Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sister Souljah, Part III: The Creative Side

Sister Souljah, Part III: The Creative Side

I closed the final page of Midnight: A Gangster Love Story the other day and though it left me with a million and one questions, I have to give Sister Souljah her props. If it was her intention to grab the reader and give one a walk through a cultural landscape, she accomplished it with me. If she wanted to give us an intimate view of how people live, die, work, play, love, and make money in New York and how a city can become a character itself, she did it for me. If it was her desire to impart the importance of a sense of values in a society that has declining values, mission accomplished. Sister Souljah WROTE this book. Did she need to take nine or ten years to do so? I don’t know, but I ain’t mad at her. That is not to say the book was perfect; it was not. There were holes, flaws, and nicks in some of the logic going through Midnight’s fourteen year-old man-child constant stream of consciousness. There was stuff that even had me slightly pissed off, until I remembered, hey, this is fiction; or is it? The pen is a mighty sword and I suspect that a lot of Sister Souljah’s beliefs and feelings were spoken through the character of Midnight. She said at her book signing that this is her favorite book. Pieces of her heart went into the writing of it.

How did Sister Souljah create this book? She was asked the question every author is asked: What is your writing process? She said that you hear over and over that a writer is supposed to write every day; her process though is that she might write twenty pages and then write nothing for two weeks. She might get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and end up writing until morning and then not a word for several days. She also writes everything in long hand first. Now with 498 pages that sounds like a serious case of carpal tunnel, but that is her process.

Sister Souljah wanted readers to get a feel for the characters and she wanted creative control and so she had pictures in her book. She was told that fiction books do not have pictures and her response was well, I want pictures, I am a leader and I will set a precedent. The model for Midnight was a teen she saw at the mall and approached him with her husband and asked if she could have him professionally photographed. After talking with his mother, everything was set up. For the character of Akemi, she advertised and the model in the book is her perception of that character. Umma’s model was referred to her by a neighbor who she had asked to find her someone who could instruct her in the Sudanese culture.

Sister Souljah was a curious, intelligent child who was always asking questions and was teased by her brother’s friends who said things like, “When is your sister meeting with the President?” or “ Is your sister having tea with China officials?” She said she had a lot of male friends; there was nothing sexual, but that they were into her mind. Sister Souljah was able to write in a male voice because of her ability to get into their minds from being around men and being able to talk with them and understand how they think.

Everyone wanted to know about the movie version of The Coldest Winter Ever, so here is the deal. She met Jada Pinkett at the Million Woman March and Jada told her she wanted to produce TCWE. HBO bought the rights, (BTW, Jada was never the intended actress for Winter as that character’s age ranges from 13- 18) they talked, negotiated back and forth, etc and then basically HBO faked on them; they backed out of the deal. In order to get her rights back, she had to pay $250,000.00 dollars. It is back in her possession and she insists it will be made but ONLY when the business is right. And Sister Souljah is a business woman; you just know she don’t play when it comes to her business.

So, there you have it; the creativity behind Midnight. And that concludes the Sister Souljah series.

Peace out--

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sister Souljah, Part II- Did We Get It Yet?

Sister Souljah, Part II- Did We Get It?


In the first few pages of The Coldest Winter Ever, Winter Santiaga, the main character, makes a disparaging remark about the Sister Souljah character. That, right there is a direct clue into Winter’s attitude and personality. Nevertheless, most readers loved Winter, the fly, rich bitch, living in a mansion, designer wearing girl with the cool guys. Many wished they could be Winter and many tried to be. But did we really get what Winter represented? Sister Souljah was solid, an activist and unpretentious, and uncelebrated while Winter was glamorized and romanticized. The first few chapters made Winter’s life look as if it were all that, but as the real Sister Souljah pointed out last Saturday, the remaining part of TCWE was the story of a dismantling of a drug empire, a fall from grace. Winter ended up in jail, disfigured and her family destroyed. But did we get it?

A young woman in the audience at the book signing said she read TCWE in high school and unlike her friends who loved the book, she did not like it. When she asked them why they liked it, they could not tell her, they just liked it. This young woman was unimpressed with Winter’s antics. Sister Souljah replied that 100 people can hear a message and maybe 20 will get it right away, and maybe another 20 will get it some years later, but everyone is not going to get it.

A lot of folks did not get it. In the ensuing years, we saw a resurgence of The Coldest Winter copy cats; imitations that just did not measure up with Winter-like characters, bling blinging and living large. A new genre was reborn that had not been in vogue since Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim in the 1970s. Street lit, urban lit was on and poppin’.


In Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, the life of the character, Midnight is chronicled from age seven to fourteen years old. The story is told in the first person point of view of a young Muslim boy who becomes a man. He arrives from the Sudan, a place where he had intimate knowledge of his father, his grand father and his great-grandfather, and comes face-to-face with American ghetto life in Brooklyn, New York up front and personal. He is precocious, mature, intelligent, and wise beyond his years. How is this possible? We wanted to know and this question was asked of Sister Souljah. She maintains that one of the biggest fears is fear of black intelligence, black genius. Interestingly, the fear is not always from the mainstream culture, but WE, black folks fear black intelligence. Sister Souljah said if she told us some of the things she did and said as a little girl, we would claim she was lying. She was an inquisitive child, wanting to know everything. As she puts it, she was annoying to the adults around her. Her mother took her to the library at age five to get her library card and there she began to explore the universe. I took it that Sister Souljah was a genius. Have we gotten it yet?

Exceptional intelligence and the culture in which Midnight was raised dictated that boys become men at an early age. Men that were about business and taking responsibility. At the age of seven, Midnight was given the charge by his father to come to America with his pregnant mother and take care of and protect his family. He took that seriously. Sister Souljah immersed herself in Sudanese culture and literature. The authenticity of Midnight’s character was formed by her research and her study of the Koran, the Holy Torah and the Holy Bible, three books that she contends, anyone who wants to know what is going on in the world, need to study.

In TCWE Midnight was the object of Winter’s affection, yet a fantasy. Winter was empty-headed and Midnight was a man driven by his faith of Islam. Midnight is a powerful coming-of-age love story years before Winter enters the picture. So who is the object of Midnight’s affection in this story?; a Japanese born girl named Akemi. A brother in the audience, a poet and community activist I see quite often at Marcus book signings asked Sister Souljah, why an Asian girl? Her reply was that people who asked that question either did not read the book or they read it and didn’t get it. With the theme of immigration, these are two young people, from foreign lands who found a commonality. She said that New York City is a place where all the cultures and races of the world live; Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, West Indians, Africans, Jewish, Asians, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans, and the list goes on. It is inevitable that the children of these immigrants will meet and come together at some point. When that happens, love can happen. As one of my APOOO sisters said, the world is getting smaller. Sister Souljah also noted that in TCWE, it was mentioned that he had studied the martial arts and had always been interested in Asian culture. That is evident in Midnight’s story also. Furthermore, Sister Souljah said she wants Midnight to reach out globally.

So, do we get it yet?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sister Souljah: Part I, A Commentary

They came in anticipation to the East Bay Church of Religious Science in Oakland Saturday evening, December 6. And they got everything they expected and more. Sister Souljah, activist, former rapper, and best-selling author of No Disrepect and The Coldest Winter Ever, was in town, and she did not disappoint. Sponsored by Marcus Book Store of Oakland, the event was well attended and despite the competition of the De La Hoya fight and several football game playoffs, the brothers were in the house representing. Sister Souljah was ready. She started off saying that she would answer all questions; she is a big girl and she can take it and hopes we can do the same. Brown-skin, face devoid of make-up, a pug nose, she had two pony tail puffs, very young looking, belying her claim of being the mother of a 15-year old son; black long sleeved tee and black slacks, very unpretentious

We sat mesmerized for almost two hours as this Sister preached, philosophized, and prophesied about life as she saw it and of course, talked about her new book, Midnight: A Gangster Love Story. Let me back up a little. The book, Midnight, is a bit of a controversy. You see, what happened was…. Sister Souljah wrote The Coldest Winter Ever almost ten years ago, which was one of the most phenomenal literary occurrences in history. It was particularly popular in the black communities across the U.S touted. as the new re-emergence of what is called street or urban literature. Literature that speaks to the hearts and minds of the hip hop youth, the disenfranchised, and those who are living on the edge of society. TCWE and the copy cats that followed has been touted as responsible for bringing a whole generation of formerly nonreading teens into the literary arena. While TCWE opened the doors for a lot of authors to write stories that “kept it real”, surprisingly or surprisingly not, Sister Souljah does not want to be labeled a street/urban writer. She wants to be a writer that appeals worldwide. But let me tell you about the book signing event; I will go into detail on some points SS made so this might take two or three blogs. There is a lot to talk about.

My online book group, APOOO (A Place of Our Own) chose Midnight as our December book of the month. Now we are a group that gets down to the nitty gritty when discussing and dissecting a book. So, I will be referencing some comments as well as conversations with others about this new release.

Somewhere along the way, something got misconstrued. We had been hearing for almost a year that SS was writing a sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever. So, and because almost everything promoting Midnight, including the publisher of the book, Simon & Schuster sending out material indicating it so, that is what readers were expecting. It was not until Sister Souljah gave an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, when she adamantly emphasized that Midnight was a prequel, not a sequel Unhun, um. Well, the book was one of the all time best-selling of pre-ordered books on and a lot of those people did not get the memo, according to many of the reviews on that site. Not only is the book getting mixed reviews, Sister Souljah has been getting hot emails, folks complaining about many things among them, not having Winter (the main character in TCWE) in the book to what they perceive as blatant disrespect to Black Americans.

So let me school you on what Sister Souljah has to say about all that noise you all are out there making.

To the charges that she, as a proud black woman, is disrespecting black people, she finds ludicrous. The angry, passionate letters and emails she is getting has her scratching her head. She is writing from a point of view of a young boy from the Sudan in the character, Midnight. This is the way he sees things in his young mind, having grown up in Africa where men are taught to be men and take responsibility. Besides, Sister Souljah wants to know if these same people who are writing to her, would they write to the sister who sold millions of books by telling the world how she slept with some of hip hops most respected artists.

In speaking with one of my Marcus Book Club members Saturday, she said she read the book and was not the least bit offended by the things the character, Midnight, had to say about black people. She said something to the affect, “What is being said, is for the most part true and the truth hurts.” Ouch! So, I leave you with this, for those who have read Midnight: A Gangster Story, do you feel American born blacks are displayed in a negative light? For those who have not read the book, do you think Black Americans/African Americans are in competition with other blacks from the Diaspora (African natives, West Indians, South American blacks, black Brits and other black Europeans)? Are black Americans unfairly compared to these others?

More on this and much more about Sister Souljah and Midnight: A Gangster Love Story.