When the New York Times profiled him in 2004, it billed him as the "chick lit king". Patrik Henry Bass, Essence's books editor, told the paper: "He is singular in the way he is tapping into the African-American female psyche."
And Calvin Reid, an editor at trade magazine Publishers Weekly, said: "He captures black language and black middle-class characters with more depth than you often see in commercial fiction."
By that time, he was selling 500,000 books a year. He was nominated four times for the NAACP Image Award for best work of fiction, winning in 2015 for A Wanted Woman.
By then, he had branched out into stories of crime, suspense, thrills and spills as well as the steamy and tangled relationships with which he made his name.
He had four daughters, but said he never based his plots on his own life. "I avoid my life," he once said. "It bores me. Trust me. A book about me would be a snoozefest."
His final novel, The Son of Mr Suleman, will be published in April.