Just like the rap game before it the world of hip-hop fiction is blowing up. Street lit as its called is now grossing over $50 million annually and a genre that started with self-published authors selling books out the back of their cars has quickly become a legitimate market that has harnessed the talents of writers either fresh out of prison or still in the pen. The books often published under pen names, following the lead of rappers, are in high demand, especially among young people indoctrinated in the hip-hop culture.
You know the publishers- Teri Woods, Triple Crown, Nikki Turner Presents, Relentless Content, Urban Books Amaiya, Hampstead Publishing and Gorilla Convict- but do you know the authors. The best of who are still incarcerated. Real convicts with real time who write real books. These authors were living the life your favorite rapper is rhyming about. Ain’t no studio or cardboard gangstas in this group. And Gorilla Convict would like to introduce them to you.
“I’m incarcerated in North Carolina for two counts of murder, kidnapping and armed robbery that I’m fighting to prove my innocence on.” says Kwame Teague the 33 year old native of Newark, New Jersey aka Brick City, who penned the Teri Woods produced Dutch, Dutch II, and Adventures of Ghetto Sam. The author who’s been locked up since 1994 is serving 2 life sentences. “My parole date would be after 40 years.” He says. And the thing about it is Kwame’s name doesn’t even appear on his books, Dutch or Dutch II. Two of the best street novels ever. Teri Woods is listed as the author.
“Dutch is a fictional novel about crime and murder,” Kwame says explaining why his name isn’t on the books he authored. “And I was trying to fight an unjust murder charge. I didn’t want the book to become a factor against me.” That’s understandable, but how did Kwame first get with Teri Woods.
“Back in like 2000 she had an article in the Vibe,” he says. “She had just put out True to the Game. I had just self-published Ghetto Sam through Iuniverse.com then I saw that. So I had my people contact her and sent her my book, she dug it and it started from there.” And now six figure book sales later Kwame is still in jail, writing and fighting to overturn his conviction. But it hasn’t all gone smoothly.
“When they truly understood how successful the books were,” Kwame says referring to the prison administrators. “They put me in segregation for 60 days on trumped up charges and shipped seven hours from my family. They fear the influence I have over other inmates, their exact words. They also banned the books in every state prison.” Harsh measures, but measures any incarcerated author might have to deal with. Kwame Teague is currently incarcerated at Taylorsville Prison in North Carolina working on future projects and fighting for his freedom.
Another noteworthy incarcerated author is Trenton NJ native Wahida Clark who is doing a 125 month sentence at FPC Alderson in West Virginia. “My charges are conspiracy/money laundering, mail and wire fraud,” she says. Wahida has three books out- Thugs and the Women who love them, Every Thug needs a Lady and Payback is a Mutha, which is her current release on Kensington Publishing. Wahida whose release date is next year is an Essence Bestselling author whose books have sold over 50K copies. She writes what she calls reality fiction.
“Ghetto/street life from the hood,” she relates. “Welfare, food stamps, government cheese, weed, boosting and partying.” She started writing books after seeing black authors in magazines and reading their interviews. She told herself she could do that, took a creative writing class at the prison and boom- three books later she is among the leaders of the genre with an imprint at Kensington and a new series, Ghetto Stories coming out.
“A sista had to do what a sista had to do,” Wahida says. “And writing a hotty novel on lock makes it feel that much better.” She relates that there are advantages and disadvantages to being an incarcerated writer. Pros- “You have time to write. You have three hots and a cot, no worrying about lights, gas, car note, food.” Cons- “0n the business tip you can’t really spread your wings and soar. You’re forced to crawl. So like my friend Relentless Aaron said, while you’re locked up, pump out as many novels as you can.” Wahida who was recently profiled in King magazine is currently getting her Ghetto Stories series ready for release.
Joe Black’s name has been ringing bells in the feds for the last decade due to his various photocopied legal writing paper manuscripts, which have been sweeping the underground prison nation causing a stir like the mixtapes of the prison system. The 38 year old Bronx native whose been down since 1994 is doing 19 1/2 years for a drug conspiracy. After finally self-publishing his first novel Street Team on illstreetz.com he inked a deal from the pen with Hampstead Publishing who took Street Team national and plans to put out Joes second novel Squeeze next. The author who’s been profiled in Don Diva and King gets out in 2008.
“Its an autobiography of everyone who ever played the game,” Joe says of his novel. And he admits to admiring, “Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, because they didn’t have to interview gangstas to bring me their stories. They were gangstas and when I read their books it was like they were in the cell kicking it with me.” And readers of Street Team have come to the same conclusion. Real recognizes real.
“It’s the closest you gonna come to being in the game without being indicted,” Joe says of his book and concerning life in the streets he has this jewel to offer. “There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There’s only a pot of cream of wheat in the morning at the mess hall or your casket in a plot with your name over it.” Incarcerated authors like Joe have spent decades of their lives inside, but with his novel he tries to show the consequences of the drug game. And it isn’t pretty. Look out for Movin Violation by Joe Black on Gorilla Convict Publications which comes out soon. Check out hampsteadpub.com.
Robert Booker, Sr. out of Detroit, Michigan is another incarcerated author whose work has the streets talking. The 40 year old who’s been in since 1994 is doing a natural life sentence in the feds for a cocaine conspiracy. His novel, Push available on Sims and Sims Productions is a story of crime, sex, loyalty and murder on the streets of Detroit.
“I started writing in 2000 after I read Teri Woods True to the Game,” Booker who’s incarcerated at FCI Gilmer in West Virginia says. “I knew my stories was way better then hers because I was living in the streets. I write what I know. You change the name to get the fame.” And the streets, prisons plus the industry has recognized. Off the strength of Push Booker has signed to do Deep in the Game with Hampstead Publishing and Keep it Gangsta with Gorilla Convict. Expect both books out by 2007.
And about having a book out while in prison Booker says, “Everybody act like you a star but it ain’t nothing. I’m just another prisoner.” But with acclaim coming from the streets and the prisons and with more books coming out Booker is a writer on the come up.
“My writing skills is raw, straight from my mind onto paper like a rapper doing freestyle on BETS Freestyle Friday,” says the author who was profiled in The Ave magazine. And in his novels Booker keeps it all the way real.
“I understand street life. I understand the struggles in the streets.” He says. “I’m a real nigga, I got served life. I know what gangstas do and what they don’t do.” And Booker who’s at FCI Gilmer in the feds right now is cranking out more books and stories for his audience.
From the west coast out in the California prison system is blood gang member and convict writer, Terrell C. Wright aka Loko, author of Home of the Body Bags, a tome that tells the tale of a blood soldier, which is out on Senegal Press now.
“I’ve always wanted to tell my story as a blood soldier.” Loko says. “The Neighborhood bloods in particular.” And the 38 year old Loko, who is at Corcoran State prison in Cali is serving time for a jewelry store robbery.
“I was born and raised in South Sintral Los Scandalous,” Loko says. “By 1982 I was a full fledged LA gangsta and the rest is history as my book expresses in vivid details.” And Loko has always wanted to write a book, but prison finally gave him the time to do it.
“I’ve always had an innate desire of wanting to share the blood experience with the world at large,” he says. “I’ve always felt I had an author dwelling inside me. But it was the addictive high of being in the streets which kept me from taking out some quality time for myself to sit and write.” And with the success of Home of the Body Bags Loko has penned another book, Thugs, which will be out on streetgangs.com shortly. Check it out.
Another convict author straight out of the Chocolate City is 29 year old Eyone Williams who is serving 15 to life on a second degree murder charge. His novel Fastlane “is a tale of the streets mixed with events of my youth and what I saw around me.” The Northwest DC native says. And the book has sold several thousand copies to date without any distribution or major promotion.
“My wife and I were inspired to start our own publishing company when we saw how many big companies reject manuscripts from unknown authors.” Eyone says. So they started Fast Lane Publications and put out Fastlane, which takes a look at the lives of DC street hustlers. “My wife, Aisha Bailey, keeps everything together while I’m in prison by keeping up with the business side of running the company.” Eyone says and they have plans to put out books by other prisoners also.
“I’ve been please to see that the streets and the prisons have been feeling Fastlane,” Eyone says. “All of my support has come from those places.” And Eyone who’s been locked up for 13 years is only beginning. He’s been penning Lorton Legends, which takes a look at the notorious DC prison. Look for it soon at fastlanepub.com.
Cuban-American author Michael Santos has been in the feds since 1987 serving a 45 year sentence for a continuing criminal enterprise conviction. And although his work isn’t considered hip-hop fiction he has still made tracks in the genre. His current book Inside:Life behind Bar in America is out on St. Martins press and has been compared to prison classics, Hot House, Soledad Brother and In the Belly of the Beast.
“As a long term prisoner,” says the 42 year old Santos who is eligible for parole in 2013. “I recognize that writing provides the only opportunity to reach beyond these boundaries that hold us physically. I want to connect with the world.” And he has. With three other books- About Prison, Profiles from Prison, and What if I go to Prison along with his website, Michaelsantos.net. Santos has made himself an authority on life in prison.
“I am not a fan of the prison system,” he says. “I am convinced that if one were charged with the responsibility of designing a system that conditions men to fail in society that person could not do better than the concept of imprisonment. In learning how to live in prison, the individual simultaneously learns how to fail in society. But I’ve always believed that the pen is mightier than the sword, so I write.” And the world has taken notice of the author who is currently confined in the camp at FCI Lompoc.
As Y2k moves on jailhouse writers are becoming more prolific. The flood of prison writing is a result of the alarming numbers of incarcerated African-Americans and Latinos, many of them casualties of the war on drugs and the draconian sentencing guidelines now in place in most states and the feds. Like street fiction fathers Iceberg Slim and Goines, who both served time, the new writers are capturing the life they know. The authors profiled here are only a few of the most prominent and successful, but still there are many more. In many prisons, men and women on lockdown are spending their hours putting pens to paper and finding words to describe their prior or current lives. Like they say the streets are watching and the next big hip-hop fiction author might be composing his novel right now in some prison somewhere. Dreaming of success, notoriety and freedom.
Soul Man, serving a 25 year sentence for an LSD kingpin charge, penned this article about his fellow incarcerated authors, but he is an accomplished journalist, publisher and novelist himself. His articles regularly appear in Don Diva, King and Elemental. His widely acclaimed first novel, Prison Stories, is available at gorillaconvict.com and you can also check out his blog on that site and get the 411 on convicts, street legends, prison gangs, the mafia, and life in the belly of the beast.