Street Lit O.G. Wahida Clark is doing it. With three Essence bestsellers to her credit she has entered the Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Nikki Turner realm in the world of hip-hop fiction. In street terms she is a big baller who is most definitely on her grind. And unlike her peers she did it from prison. Locked up in the feds on a 125 month conspiracy joint Wahida is out with a vengeance. And through her books, first published on Black Print in 2002 then on Dafina Books an imprint of Kensington Publishing, Wahida has rocked the genre with her intimate tales of sex, drugs and murder. She is now signed to Warner Books and on the streets ready to take over the urban lit genre.
The Newark, New Jersey native made her name from behind the fences and you know now that she’s out she’s ready to lock the game down and get hers. With her last novel Payback is a Mutha, Wahida rocketed up the sales charts putting Wahida in the big leagues. Now she is readying her next novel, The Final Payback. Gorilla Convict sat down with the author to get her perspective on success, the street genre and becoming a writing star from prison.
GC: How does your recent success with ‘Payback Is a Mutha’ feel? Is it long and well deserved?
WC: It’s all good but actually ‘Payback Is A Mutha’ is not my first Essence Bestseller. My first on was Thugs and The Women Who Love Them’ and ‘Every Thug Needs a Lady’. All three of them hit the Essence Best Sellers List. I’m finding out about my success through others. I’m constantly being told that my name is ringing bells throughout the prisons and in the streets but I’m in here at Alderson Federal Prison Camp, so I really don’t get to hear them, (the bells) 🙂 I can only continue to grind as if I’m just getting started.
GC: Explain the process of bringing and getting all your books to print from prison?
WC: The process is basically the same on the streets as it is in the prison. You have to do your research and become a student of the craft of writing, and the business of getting published and publishing. There are no shortcuts. I tell everyone to start with a ‘Writer’s Market’ or ‘Literary Marketplace’. That is the foundation or beginning of a very long journey. Too long to go into detail here.
GC: What advice do you have or would you give to other prison authors or first time novelists?
WC: Again, do your research and become a student, first of the game. Then, find some patience from somewhere. This is not an overnight process. It takes a lot of hard work to crank out a 300 page bool. You really have to enjoy what you’re doing to get the job done, have self-discipline and a very strong work ethic.
GC: What is your assessment of the burgeoning and wide open street-lit industry?
WC: Everything we do, we dominate. And other cultures copy and since they are usually more united and have less of the crabs in the barrel mentality, they get very rich off of us. If we don’t learn the lesson of unity, once again, we’re going to miss out and will remain small players in the industry. And believe me the publishing industry is a billion dollar a year industry. How much of them billions do we want? Street-lit is growing…fast. I’m looking forward to seeing just how large it gets and where we take it. At one point, only the black kids was reading street-lit. Now, you see the white urban kids and the white suburban kids buying the books. Street-lit has hit mainstream and you know what’s about to happen next. Just like the hip-hop industry-the minute white America decided they loved it… that they wanted to be a part of it, that was it. Now the statistics show that whites purchase more of the hip-hop music than blacks do. I see street-lit going the same way. Street-lit describes a culture that whites know very little about but are extremely intrigued by. They want to know what goes in our world, so they are going to buy these books. Look out!!!!
GC: Who are the major players in the genre and why?
WC: I’m not a hater but a congratulator. So I gotta give props where props are due. Vickie Stringer has built her company from one book to – I can’t even count and she has networked on a foreign level. That’s major. Teri Woods. Her motto is changing the industry one book a time. She screams independence. That’s major. In my opinion independence first, then make it happen on a foreign level and finally distribution. I love writing and I’ll always continue to write. However, because of my incarceration I’ve been able to see some needs/holes in the publishing industry which need to be filled. That’s where I’m going to come into play, in a big way. This time next year, I will be looking into dominating the arena of distribution.
GC: What street lit/hip-hop fiction writers do you like?
WC: Nikki Turner, Joe Black, Zach Tate, Kwame Teague, Victor Martin…and oh..uh of course Wahida Clark.
GC: If you had to name some classics from the genre what books would you choose?
WC: The original classics, Dopefiend by Donald Goines, Howard Street by Nathan ‘Booby’ Herd, The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Green, and Pimp, by Iceberg Slim.
GC: Who are the up and coming writers in the industry?
WC: Be on the lookout for Soul Man Ferranti, Shawn ‘Jihad’ Trump, Mo Foxx, Corey Maxey, Bonta, Intelligent Tareef Allah, and Missy Jackson for starters.
GC: Now that the hip-hop fiction industry is generating over 50 million a year, the majors are jumping in. What’s your opinion on this?
WC: Doesn’t surprise me. But don’t let them jump in too far and take over. Just like in the hip-hop music industry, they jump in and get the richest. We gotta keep some level of independence and become major players. We can’t forever go looking for a deal, we need to be making the deals.
GC: What did you do your time for?
WC: I’m doing time for conspiracy to money laundering, mail and wire fraud. I live by the code of Death Before Dishonor. I took my case to trial….and lost. I was the only female who went to trial out of about 15 co-defendants. The government up until the day of the trial kept saying, “We want the girl, we want that girl.” My sentence was 125 months. I got out last summer.
GC: How long were you in?
WC: Since November ’98.
GC: When did you first start to write and why?
WC: This is the first time that I shared the main ‘why’. So Gorilla Convict you get blessed with the exclusive! 🙂 I left money on the streets. So one day I called home and was like yo’ I go to the store tomorrow, where is that money? (Y’all know how it go). And their response was, we’re working on it. I was like…what? I had no understanding of that. So at that moment I said I gotta come up with something. My husband was locked up, my daughters were teenagers, so I had to somehow get my hustle on. * My husband wrote a book called Uncle Yah Yah. So I wrote him and said, I’m thinking about writing a book. I was working in the prison library at the time, seeing all of these books on the shelves. I had just seen a clip about Shannon Holmes, I think it was in the Source or XXL and I said I can do this. At first, my husband didn’t respond. Then I had to holla at him again, yo.’ I’m thinking about writing a book. So he said what they’re are buying from us is, sex, drugs, murder, crime. I’ll give you a few suggestions, do a little something and let’s see what you got. I don’t think he thought I was serious. So I started writing and sent it to him. I also began to study the craft. Shortly afterwards an inmate who was a literary agent gave a creative writing class and the rest is slowly becoming history.
GC: You’re a Essence Bestseller, at the top of www.Amazon.com, www.BarnesandNoble.com, and been featured in KING-how does it all feel?
WC: It’s a start, but like I said, I’m just getting warned up. I’m Wahida Clark. They got a joke around here that started after I got a shot. As punishment, I lost my cube and got moved to what’s called the ‘bus stop’. They got like 10-12 beds sitting right up front at the officer’s station. Lights stay on 24 hours. It’s non-stop traffic. The front doors, microwave room, laundry room bathrooms everything is right there. So we were all up around one in the morning. So this chick walks by and stops. She says, so you’re the one who wrote Criminal Minded. I said, “Nah, I like that but that’s Tracy Brown. I wrote Thugs and The Women Who Love Them. I’m Wahida Clark. “Oh”, she continues, “you the one who wrote God Don’t Like Ugly”, I said, “Nah, that’s Mary Monroe. I’m Wahida Clark.” She says, “Oh, you wrote Sheisty.” I put bass in my voice and said, “No, I’m Wahida Clark!” and everyone around me yelled, “Bitch!” So now it’s always whenever my whole name is said, it’s “that Wahida Clark, bitch!”
GC: What does the future hold for Wahida Clark?
WC: Big things, so big that I can’t disclose at this time. But remember and be on the lookout for Wahida Clark, bitch!
GC: Where are you from and how did you grow up?
WC: From Trenton, New Jersey. I grew up in the hood.
GC: Where do your stories and characters come from?
WC: Truth mixed with fiction. Also listening to people. Believe it or not, everyone has a story. I’m a great listener. I love to hear a person’s story. A lot of people tell me they want to write a book but very few have the staying power to sit down and put it on paper. I listen to their stories. I recreate some of what hey tell me. I’ve discovered that I have an extremely vivid imagination. I take what I want to use and turn it into bestsellers. So many people can relate because it’s all of our stories, we are the same people.
GC: When you first wrote your first book did you ever think it would turn into all this?
WC: No. The experience has opened many doors and connected me with all types of people. However, in anything that I do, I ask why do it if you’re not going to do it big. So again, watch out for Wahida Clark.
GC: What do you have to date about your first publisher Black Print?
WC: They were a learning experience that allowed me to get my foot in the door. I believe they are no longer in business or sold their company.
GC: What can we expect from your new imprint and what will it be called?
WC: Oh, so you’re putting me on blast with one of my secrets? 🙂 It’s Wahida Clark Presents.
GC: What’s poppin’ with Wahida? Anything getting ready to drop?
WC: They reissued my second book, ‘Every Thug Needs A Lady’. For those of you who already read it, you’re going to want to read it again. It’s smoother, hotter, sexier and still raw and uncut. Plus, you want to refresh your memory and brace yourself for Book three, ‘Thug Matrimony’.
That dropped in March-April ’07. Now in November-December ‘07, Wahida Clark Presents drops its first release, ‘What’s Really Hood?’ It’s an Anthology of five blazin’ and intense stories including myself, Victor Martin, Bonta, Shawn ‘Jihad’ Trump and introducing Mo Foxx. No one is gonna want to sleep on this one. Final Payback is coming soon.
GC: Any obstacles or problems with the book industry?
WC: Yes, bootlegging. I told you we dominate and take everything to a whole new level. After I was able to get away from Black Print, and even though they said they didn’t have any more of my first two books, both books are still being sold-all over. That was crazy! They think because you are locked up that you can’t do anything. All I have to say about that is, “watch out!” The book industry is really something, but your headaches come from everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, one of my fans whose daughter works at McDonalds, wrote to me and told me about an incident which really has blown my mind. Her daughter loaned a friend my book. The friend came back the day after she read it to return it but her girl was off. So she leaves it in the break room. Her manager, sees it, picks it up and reads it. He doesn’t like the contents. He says it’s very disturbing and not allowed in his store. He suspends the young lady for a week. My fan and her mother feels that she is being discriminated against. After the suspension was up, she didn’t feel comfortable going back to work. So she quit. Her mother is livid. She wrote Russ Parr, Tom Joyner, Doug Banks, Steve Harvey called the ACLU, Justice Resource Center and some more. I asked what does he have against Wahida Clark? I’m sure he allows the blood and gore of Patricia Cornwell in McDonalds and is he going to fire someone who brings in the Bible? The Qur’an? Shakespeare? The DaVinci Code? Go figure. One!