In the early 1990s, Sister Souljah was one of the leaders of the liberated, militant female Hip-Hop movement. Her fiery sermon-raps checked men and women alike, and over the years, her uplifting messages helped her earn the respect of rap heads like Diddy and others.
Flash forward to 2011, and Sister Souljah is a world-traveled, bestselling author who packs bookstore signings and university lecture halls with her keep-it-real sensibilities and familiar characters like Midnight and Winter. In fact, her most recent tale, Midnight and the Meaning of Love just debuted at #15 on The New York Times Bestseller list, marking another successful milestone in her 20-year mission to heal communities.
AllHipHop.com spent some time with Sister Souljah recently – walking away with a lesson in Islamic tolerance, a slow-it-down message for women, and the notion that she just might be the Ghostface Killah of Black authors.
AllHipHop.com: I want to jump right in by talking about your writing, which has been tremendously popular over, I would say, the past decade. A lot of people may not realize that you’re a multi-book New York Times Bestselling Author. With the release of your new title – Midnight and the Meaning of Love – is there pressure to create something great this time around?
Sister Souljah: No. [laughter] I don’t think about things like that.I just write the story, and if I write the story, that means that I was 100% confident about it. I always believe that the audience will either love it right away, or they’ll love it over time. I think that whenever you make a decision that you want to lead in a particular area or industry, you have to be prepared to create things that are powerful and also that are before their time.
When you know that it’s powerful, and you know that it’s before its time, then you know that it’s going to take the people maybe even a few years to catch up. That’s really OK. I don’t look at it like the record industry where, you know, you’re primarily only concerned with what happens in that first week. I look at books as having a life, basically for as long as the world is organized the way that it is.
AllHipHop.com: Midnight, of course, was one of the most popular characters from The Coldest Winter Ever, and you chose to delve deeper into his background with the follow up books – Midnight: A Gangster Love Story and Midnight and the Meaning of Love. Why did you chose Midnight out of all of the characters?
Sister Souljah: I chose Midnight because I felt like the back story that was introduced on Midnight in The Coldest Winter Ever was really very strong. I knew that he was African; I knew that he was dark-skinned, and I knew that he was young. And I knew that he was Islamic. All of the things that he was added up together with current events, and it meant that these were issues that people were talking about all around the globe.
So, I felt like because the audience loved this character so much, and because the character was so timely with everything that was occurring around the globe, it would be cool to tell his story or allow him to tell his story. And within his story, there were a multiplicity of issues and concerns and discussions and debates that were on the minds of people all around the world.
AllHipHop.com: Well, a lot of people I know have read the books – and I’ve gotten a lot of ad hoc opinions, including a lof of women who were sad…I won’t give away what happens in this book for those who might want to read it. But, in Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, some women were upset that you didn’t speed up his age and reveal why Midnight was so mysterious back in The Coldest Winter Ever. Women wanted to hear more about grown-up Midnight. What do you think about that?
Sister Souljah: I think it’s fine that women want to hear about grown-up Midnight, and I can understand why they would like to hear about him and discover him. But, I believe that, as women, we should be more patient. I think it’s important to look at a man, and look at what makes him or what made him the man who he is.
I think for a smart woman, she would be grateful to see the process of what a man is thinking and to be a part of looking at how he was raised, because we are mothers of sons, and we are the wives of husbands, and we are the sisters of brothers. Therefore, it would be wise for us to consider and reconsider how we are interacting with our men, how we are raising our men, and who we are choosing to let them be around, and what we are allowing them to do.
So, I think that Midnight: A Gangster Love Story was slow and methodical, and very deep feeling and deep moving. I think that if you’re a person who wants to feel something strong, and wants to think about something that you may not have thought about before, and want to learn something, then you’ll have a great love for Midnight: A Gangster Love Story.
But if you’re a person that’s a little more shallow, I think that you won’t.
AllHipHop.com: Well, alright then! I want to talk a little bit about your writing techniques and the way that your books have revealed themselves. Because I’m in Hip-Hop, I always make parallels between rappers and people that excel in other arenas. Imagery-wise, I would compare you to Ghostface Killah from WuTang Clan, with the way that you both paint a picture in the audience’s minds – they feel like they’re right there in the moment. Why is being so descriptive important – to make people feel like they can taste the food?
Sister Souljah: I don’t know. It’s not something that I really think about. I think if you’re writing, you’re supposed to be creating an imagery or a tapestry or a picture. So, that’s what you’re actually going for as a writer. [laughter] Whether or not you can do that is a measure of your skill.
You know, whether it’s Ghostface Killah or any rhymer for that matter, I think that that’s what any artist who’s using words is trying to do. He’s trying to show you that you can see in your mind’s eye – something that will move your soul, or something that will create a deep laughter or a deep thought or a deep sensualtiy or a deep spiritual revelation or emotion. I think that anybody who is serious about connecting with other human beings with any art form is trying to do all of those things.
AllHipHop.com: Well, one of the best things I think about your books is that you have lots of cultural and didactic lessons tucked away in them. For instance, I’ve probably learned more about Islamic traditions from your books than anywhere else. Why do you choose to right above the surface? You could just tell us Midnight has an Islamic family, but you tell us what foods they eat, what some of the words are. Why is that so key to you?
Sister Souljah: I think that the American media rarely paints an accurate picture of anybody outside of White life or European culture. And I’m not saying it paints the best picture of European Americans, but it does paint a bunch of pictures of them with very diverse situations, characters, and scenarios. As far as Muslims go, or as far as African Americans go, or as far as Latino Americans go, or as far as Asian Americans go, the imagery and the storytelling about our lives and our existence – how we live, how we love, how we work, and what we aspire to do – is not accurate. It’s not genuine; it’s not empowering.
Therefore, if I write something, writing is a platform. I want to give the reader a genuine experience of an array of human beings. So, that ultimately you can develop a respect for somebody other than yourself. If you can only think of yourself respectfully, you’re probably going to be one-dimensional, empty, flat, arrogant, ethnocentric. I don’t think any of those things are right in society, and we have to learn to live together, and not just live together in some shallow or limited kind of way. We need to find out what each other are doing and the reasons we’re doing it so that we can show some respect.
Everywhere in the world people are debating the fact that Islamic women are wearing their hijabs, and there are some communities where Islamic girls’ hijabs are pulled off of their heads, or they’re taunted or teased. I think all of this stuff is ridiculous and unnecessary.
I think we should be able to live next door to someone who believes something that doesn’t lead to the genocide of other people. I think we should be able to co-exist.
AllHipHop.com: You’re so right, Souljah. I truly believe that exposure is the great emancipator. Thank you for that…