Interview with K’wan by Niccole Simmons
*What are your titles and publication years of your books?
Gangsta (2002), Road Dawgz (2003), Street Dreams (2004), Hoodlum (2005), Eve (2006), Hood Rat (2006), Still Hood (2007), Blow (2007), Gutter (2008), Section 8 (2009), From Harlem With Love (2010), Welfare Wifeys (2010), Gangland (2011), Eviction Notice (2011) and Animal which will be released under Cash Money in 2012.
*Which of the books you have written is your favorite?
I don’t know if I have a favorite. My stories are like my children and I love them all dearly. I think the book that I had the most fun writing was Street Dreams, because I wasn’t necessarily writing it to shop to a publishing house. By this point I had had enough of the publishing biz and convinced myself that I was going to retire. So when I wrote Street Dreams I was writing it for me, because I wanted to prove to myself that I was a great writer. The fact that it ended up being my first major release was a bonus.
*If you have a mentor, who is it and how have they helped/inspired you?
My mother was my inspiration. In the beginning the plan was to help her get published. I had no desire to be a writer, but when she got sick everything changed. When my mother passed I picked up the torch and discovered a talent that I never knew was there. This was her dream, not mine, but when the time came I stepped into her shoes and carried on. I didn’t really have a mentor when I was coming up as a writer. Most people wanted to keep me ignorant to the business and writing non-stop. I was worth more to them dumb than smart, if that makes sense. Shannon Holmes gave me a lot of positive game early in my career, but the person most instrumental in me making the jump to the majors and really realizing what I had was L.A. Banks (RIP). Leslie didn’t know me from a hole in the wall but when I laid my problems at her feet she welcomed me with open arms and directed me to submit to St. Martins. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for her I probably would’ve never come to the attention of St. Martins (at least that early in the game). She told her editor “This kid is gonna be huge one day and you need to check him out.” She helped me in a BIG way but most have never heard this story because she wasn’t the type of person to do something to say she did it. When Leslie helped you it was from the heart.
*What is the best thing to you about being an author?
Freedom. I make my own schedule, have no boss, and do not punch a clock. If I don’t wanna work, I don’t have to work, but I understand that I must “Write 2 Eat” so I go balls in all the time. Becoming a writer provided me with a way to feed my children and not have to worry about the other shoe dropping and being left out in the cold. I write because I MUST. It’s the same thing with people who have to breathe air to live. These stories are my air and my salvation.
*What is the most challenging/difficult thing about being an author?
The most challenging thing is dealing with industry politics. I never got into writing for money or fame, I kept at it because I grew to love it. As my name got bigger I was introduced to the dark side of publishing. This is a shady business and nobody cares about you if caring about you doesn’t create wealth for them. You’re only as good as your last favor and this is something that I had to learn the hard way. I’ve seen quite a bit over the last few years; backdoor deals, cliques, scandals, people hating for nothing and people who you go out of your way to help that don’t even offer so much as a thank you for your time. I have no stomach for the B.S. which is why for the most part I keep myself isolated. You used to see me at all the industry parties flicking it up, and inviting people into my circle who didn’t deserve to be there because their intentions weren’t pure. So I had to cut the cancer before it spread. I’m a good and genuine dude, but that doesn’t mean everybody else is.
*If you could establish 5 Rules of Conduct every author must adhere to, what would they be?
1. More individuality and less ball riding.
2. Be true to yourself and not to what the new trend is.
3. Learn how to take criticism without automatically calling it “hating.”
4. Conduct yourself in a professional manor when you’re at an event or social networking.
5. Probably the most important; educate yourself about this business so you know what you’re getting into before you get into it. So many people are content to take short cuts or ask a bunch of pointless questions instead of taking the time to try and learn.
*How did you acquire your publishing deal with Cash Money Content?
As with all the authors on the roster; Cash Money came to me. When I initially heard that Cash Money was putting together a wish list of authors I said “No.” I had done the G-unit thing a few years back and didn’t want to be a part of another gimmick devised by rappers and publishers. As I watched from a distance I saw that Cash Money was actually taking publishing seriously. The Cash Money situation popped up again this summer. I was a free agent for the first time in 8yrs and of course there were a bunch of publishers who wanted me, including Cash Money. It was a rough summer for me because I wasn’t used to dealing with this kind of pressure. I walked around looking like a homeless person all summer weighing my options. The blessing in it was that I got to see who my real peoples were. Everyone assumed that I had been dropped from my publisher, which was untrue. So thinking that I no longer had value a lot of people backed away from me, which was good because it put a lot of things into perspective. We had narrowed it down to four or five publishers, Cash Money being one of them. I was still hesitant because I wanted to give my current publisher a chance to give me what I was asking for, but they dragged their feet about it. So I did what was best for me and my family and told my agent to pull the trigger on the Cash Money deal. There’s no love lost between my former publisher, in fact I still have several projects that I will be releasing with them but I move the Hood Rat series to Cash Money.
My agent is a genius and structured the deal so I not only was taken care of monetarily but I also had the freedom to do other projects with other houses. Two more big factors in me signing with Cash Money were Ashley and JaQuavis Coleman. They recruited me the heaviest to come over to Cash Money. Those kids are young, but very sharp and they saw the bigger picture. Separate we are all formidable but united we would instantly become a powerhouse. I probably had more conversations about it with JaQuavis then I did with my agent lol. He broke everything down to me as far as the pros and cons of signing with Cash Money and there were more pros than cons, so it was really a no-brainer.
*In your opinion, how is the music industry, specifically the rap game comparable to the literary industry? (This question is relevant because some of the sites I am submitting the article to are heavily music related).
The publishing industry is the same as music because of the common principal of Big Bank take Little Bank. The major houses hold the keys to the kingdom as far as product placement and budgets, but we are the talent and therefore the cash cows. Still, even with being the talent we get the coins while the houses take the dollars. What most people don’t understand is that when you take that advance (which is just borrowing against yourself) it’s not for you to buy jewelry and cars, its to invest in yourself. For the last five years or so I’ve paid for my own book tours, marketing and everything else besides printing the book. That’s because I understand the hustle and I apply the same rules I learned as a starving artists to help keep this major machine going. A major publisher may place you in Walmart but it’s up to you to get the people into Walmart to buy the books. I see a lot of people fall back when they get a major deal thinking the battle is won, but in all truthfulness the battle is just beginning. They’re gonna get their money back regardless, but it’s up to you to get out there and hustle so you can make those coins add up to dollars.
*What are your long-term goals?
My long term goals are to write and direct my own films. Getting a movie option is great, but I need to be more hands on with my stuff. Nobody is gonna see my vision like I do.
*Any highlights or hardships you’ve had during your career?
The hardships of my career would have to be the lessons I learned early on about understanding paperwork. People have no idea how many times I’ve been cheated, exploited and everything else getting to the point where I am today. I put out a lot of material that to date I still have not been paid for. I could gripe about it or I can brush myself off and keep fighting. I chose to do the latter. These publishers will smile in your face to distract you from the knife being driven into your back.
One of my biggest highlights to date was seeing the looks on the faces of the people who thought it was over for me when they found out I was not only going to Cash Money but also had one of the most uniquely structured contracts I’ve ever seen. If you’ve been around me then you should know; I’ve always got a trump card up my sleeve. Lesson learned in this; never count K’wan out because you’ll lose that bet every time.
*What is your personal view on the self-publishing craze?
I think it’s a good and bad thing. Every man/woman has the right to feed themselves but some of these situations are ratchet at best. I’ve seen people who were just so thirsty to say “I wrote a book” that they’ll slap anything between the pages of a half ass cover, put it out and call themselves a bestseller. My generation of authors EARNED that title whereas some of these mofos ain’t even sold a book and are slapping it on their covers. Are you serious? On the flipside of that, you have some self-published authors who I have a great deal of respect for, because they did it the right way. They did the research and actually invested in making their project a good one. Those are the authors who will win in this game and when the time comes will be handed the keys to the city. The rest…..do I really need to finish this statement?
*What do you feel is in store for urban literature in the future?
I see great things in the future of Urban Fiction once the BS is weeded out. Today it’s a lot easier to self publish than it was ten years ago and there are more promotional and publishing outlets like E-books and social networking sights. We didn’t have all that when I came in; we actually had to get in the streets to get our product to the people. The times are changing and some are resistant to the changes, while others are going with the flow. We must change with the times or become obsolete.
Follow K’wan on Twitter @kwan141
Visit the Kwan Foye Website
UBM: You have a long impressive resume writing novels. In 2010 in an
interview with The Urban Book Source you stated you were retired. Can you elaborate why you retired?
OT: I smile right now as read this, but I never said I retired as a
“writer” I only spoke about my retiring from writing “urban fiction.” At the time,
I was very much interested in writing international thrillers and other
content, which I was able to with the children’s book “12 Brown Boys,” the epic
business novel “Pecking Order” the nonfiction book for entrepreneurism with
“The Equation” and the erotic short story book with “Dirty Old Men.” So I
was still writing, just not writing urban fiction anymore. So folks took that
“retired” word and ran with it without really looking at what I was saying.
I was also trying to go into film and television at the time.
UBM: Why the comeback?
OT: Well, now that you realize that I was never retired in the first place,
the so-called “return” is all about alerting the public marketplace that
I’m back active with new and interesting material again. But I’ve been in the
lab over the last 2 years trying to see what new directions to take.
UBM: Can you tell us about your latest project Corrupted?
OT: CORRUPTED is a fictional/factual account of all that’s going on in the
current book publishing industry, particularly with black authors and black
books through the eyes of one popular and successful editor, “Vincent
Biddle.” The book has a dozen main characters in it, and every move that they all
make is all real. I wrote the book to make a timely assessment on the
struggles that the current crop of African-American authors are going through to
continue their writing and publishing careers, where it basically comes down
to doing ANY and EVEYTHING that you need to to stay active.
UBM: What do you want readers to take away from the book?
OT: As the summary says, the readers will get to see the full dark side of
the publishing industry, where it ain’t all nice. Believe that! It’s a real
stressful struggle to remain successful in any audience-driven arena. When
you’re hot, you’re hot, but when you’re not . . . things can surely fall
apart on you. Now they get to see that.
UBM: Who is your favorite character in the novel?
OT: Good question. But as an author who is still writing this “serial”
ebook, week by week, to post one chapter at a time every Friday, I can’t take
any sides with the characters. I have to love ALL of them to give them each
justice. So that’s what it is. I like all of their perspectives, and each
perspective is very important to understand the full industry.
UBM: A lot of your books are about issues. What is the issue in Corrupted?
OT: You hit the nail rigt on the head with that. I LOVE to write about
different subjects for each and every book, and CORRUPTED is about the real deal
of human industry. Decisions amd sacrifices are always made in industry
that people often don’t understand. And in a hard American economy like this
one, every industry is going through tough times, including professional
football, basketball, music, film, television, you name it. So now you get to
really read about the publishing industry and how the economy effects those who
are in it. Ain’t not just books and writing. It’s about business. And don’t
you ever forget it!
UBM: Corrupted is being sold by subscription or by chapters, how did you
come up with such a unique pricing structure?
OT: Easy. I was not finished writing the book when I came up with the idea
for the summer. But with the ebook idea, I figured, why not publish a
chapter at a time then and sell it for $1. And if I write 25 chapters, it would
be like the price of a regular hard back. In the meantime, a new reading
audience would stay with me for 3-4 months of reading about the same characters
in the same book from the same author, like watching their favorite
television programs. Then my manager came up with the web site idea for folks who
maybe don’t have ebook technology, or may not want to keep downloading
chapters each week. And there you have it, a new publishing model to build and
maintain a dedicated audience.
UBM: What is your opinion on ebooks? Will they be the end of the paperback
or a new period in publishing?
OT: I’m using the ebook technology to my advantage right now, where I can
sell a chapter as soon as I finish it instead of having to wait for a full
book to be complete. But ebooks can only phase out traditional books when
everyone has the new technology to read them. So that may take a while to
happen. In the meantime, I still love the packaging of traditional books myself.
To write and publish a new book and then hold it in your hands is still
special feeling to me, but we’ll have to wait and see how special that process is
to everyone eles. So we will see in the next 5 years.
UBM: How has the industry changed since your last novel?
OT: More self-published authors. Less attention to mainstream author with
names. Less excitement for new book releases. Less money each book. Less
sells each new book. Less book stores to sell from. Less tour and marketing
money. Less confidence from editors and publishing houses. Less genres to read
black books, outside of urban street lit, black erotica and your tradictional
relationship dramas. And we still can’t get the black film deals that white
books can get. So there’s a lot less than more for black books. And for
white books, there are more film deals, more ebook sales, more paranormal
writers, but less money accross the board for them all as well. I mean, the whole
industry is a part of the overall American economy of less.
UBM: Does race play any issue in the industry?
OT: Oh, you already know it. And I talk about all of the race factors from
the first page to the last page of CORRUPTED! It’s all up in there!
UBM: What authors have influenced your writing or business?
OT: Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim, Walter Mosley and Toni
Morrison have had the biggest impact on my writing styles. And Terry McMillan,
Michael Baisden and Zane have the biggest impact on my business models.
UBM: How can readers learn more about Corrupted and your other titles?
OT: Simply view my web site @ www.OmarTyree.com, Twitter, Facebook,
Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or Google CORRUPTED by Omar Tyree and wham! You have it!
That’s the speed of the information age in year 2011.
Omar Tyree, a New York Times best-selling author, a 2001 NAACP Image Award
recipient for Outstanding Literature in Fiction, a 2006 Phillis Wheatley
Literary Award winner for Body of Work in Urban Fiction, and a 2010 HBCU
Legends Award recipient, has been cited by the City Council of Philadelphia for
his work in Urban Literacy, and has published 19 books with 2 million copies
sold worldwide that has generated more than $30 million. With a degree in
Print Journalism from Howard University in 1991, Tyree has been recognized as
one of the most renown contemporary writers in the African-American
community. In the Spring of 2008, he founded the Urban Literacy Project (ULP) to help
fight the lingering issue of illiteracy within the urban American
community. He is also an informed and passionate speaker on various community-related
and intellectual topics. Now entering the world of international business
and seminars, urban children’s books, stageplays, feature films and
songwriting, Tyree is a tireless creator and visionary of few limitations. For more
information on his work and titles, please view his web site @
A Perfect Picture: Interview with Hank Willis Thomas
Interviewed by Dana Rettig
Someone once stated that a picture is worth a thousand words. A
picture does not just remind us of our past and present. It reminds
us of who we are as individuals as well as our perspective on things
that make life bittersweet in a poetic form. New York City native,
Hank Willis Thomas is the recipient of the 2007 Renew Media Arts
Fellowship and Artadia Fellowship. He has won numerous other
photography awards including the New York Foundation for the Arts
Fellowship. He has exhibited nationally and internationally known
galleries and museums such as PS1, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the
Zacheta National Museum of Art in Poland, the Yerba Buena Center for
the Arts in San Francisco and lastly, the 2006 California Biennial at
the Orange County Museum of Art.
Hank Willis Thomas was commissioned with Cause Collective to create a
video installation for the Oakland International Airport. Currently,
he is collaborating with Ryan Alexiev on public installation at the
University of California, San Francisco. More information on Hank
Willis Thomas and his projects can be found at
www.hankwillisthomas.com and www.causecollective.com
UM: Tell me a little bit about your photography background. What
inspired you to become a photographer?
HWT: Pictures inspired me to become a photographer. I was allured by
them before anything else. It also didn’t hurt that my mother,
Deborah Willis is a photo curator and historian. I’m just following
in her foot steps.
UM: Name two people that you believe are motivators (role models) in
the photography world.
HWT: I couldn’t name two and be fair to myself. So I’ll say two that
have known me a long time: my mother, Deborah Willis and Carrie Mae
UM: How does it feel to know that your work is nationally/
internationally recognized worldwide?
HWT: It’s crazy. Mostly because I still have so much to learn about
the world and art in general. It’s great to have international
opportunities, but the burden is realizing how little you don’t know.
I don’t want to ever come off as arrogant or too misinformed and since
so much of my work is political in nature, that can be a mine field,
UM: You told me via email that you are currently in France. Is this
your first time being in France? If so, please describe the feeling of
exploring France for the first time.
HWT: No, I’ve been here a few times. I am doing a residency here at
Cité des Arts in the center. It’s cool to be here because I like not
knowing the language and realizing that being black here means
something than being black in the U.S. or Senegal or Vietnam. Each
place I go I gain a greater sense of self. It makes me realize how
small major issues in the U.S are when you look at them from a global
UM: What is your perspective on black art in other countries,
HWT: I think in the U.S. and the U.K. people of African descent are
more visible in their mainstream art scenes (though many would argue
that it still isn’t enough) . In South Africa and Angola there are
major issues happening internally but people are engaging with Europe
more than the U.S. I haven’t been to Brazil. I think artists of color
in Europe are just more aware of global issues. Perhaps I’m misguided
on that one though because there are a number of prominent African
artists in the U.S. dealing with global issues as well. I think
“black art” anywhere is still just contemporary art.
UM: What is your definition of black art? Compare black art to modern-
HWT: Is there a difference? Aren’t black artists working today in
greater numbers and with greater visibility than ever?
UM: Besides photography, what are your present and future endeavors?
HWT: I consider myself more of an artist or photo-conceptualist than
a photographer. There are too many good photographers now. I’d rather
deal with photographs on a more conceptual level. What do they mean?
How can existing images be remixed with others to say something new?
How does framing and context affect our interpretation of an image?
How can I translate something from a photograph into a painting, video
or sculpture? What can words say that pictures can’t when they are
framed as art? Basically, I’m just doing what I’ve always done.
Asking questions that lead me down amazing paths.
Hank Willis Thomas Studio
Living in a city with few bookstores that cater to individuals reading interest is a problem in many communities. The issue is an even bigger problem for publishers and authors. The problem existed in the Washington DC area where the DC Book Diva calls home. Only she didn’t complain, she sat out to solve the problem.
We sat down with the DC Bookdiva to talk about publishing books and placing the product directly in readers hands.
UM: Can you describe DC Bookdiva Publications?
DCB: DC Bookdiva Publications is the home of some of today’s hottest urban lit authors; we focus on publishing unique stories in the genre and pushing our authors to create stories that have never been told before.
UM: Let’s talk about your roots in the book industry in general and urban books specifically. When did you first get started and what influenced you?
DCB: I first started in the industry in 2005 as a book promoter. At the time I had a partner and we quickly grew the business from a grassroots initiative to a book lounge. I always had a love for arts, so I quickly wanted to learn more about the literary arts industry. I did so by providing a service to many authors in marketing and promotions in the DMV area, online, and through book signings and other events. At that time I learned all I could about the publishing industry and went on to produce one of the first online radio shows dedicated to African American authors- Urban Literary Review. Four years later, I published my first author under my company.
UM: At what point did you decide to start the mobile book store?
DCB: The mobile book store was born out of a need to service people in areas that lack book stores that feature works by African Americans. We expose readers to African American Authors up close and personal in their establishments or at book signings. I wanted to create something unique where authors could meet these readers in their communities; the mobile book store was created in 2008 after the failure of the partnership that was created in 2005.
UM: What are three or four successful traits of the most successful authors that visit your mobile bookstore?
DCB: The most successful traits of authors who visit my locations are those who engage the readers. Authors who stand and not sit at our mobile bookstore and greet each and every person with a smile and a friendly gesture. Authors who are well equipped with promotional giveaways and handouts at our events almost always leave a lasting impression with people who may not buy on the spot but return later to support the authors. Authors who visit more than once and schedule book signings at our multiple locations tend to have better success in spreading the word about themselves.
UM: Your advice for first time authors.
DCB: My advice for first time authors is to do your research before entering into the industry. Learn as much as you can so that you are well informed about industry standards. Read as much as you can and find someone to mentor you. If you can’t find someone to assist you, join groups and social networks where you can get some assistance. Don’t expect to find all of your answers this way but also do your research. It’s a good idea to attend seminars and workshops and find a way to assist someone who may do the same thing that you are interested in. Be patient. Don’t run into this business thinking that you will be successful overnight. Pace yourself and plan your work.
UM: You publish one of the most popular authors Kwame Teague, author of the Dutch series. How did you come to publish the Dynasty series?
DCB: Some years back, Kwame and I were introduced to one another by a publicist who was interested in having him appear on my online radio show. I agreed to interview him for an ongoing series that we were doing on incarcerated authors. At this time I expressed that I was getting ready to publish my first author and he asked me to send him a copy once it was released. I shared my visions for my company with him and we continued offline conversations about the literary industry and what we both where hoping to achieve. Several months after the release of my first publication he proposed to me that we work together on his next works. I was honored and accepted. We are now putting the finishing touches on Dynasty 3 and another book entitled Que.
UM: What upcoming or current title(s) are you most excited about and why? What is the biggest challenge with selling books?
DCB: I am too excited about my entire team and the projects that we all have. Most of the authors have been with me on this long journey, some as early as 2009. At the moment, I am most excited about Lorton Legends, Eyone Williams and A Beautiful Satan by RJ Champ. Both of these authors have worked very hard developing stories that are so unique. I am eager to see how readers respond to them. In my opinion, there are challenges, every day I wake; I push the company and the authors to think out the box and find new ways to reach the readers.
UM: In addition to publishing books, you are known for events. Can you talk about the importance of events and a successful author’s book?
DCB: In my opinion, book events are the new norm. They should go hand and hand with your marketing and promotional plan. An event is every day that you represent your company and books. Book events can be formal and informal but either way they have to leave a lasting impression and spark an interest for readers to buy. Finding unique ways to do this has always been of interest to me.
UM: When are your next book events? How can readers learn more about you?
DCB; The next company event that we have planned is the release event for Lorton Legends by Eyone Williams in September. We hold author book signings events weekly at our mobile bookstore locations. For more information about our events, you can sign up for our newsletter at www.dcbookdiva.com
The first time I viewed the Urban Book Source website felt like opening the wrapper of a new hip hop album. The site had a fresh look and feel, the writing was good and they covered urban authors better than any outlet I came across.
They still do.
I caught up with Kaven Brown and Mills Miller, two of the individuals behind the website to discuss the progress of urban literature, visual representation and their upcoming documentary “Behind Those Books”. This is part one of the two part feature.
UM: What company is the documentary being produced/directed under?
The documentary is produced by The Urban Book Source in association with myself (Kaven Brown) and Mills Miller.
UM: Tell us a little about your documentary and the mission of Behind Those Books?
KB: Behind Those Books is an overview of urban literature, it chronicles the evolution of the gritty street tale, more commonly known as “street lit,” told through in-depth interviews with pioneer authors, publishers, editors, literary agents, industry insiders, activists, hip-hop artists, philosophers, professors and more.
In short, the mission is to expose and bring legitimacy to the genre as a whole.
UM: What was your experience like when putting this project together?
Tons of ups and downs, I actually and honestly wanted to give up sometimes because I couldn’t get and wasn’t allowed access to certain things that other “filmmakers” were allowed to film. I won’t get into that now, but it was very disappointing at times.
But I was allowed into the mental state of minds these authors were in that cause them to write and I feel honored to have been let in that close.
From the trailer is seems there’s a lot of opinionated views from the authors, what’s your take on the direction of the urban literature world?
My main concern is the direction and message we are translating through the book covers. I don’t think we need what’s being displayed on the book covers to get readers to support our stories. The covers have changed dramatically over the years.
UM: Are you an author yourself or strictly a documentarian? (Kaven answer this and tell what your first book was about.)
KB: I like to call myself a “producer.” I’m just an author who has a passion for creating and material that gets people to think, either through a book, film or photograph.
I self-published my novel “Two Face” in 2005, which was co-written by my partner Corry Campos. Two Face is about an attorney who rigged a criminal trial so that her client—who is in the mafia— would be found guilty. The mafia learns of her wrongdoing and places a bounty on her head. The attorney flees the country and befriends a heartless killer known as “Two Face,” and from there the story of Cache Matador is told.
UM: What film festival circuits will this documentary be featured in?
At the moment of writing this, we have yet to enter the film into any festivals, due to us still putting final touches on the final edit of the film. But we have all intentions of submitting the film into any and all festivals under the sun.
UM: What you would like the viewer to take away from this documentary after watching it?
KB: If you opposed the genre, I just want you to rethink and evaluate yourself is all. Understand that these authors have made a way for themselves when no one else would give them a chance. Some have come from prison and have made very good use of their time behind them bars.
Also, if all your doing is complaining, whining and pointing out all the negativity that you claim can come from “street lit,” then I ask you to offer them help or “hire” them. If your not giving any of these authors a job, then realize that most “street lit” was created in prison and society is not giving them a job or anything. So now that they created a way for them to support themselves and families legally, you still have a problem with that?
UM: What’s next for you? What are some new projects that you’re working on that we can look out for?
KB: First is to complete the companion piece to the documentary, Behind Those Books, which is a non-fiction book of the same title. I’ll be taking The Urban Book Source (www.theubs.com) to higher levels, while producing other documentaries, music videos, films and photography.
UM: What inspired this project?
KB: When I was first starting out as an author I use to do tons of research for sources online and off for my work and I found that it wasn’t many outlets. There were little to none and the ones that were available didn’t seem to have much “creditability.” In my opinion they didn’t represent the level of professionalism that I thought we should be striving for. So I decided to start The Urban Book Source, which I thought would fill that void.
The ideas from The Urban Book Source inspired Behind Those Books. Not to mention I already wanted to write scripts and make movies. So with me wanting to make films and create a legitimate space for “urban” publishing I combined the two and “Behind Those Books” was conceived.
In the trailer New York Times Bestselling author Teri Woods makes a comment, “Black people, black life, inner city life are the last to be documented.” Do you agree and is that a motivating factor in producing Behind Those Books?
I don’t know if we as “black” people are the last to be documented because I don’t think we should be sitting around waiting for someone to “document” us. I feel if we want to be documented who would be better to do it than ourselves? And yes, that is a very motivating quote. Teri Woods is somewhat of a motivational speaker, she always gets you hyped up.
UM: Why did you want to spend the time and money to put this documentary together?
KB: I felt like this subject was very important and should be included into the history of blacks and literature. The money wasn’t a real concern, we already had the necessary equipment to produced a decent film. With technology advancing it has allowed for filmmaking to be less expensive now. I think its all about drive and determination and not giving up. And once we started the project, I didn’t want to stop until to was complete. So here we are 3-years later.
Cornel West says in order for a person to be “dumbed down,” we would have to assume that they were “up” first. What did you take from the statement as it relates to him speaking about urban fiction?
I immediately felt some sort of relief to be honest. Because everyone who opposed “street lit” always said that it “dumbs you down.” So when Dr. West said what he said, it was obvious that in order for a person to be “dumbed down” you would have to assume the person started “up” first, otherwise its nothing to dumb down, they’ll already down. And I don’t think that reading can ultimately “dumb” anyone down. If it does, then that author should found another profession.
UM: Before this project, had you read any urban fiction books? If yes, who?
KB: Yes. I’ve read all 13 of Donald Goines books, most of Robert Beck aka Iceberg Slim. I’ve read Teri Woods, Shannon Holmes, K’wan, Kwame Teague and Vickie Stringer to name a few.
UM: What was one of the most shocking comments you heard in the 3 years of filming?
KB: There were many, but the one that sticks out the most is when Treasure E. Blue, said that his mother was a “whore.” Here is the exact quote: “I am a abandoned child. My mother was a whore. And the things I saw through these eyes, no child should have to witness or experience. So am I wrong for writing about my life that I saw?”
UM: What do you want to improve about the genre?
KB: Again, the book cover imagery and I hate to say this, but a lot of these authors and publishers need to learn “digital online business etiquette 101” before they send another email or publish some of their Facebook and Twitter content. I’ve seen some commentary via Facebook that would make you want to never work with some of these authors and publishers.
As creative individuals in fine arts, what creative influence do you believe urban fiction has made on lifestyle and culture of those who read those books?
Basically that it’s okay to read! It’s okay to be a nerd or geek! It’s okay to be smart! Shannon Holmes and K’wan are far from being labeled as dorks, but they are “writers.” I think that’s a great thing. Some of these authors don’t look like “authors,” but then again, what does an author look like? Now, you have rappers mentioning these authors and their book titles in there music.
UM: What do you think the genre of urban fiction brings to the publishing industry?
KB: I think of urban fiction as the “rebel,” who went against the grain to get their story published and read by the masses. It brings a gritty “non-traditionally” edge to the publishing world. Who would have ever thought that buy selling your book out the trunk of your car or on subways could get your book noticed?
The trailer features a clip with Professor Michael Eric Dyson posing this question, “How does urban literature play a role in facilitating greater learning?” Please answer that as you see it?
I’d say that Dyson’s comment translates into: reading urban fiction can be used as a starter for those who may have never read a book before. It can be used as a way to entice or attract literature to those who may think “reading” is boring. Then go on and read other work. Sadly, some of our youth are not engaged with reading.
UM: Mills, you and Kaven also direct music videos. Who are some of the artist that you have worked with under Mills Miller Media?
MM: Fabolous, Jadakiss, Lloyd Banks, Fred The Godson, Vado, Bun B, The Dream and Chrissette Michelle just to name a few. All which can be view on: www.millsmiller.com
UM: It’s no secret that there are more than a few authors who write urban fiction books who have also served time in prison. Whether, local, state, or federal. From drugs to identity theft and credit card fraud. Can you tell us how the prison factor plays a part in urban fiction? Wahida Clark is another urban fiction author who has made the NY Times Bestsellers list with her title “Pay with Ya Life”. Does prison add to the creditability of urban fiction authors story/book?
KB: What’s crazy is that sometimes it takes for a person to land in prison before they realize what they should be doing with their life and realize they have a talent. These people arrive in prison as criminals and exit as authors and publishers, who can get mad at that?
As far as prison lending “creditability” to urban fiction? I’m not sure. There are several authors who have never done prison time and have written great work. But I guess as far as subject matter, I can see how prison could add some creditability, as crazy as that may sound. For example, look at Michele Fletcher, she went to prison for credit card fraud, came out and wrote a book about it. Who wouldn’t take her word for what she wrote about?
UM: Out of all the places you traveled for this documentary, Cleveland Public Library surprised you the most. Tell us what you saw and learned that impressed you.
KB: The Cleveland Public Library had one of the most vast and organized sections of urban literature I’ve ever seen. It looked like something out of Barnes and Nobles or Borders the way it was structured, and it had so many different titles, not just “brand” name books.
UM: How much more will be covered in the trade paperback book of the same name?
The book will contain much more history, contrasting and comparing, lots of case studies and stories.
UM: How many people did you interview for this project?
KB: I don’t have the exact number off hand, but we interview over 80 people and have over 100 hours of footage.
UM: Approximately how much money do you estimate you used to finance Behind Those Books, the documentary?
KB: I would say between $15,000 – $18,000 including all post production.
UM: How can audiences learn more about the film and your upcoming projects?
KAVEN L. BROWN
Behind Those Books: A Documentary
Writer / Producer
Incarceration of a Black Youth and Urban Fiction
by Niccole Simmons
Here are some startling statistics. Black men have an incarceration rate of 4,618 in 10,000. In the United States, an estimated 1,559,200 children have parent in prison. Unfortunately, 92% of those incarcerated are fathers. In Cook County (Chicago-land area) 99% of youths tried as adults are African-American or Latino and the arrest rate of African-American juveniles increases 145% each year.
Unfortunately, eighty-four males on Death Row right now are juveniles.
Currently, illicit drug use within the African-American community for juveniles twelve and older is 10.1%. Because of the extraordinary rate of incarceration, one in every twenty black men over the age of eighteen in the United States will be incarcerated. This is opposed to one in eighty white men. FBI data compiled from more than eighty-five hundred agencies show that African-Americans were the subject of 29% of the population in prisons, even though they make up only 12% of the United States population.
African Americans made up 44% of the female inmate’s ages sixteen to sixty-four; however, African American females only total 3% of the population. So, it should be of no surprise that 70% of all traffic stops in the United States are on African-Americans or Hispanics. Of those incarcerated a staggering 60% are illiterate. Can the popularity of urban fiction begin to bring that number down?
Urban fiction usually tells a story that includes crime, drugs, sex, greed, money and murder. A lot of people feel as though urban fiction perpetuates a negative stereo-type within the African- American community. This is the opinion of many prominent members of the same African-American communities that have embraced this type of genre. Most likely you will never hear of an urban street lit author winning a Noble or Pulitzer Prize.
What about the way women are portrayed in urban fiction? King of urban fiction, author K’wan Foye put it best when he stated “Women in urban fiction are the same as in the real world; you have good ones and bad ones.
Now, I think a lot of urban literature is shameful and vulgar. I think that the use of the word Nigga is abused and I think that the senseless killing is horrible; however, I also think that urban fiction saves lives. Not only does it save lives but it creates positivity where there was none. It creates hope where before there was only despair. A positive outlook where there was once only negativity. Also, it creates an honest income for those whose entire way of life may have been illegal street hustling.
Take for example Relentless Aaron. Relentless wrote many of his novels while serving time in a federal prison. He has been a free man for a few years now and in that time he has managed to obtain a multi-book deal with St. Martin’s Press and another with famous hip-hop star 50 cent. Vickie Stringer who has been dubbed one of the most famous street lit authors ever began her writing while in custody of the Department of Corrections as well.
Most recently, the success story of author Terry l. Wroten who was signed by author K’wans publishing house, Black Dawn Inc. is the talk of the urban literary world.
“Being sentenced to ten years in the California State Prison at the age of fourteen was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”
Imagine my surprise upon hearing this coming from twenty-five year old debut author, Terry L. Wroten. At the age of ten, Wroten who was a resident of South Central, Los Angeles joined the infamous 4trey gangster crips street gang. At the age of thirteen, Wroten was shot six times by rival gang members. At the age of fourteen, Wroten was taken into custody and charged with three murders, robbery and assault. Inevitably he was exonerated of the three murder charges but was sentenced to the California Department of Corrections for a period of ten years for the other charges. At age twenty-five, Wroten is the most anticipated street literature author coming from the West Coast.
At the time of his incarceration, Mr. Wroten was illiterate. He would have to have cell mates read him letters from his mother and also write his letters to her. He was unable to even address an envelope. He spent the first two years of his incarceration in a juvenile detention center where he began to learn how to read and write. A few months short of turning sixteen, Wroten was transferred to Tehachapi State prison. Here, the older inmates would help Wroten with his reading and writing. Sometimes the guards would even give him a hand. An older cellmate taught him how to use a dictionary at which time he learned how to look up words he couldn’t understand and inevitably expanded his vocabulary. Wroten reports that his comprehension skills seemed to almost immediately become enhanced upon learning how to utilize the dictionary. After being stabbed while engaged in prison riot at the age of eighteen, where inmates and correctional officers were injured.
Wroten was placed in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU) for term five years for battery on a peace officer. It was at this time he read the book entitled “Gangsta” by K’wan and thought that he could write a similar tale.
This is when he started to write.
In 2007 at the age of 22, Wroten was released to a half way house in order to become un-institutionalized and learn how to find his way back into society. He had a counselor which he reported to daily. After several meetings the counselor told Wroten that if he could not find gainful employment soon, he would be revoked and sent back to the penitentiary. When the counselor questioned Wroten about what he was able to do or what kind of skills he had, his reply was, “I don’t know how to do shit but read and write.”
Wroten’s counselor then asked to review some of his writing. Upon completing eight years of his ten year bid, he had approximately seven manuscripts completed. While being placed back in custody on a parole violation, Mr. Wroten had the opportunity to finish his scripts for a total of twelve completed novels upon his release. His counselor was extremely impressed by the content of Wrotens stories and felt as if his writing was comparable to other urban street lit authors.
Wrotens counselor decided to try and help him find a publisher. After being incarcerated at the time of the internet boom, Wroten was completely unfamiliar with how to use a computer or the internet. The first thing the counselor taught Wroten was about the social networking site, MySpace. It was there that they reached out to the inspiration behind Wroten’s writing, author K’wan. K’wan recognized the talented young man’s writing skills and for two years the two corresponded while preparing for the release of “Natural Born Killaz”.
Now that Wroten has signed a book deal under K’wan’s publishing house Black Dawn Inc. he is hoping to open some doors for others on the West Coast.
As of now, the East Coast has a strong-hold on the urban fiction-street lit. genre. Wroten also aspires to show kids in urban communities that may be going down the path that he once did, that illegal hustling, selling drugs and gangbanging isn’t the only way. He currently does free motivational speaking at high schools and community centers in the Los Angeles area. Also, Wroten has penned an anthology; out now, with authors K’wan, Jrod Nider, JM Benjamin and Randy Ski-Thompson titled “The Massacre”. His debut novel by Black Dawn Inc. entitled “Natural Born Killaz” is also available.
Mr. Wroten is also hoping to break into the film industry. He is currently in the process of writing screen plays and continuing to work on manuscripts. He also wants naysayers of urban fiction to know that had it not been for the gritty street tales urban fiction portrays, that he most likely would have remained illiterate and a lifelong menace to society. Wroten went on to point out that most characters in urban street lit do tend to redeem themselves at the end of the novel. “This is something we can relate to, not Judy Blume, Stephen King or JK Rowlings. This is what life is. I’m just bringing it to the frontline,” he stated humbly.
As the author of this article, I do have to say that Mr. Wroten humility was a pleasant surprise. Having a little bit of background information before speaking to Mr. Wroten, I assumed I would be talking to a rough and gruff thug; however, Mr. Wroten was kind, soft and well spoken whose passion and desire to write, not for fame and fortune but to find a way out and to inspire others was made evident throughout the entire interview. His gratitude and thankfulness to author K’wan for giving him an opportunity to fulfill his goals is inexpressible. His desire to be a role model and help others is also like nothing I have ever seen before. If this is what urban fiction does to people, how can anyone be against it?
If you would like to contact Terry L Wroten, you can reach out to him at email@example.com or Facebook.
T Styles is a boss. Fly, progressive and enough swag to lend to the haters. Now a bookstore owner, we had the chance to sit with T Styles to discuss her bookstore, the publishing business and e-books.
UM: Describe The Cartel Publications and what it brings to the publishing industry:
T Styles: The Cartel Publications is a street literature publishing house. Meaning we publish novels heavy in urban themes depicting street life. We bring consistency to the publishing industry and we offer a solid brand for our distributors and customers. Our customers are starting to realize that when they see the CP logo, it’s all good and your customers will be pleased. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
UM: Most publishers build their house on at least one book or author. To date, what book has laid the most bricks for the The Cartel Publications?
T Styles: Without a doubt it has been the Shyt List series. For seconds I’d have to say my titles…Black and Ugly as Ever, A Hustler’s Son 2 and the like.
UM: You’ve remained focused on your house and have expanded your brand into a bookstore. In an economic climate where bookstores are closing, what has been your biggest challenge operating the store?
T Styles: I haven’t had any major challenges. I scouted the area in which the book store is located a long time ago. In fact, I grew up in the area and knew that a black book store would do great in a location where most of the customers commute by bus/train. If I had to pick a challenge, it would be hiring and maintaining qualified staff members. Although we seem to be doing pretty well now.
UM: As a bookstore owner, what misconception (s) have you learned about the publishing industry that you did not know as a publisher / author?
T Styles: Hmmm, misconception…you know what, I’m one of the few publishers who is not interested in how other people do things, and because of it, I’ve been protected from ‘How other publishers/authors’ do things. So I didn’t have any misconceptions or expectations outside of keeping my focus on the brand. I knew I’d have to grind to get the brand out there that if I did, the Cartel would be okay. I think too often business folk worry too much about what others are doing in the industry and base their business decisions on what worked or didn’t work for that person. Ignorance was my greatest asset because I didn’t know that most publishers didn’t put out two books at the same time, or this that and a third. Feel me?
UM: As a bookstore owner, what are some words of advice for authors and book signings.
T Styles: Well, I’d say please…please…please don’t cut corners when it comes to quality book covers. It’s imperative. And although your mother’s cousin’s uncle may have done good copy paste work in the past, when it comes to your book cover, take no chance. People say don’t judge a book by it’s cover but they always do! They pick up the book and put it right back down if the title isn’t hot and the cover isn’t hotter. I’d also say don’t expect a line to form around the corner when you sign your books. Successful books signings are 80 percent grind & pull (of customers) and 20 percent promotion from the book store.
UM: What is your view on urban books in the ebook format and publishers giving the ebook away for free?
T Styles: Publisher are giving books away for free? Nonsense! There has to be some reason for that madness I’m sure. Me? I LOVE ebooks but you have to pay for ours. We currently have our books available on Amazon.com’s Kindle and since Kindle’s AP is available for the iPad, you may download our books there too. In terms of e-books, the industry is changing. Publishing is changing and those who aren’t willing to embrace change will get run over. There’s no other way to say it. We have to get with the program or get left out of it. People want access and immediate gratification and ebooks provide it for the consumer.
UM: The amount of books in your catalog is impressive as T Styles. What made you write using the pseudonym Reign?
T Styles: I love writing under Reign because she’s relentless. And Reign means to prevail. Sounds just like me!
UM: What book did you enjoy writing the most?
T Styles: Black and Ugly. Why? I enjoyed the story because of the topic for one (about a young lady who hates her dark skin) and I like creating characters based on solid friendships because I never had that. When I was growing up, I moved around so much I didn’t get a chance to form long lasting bonds. And although the friends in Black and Ugly fight a lot, they love one another.
UM: Do you desire to sign with a major publisher or would you like to remain independent?
T Styles: As of now, no. I’d like to remain independent because I’m not feeling the idea of working for someone else. And the longer I am successful, the more I don’t want to. This may change depending on the offer, but for now, I want to see how far I can take the label.
UM: What are some upcoming dates for The Cartel Publications book releases, author signings or book tours?
T Styles: We have The Unusual Suspects, Miss Wayne and the Queens of DC, Hell Razor Honeys 2, Reversed and the list goes on and on!
UM: Where can readers reach you online?
Seth Ferranti is the acclaimed author of a number of books, perhaps most notably “Prison Stories”, which he self-published through his company Gorilla Convict Publications. Ferranti currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for dealing drugs. He has currently served 17 years. As he was sentenced under the guidelines of an LSD kingpin, Ferranti’s case was widely publicized and covered in high profile sources like Rolling Stone magazine and The Washington Post.
Not only did he form his company while in prison, he has helped to publish other incarcerated writers. Ferranti is an accomplished journalist and has written pieces for a wide variety of magazines including FHM, Vice and Don Diva. More information about Gorilla Convict Publications and Seth Ferranti’s work can be found at http://www.gorillaconvict.com
Urbania: Can you tell me a little bit about your publishing house Gorilla Convict? How did you find the other writers that you are currently publishing?
Seth: Gorilla Convict Publications is the voice of the convict. It is founded and formed by prisoners and for prisoners. We are trying to bring readers the voices that might not otherwise be heard. We are trying to shed light on the stories that have been manipulated by the mainstream media and government. We give the prisoners side. We give voice to the legends of the street. They have been glorified and name dropped in hip hop, now with Gorilla Convict Publications you can read their real stories, in their words and the words of their homies, co-defendants and relatives.
We try to promote any other prisoners who are writing and putting out books from the penitentiary. We know it’s a struggle because we did it ourselves. So anyone with like minds we hook up with and help them to do their thing. Like my man Lamont “Fridge” Needum whose book STRAIGHT SAVAGE is like that and my dudes from the MIA Plex and Mike Harper who wrote BooBaby and STREET RAISED respectively. Their books are like that. At Gorilla Convict we promote and network to find the talented writers that exist within this system. There are a lot of dudes in here with a lot of stories to tell.
Urbania: Do you ever think of writing a straight up biography about your own life?
Seth: I’d like to write a biography one day or a movie script about my story. I’m not a gangster or anything like that. I’m just a kid from the suburbs who got caught up in this bullshit war on drugs and now I am paying the price with this 25-year federal sentence of which I’ve served almost 17 years of so far. So eventually, yes, I will write a straight up biography of my life and case and the circumstances that led me to be incarcerated. As of now, magazines like Rolling Stone and Don Diva have touched it upon, but I look forward to writing the complete and unabridged story one day. But for now I have a lot more stories to write and to share with the world in my Street Legends series.
Urbania: I know you didn’t start writing books until you were in prison, did you ever have any indicators earlier in life that you wanted to write?
Seth: I always played in bands when I was young. I still sing and play guitar. I know its kind of weird being that I write about gangsters and urban stuff, but really I am way into punk and metal, music wise. Though I do love a lot of the early hip hop stuff like Run DMC, Beastie Boys, NWA, DAS EFX, UTFO and stuff like that. I have always written songs and poetry and lyrics and the like, and it just evolved into what it is now. So I guess I did have indicators early in life that I wanted to write. It’s about more than that though, it’s about being able to create and to have a vision and follow through on it. That’s what I think I have always been about even when I was out on the street selling LSD and marijuana at all the east coast colleges. That was my vision back then, Gorilla Convict is my vision now. When I finally hit the streets my vision will take on a new form.
Urbania: What are currently your main motivations as a writer?
Seth: My main motivation as a writer now is to get stuff done. I want to put out a book a year for the rest of my bid, 6 years. So that when I get out I will have a resume, my books, my works that will speak as to what I am capable of. I want to be heard. I want these stories to be heard. I think it’s great that hip hop and urban fiction has opened up these doors. Especially for me and other people in prison. It gives us something to aim for and it gives us hope of a future life when we get out.
I want to use my time wisely and crank out as much quality material as I can. I’m happy that people are interested in my work, but for real I would do this regardless. This is my passion. Like I said, I’m a visionary and I won’t compromise my vision for anybody or anything. My wife and I started this from prison. When I get out I want to take it as far as it can go. That is my motivation.
Urbania: Street Legends 2 comes out next month. Can you talk a bit about how this new book compares with the first Street Legends?
Seth: Street Legends Vol 2 drops in DEC 09 and it carries on where Street Legends Vol 1 left off. In Vol 1 I wrote about the death before dishonor sic- Supreme, Wayne Perry, Anthony Jones, Aaron Jones from the JBM, Boy George and Pistol Pete. Six of the most recognizable gangsters of the hip hop era. These dudes were the black and Latino John Gotti’s and Pablo Escobar’s.
Now in Vol 2, I am profiling the original gangsters. Dudes you might have heard about but never really knew about. Frank Matthews, Peanut King, Michael Fray, The Boobie Boys, Short North Posse and New World. A lot of the street legends we hear about from the rappers are from New York, so I widened my scope on this one and tried to write about legends from different areas including Baltimore, DC, Miami, Columbus, Ohio and New Jersey. I wanted to talk about the older legends you might not have known that much about and some of the newer, not so hyped up ones. So basically Vol 2 is the same format. We are just talking about different legends.
Urbania: Do you think you have inspired other people in prison to become writers? Can you give some examples?
Seth: I think I have inspired other people in prison to be writers. Me and my man Joe Black started off together, he wrote Street Team and Squeeze. I’ve also been around Robert Booker who wrote PUSH and Eyone Williams who wrote Fast Lane and Hell Razor Honeys I and II. My man Fridge who wrote STRAIGHT SAVAGE and Plex who wrote BOOBABY and Mike Harper who wrote STREET RAISED.
I’m sure I have inspired them and they have inspired me and vice versa. Wahida Clark has been corresponding with me since she first started writing. Also Kwame Teague, who wrote the DUTCH series for Teri Woods, is someone I correspond with. I know a lot of writers who are still in prison. We have all inspired and tried to help each other. I’ve done whatever I could to get interviews and articles about all the people I have named here in magazines and on Internet sites. I appreciate Urbania doing the same for me. I’m sure there are more writers too. That’s just off the top of my head.
Urbania: On one of your blogs you mention you are interested in filmmaking when you get out. Are you going to get into Directing films? Also are you thinking of making your books into films or would you do something new?
Seth: I am going to get into film making when I get out. I want to write and
direct. I want to be like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Like
I said before, I have a vision. Some of the stories I written about would
make great films.
But I want to do more than gangster films. I want to do action/adventures with a gangster edge, of course. Anything I do has to have that edge to it. But dudes like Supreme and Boy George have tailor-made stories for film. When I am in the right position, I will push to get those films made. I will write them and then I will do all I can to get someone to bankroll them. I have written a couple of scripts and am still perfecting my screenwriting craft.
Jihad is a writer and motivational speaker. Early in his life, Jihad embarked on a life of crime, which landed him in prison for seven years. He was shot on several occasions and in a car accident, which left him paralyzed.
Miraculously, Jihad regained usage of his legs. He also discovered his love of books and for writing while in prison. Jihad’s books include the autobiographical novel entitled “ Street Life” which was written in 1998.
Jihad has since written five other novels. Jihad’s most recent release is a book of non-fiction entitled “The Survival Bible 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Men.” For more information about Jihad’s works, check out www.jihadspeaks.com.
In addition to his writing, Jihad is also an inspirational speaker and a real estate investor. He is the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization The Wake-Up Everybody Foundation. This company is dedicated to “positively and proactively re-awakening the African-American psyche through self-realization and re-education.”
We interviewed Jihad his work and his ideas for helping and encouraging young people. As far as his novels go, Jihad explained that he gets his ideas from major emotional experiences in his own life. He explained, “I could be running at the gym, and I’ll have a thought that develops and won’t go away. That thought usually comes from something I see or hear that I am a very passionate about.”
Jihad’s new book “The Survival Bible 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Men” has some truly insightful ideas. One of the most important points he strives to make is that youngsters need to intentionally seek out books written by people who share the same cultural identity.
Jihad explained during our interview, “In life, all of our formal education comes from either books or scholars that are teaching from the people and the books that they were taught from. These may not be books or schools of thought that have your best interest in mind, being that you are black and only have the identity that others have told you. So, you have to READ books about your yesterday written by people who look like you and have your best interest at heart. You have to do that in order to establish your cultural identity. This is a must in understanding how you got to be where you are. By studying your ancestors, you can see how to avoid their mistakes and understand how they achieved their successes.”
Jihad goes on to explain, “Your identity is your foundation. There is nothing
that can stand through rough weather or turmoil without a foundation. That
is why our people are in the condition that we are, most of us have no
foundation. See, knowing the past is knowing the future…. Everything in
life revolves, the earth, our bodies, our story. There is absolutely nothing
new under the sun, so knowing your past in essence is knowing your future,
because with knowing your yesterday, you can map out your tomorrow. In
essence, this is what they mean by Know thyself.”
Jihad’s work is self-published. Overall, he feels this experience has been very challenging. He explained that as an independent publisher he never had the same distribution outlets as the major publishers. “It’s like a grass roots movement for life being independent, at least until the media or the people really latch on to your work.”
As far as suggestions go for readers looking to become writers and follow a similar path to success, Jihad’s main words of advice are “ READ, AND JUST DO IT. Begin at the beginning of your thoughts and just write
what’s on your mind, and don’t worry if you are an avid reader, the story will come to you as you are writing.” He explains that it is important for new writers to realize that the hardest thing to write is the first page.
Jihad’s inspiration for new writers is as follows, “How many times do you see a movie that you know you could have done better or a book you could have wrote better? Sit down and just do it… everyday if it’s one word, one sentence, write… and most importantly read. Other books are your school. Don’t worry about stealing anyone’s ideas, as I said before there is nothing new under the sun, so how can you steal what never belonged to the author in the first place… It’s all about your twist on one of the few stories that have been done a million times a million ways.”
Of course, in addition to his books is his motivational speaking career. Jihad described a recent experience at one of his live events. “It was beautiful. The young King had never read a book before but his mother made him read The Survival Bible while he was grounded… After reading my book, he told his mother that The Survival Bible was the greatest one gift he’d ever received and he was going to change the world and make her proud. I spoke with the young King and told me that he was selling his PS3 to help his mother buy books from a reading list put in the Survival Bible. He is 13…. That one King’s words are worth more than any amount of money I could be paid to write.”
Next from Jihad is the sequel to “Preacherman Blues.” He not only plans on writing more novels, but also many more self-help books. In fact, the next self-help book on the horizon is “The Survival Bible: 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Women.”
Felicia Pride is best described as an author, speaker and voice of her generation. She has a Master’s degree in writing and publishing from Emerson College and she currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Pride’s numerous books span a variety of categories including hip-hop, pop-culture, fiction, and young adult literature. Perhaps her most acclaimed work to date is called “The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hops Greatest Songs.” This book has been called “Chicken Soup for the Hip-Hop Soul.” This book was even profiled by USA Today.
In addition to her writing, Pride is also an accomplished speaker who has spoken at schools and venues around the country. In 2004, Pride founded Backlist. This is an organization that conducts creating workshops and seminars, and that curates community events. Backlist also consults with artists and writers. More information about Pride’s work can be found at her website http://feliciapride.com/
Urbania: How did you get started writing? Did you always know you were a writer? Tell us a little bit about your background as far as when you realized this was one of your passions.
Felicia Pride: I didn’t always want to be a writer. I got my start while working in corporate America. I wanted an outlet where I could be creative so I found an opportunity to write for free for a small newspaper out of Staten Island, NY. I did this on my downtime. I began writing about music and the first time I saw my byline on a published article, it was a wrap.
Felicia Pride: The book takes place in Baltimore and is about a family that suffers a tragedy and how they each of them deal with the pain differently. It’s told through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Avery Washington who has to embark on a quest to find out who he is in order to move on. I’ve wanted to write a book based in Baltimore about a regular family who must deal with what life throws at them. Baltimore can get a bad rap sometimes, and I wanted to show another face of the city.
Urbania: Your book “The Message” is a really unique concept and since it has been released it has clearly made a lot of waves. Can you tell us a bit about your experience promoting your book?
Felicia Pride: Overall, the experience promoting THE MESSAGE has been amazing. I’ve met so many interesting people, including a lot of smart young people who have found value in the book. Their engagement with the book has taught me a lot. I’ve had the chance to give keynotes, and facilitate workshops for them and they’ve helped me grow in many ways.
I also was able to bring my family into the mix to help me (both sister and mother are in education) and together we developed an enrichment program based on THE MESSAGE that aligns with national academic standards. So that’s been exciting as well.
Urbania; What types of books do you enjoy reading most personally. Do you have any current recommendations?
Felicia Pride: I read all types of books, but the ones that I enjoy most are imaginative, different, and make me marvel at the power of words and the talent of wordsmiths. But a current recommendation, and I’ve been recommending this book all over the place, is “The Black Book: 35th Anniversary Edition.” Originally presented by Toni Morrison, it’s a book complete with images, archival documents, and news articles that chronicles the African American experience in this country. Everyone should own a copy.
Urbania: Do you have any suggestions for writers looking for inspiration and motivation to get started?
Felicia Pride: Write. Write. Write some more. You’re not a writer unless you write. Push aside those feelings of doubt and fear and write. The more you write, the better you become. And read, read, and read some more. The more you read, the better writer you become.
Urbania: How about suggestions on getting published?
Felicia Pride: Network like your life depends on it. And well, if you’re trying to be a published writer as a career, it kind of does. Most of the opportunities that I’ve been blessed to have come into my life has been the result of the relationships I have built and nurtured.
Urbania: I noticed you and your organization Backlist have done a lot of speaking engagements on a variety of different topics everything from strategies for success to hip hop. What types of audiences and/or topics do you enjoy presenting most?
Felicia Pride: Definitely teens and young adults—high school to college students. We vibe off each other’s energy. I learn from them. They learn from me. I was them and they are me.
Urbania: What is next on the horizon for you?
Felicia Pride: I’m working on a few multimedia projects, one being about my family in Baltimore. It’s an amazing story and I almost feel like I became a writer to tell it.