In a Wahida Clark novel, you will be convinced of at least one of three things: You KNOW the characters, you WANT to know the characters, or you ARE one of the characters. Clark has penned over two dozen books, beginning her career during a prison stint. Her books have been said to be the blueprint for “thug” fiction, this from a woman with grown children, who sort of looks like a school teacher. But, Wahida Clark is real, and she writes from a real place with stories that she has lived or heard. Her bestselling novel,"Justify My Thug" was a New York Times Bestseller, thanks in part to her deal with Cash Money Content Books.
Wahida Clark’s latest book, "Payback Ain’t Enough", the third in the “Payback” series. is hitting bookstores on April 24, and AllHipHop.com spoke to the illustrious author beforehand about street fiction, the Hip-Hop literary genre, and why she chose to work with Cash Money:
AllHipHop.com: I was one of those people who was really a purist. If a book wasn’t by Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or James Baldwin, I wasn’t reading it. I was really a snob. It wasn’t until I got a job reviewing books that I got the opportunity to read a lot more urban books, and it opened me up to a lot of authors and a lot of different stories being told. So, Wahida, what do you say to people like me, or like I used to be, who have a sort of negative impression of urban fiction?
Wahida Clark: That’s an important question. Fiction is the art of storytelling; urban fiction is about storytelling. It’s not new, because Donald Goines, Iceberg Slim, and Chester Hines were all doing it in, what, the '50s, '60s, and '70s? So, street lit, urban fiction, 'hood fiction, it’s not new, but the genre has exploded, and I don’t know of one major publishing house that doesn’t have a street lit or urban fiction division. To me, street lit, we write about what we know or what we’ve lived. I don’t see why it’s always an issue. We don’t make people read street lit, just like you go to the movies, you might not want to see a horror movie, you want to see a love story. Everybody has their own preference.
AllHipHop.com: One of the things that people complain about with street literature is usually the grammar; it’s written much more colloquially. I think that’s one of the things that people tend to point to as a negative.
Wahida Clark: But why? We all know that people talk that way. People have their own language and slang. It seems like there are always people who look for something to say, ”Oh, that’s bringing us down.” You know, “Tyler Perry is dressing like a woman; that’s degrading the race. They’re writing that stuff and the horror, the language, their bringing us down.” But, you know, it’s really about literacy getting folks to read. I get so many letters from people who say, “Wahida, your book was the first book I ever read.” And these are grown people who never read a book before in their life. To each his own. We can’t please everybody.
AllHipHop.com: One of the things that I really like about urban fiction, and I’ve only been into the genre for about five years, but it often features strong, female characters. But, they always seem to have some flaw that brings them down… Love is often their weakness too.
Wahida Clark: Well, it’s reality. But this is fiction. I write to entertain. My first books featured love stories that were just perfect. They were just perfect. Then when I switched it up and added some real stuff, people thought I messed up the perfect love. I wanted to mix it up. I don’t know nobody who’s perfect.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of urban authors, most of the most popular ones, have been incarcerated or had some type of trauma. How did writing help you turn your life around?
Wahida Clark: Well, you know I started writing while I was in prison. It helped me turn my life around, because about a year into my sentence, I thought, I have got to do something to help me right now, because it costs money to live in prison. And, I wanted to help my two teenage daughters who were living with relatives. I was in prison. I had just started my sentence, which was 10½ years. My husband was incarcerated. And I needed to set up a foundation for what my life would be like when I came out of prison.
I was working in the law library, and I saw an article, it was in XXL or The Source, and it was on Shannon Holmes, and he had written a book in prison called "B-More Careful". I’m sitting there looking at all of these books on the shelves, then I started visualizing my name on the spines of the books, and that’s when I had my lightbulb moment; that’s when I started writing. I got published; people loved the books, they loved the characters. "Payback Ain’t Enough" is book number 11. I have my own publishing company, 14 authors, and 18 books in stores around the country.
AllHipHop.com: I think that’s one of the amazing things about urban fiction authors - many of them have such an inspiring story, and they speak directly to audiences that many mainstream authors forget even exist.
Wahida Clark: That’s true. That’s a very good point, Biba. We have different motivations that drove us into writing and trying to make it the best that we can make it.
AllHipHop.com: Why were you incarcerated?
Wahida Clark: I was incarcerated for mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. I did 9½ years, and I wouldn’t change not one second. Because if anything was changed, I wouldn’t be here right now, getting interviewed by Biba of AllHipHop.com. [laughter] Getting ready for my book release party, which is next Tuesday.
AllHipHop.com: I know our readers are interested in your deal with Cash Money Content. How did that come about?
Wahida Clark: My agent at the time told me that Cash Money was getting ready to start a publishing company. I said, “Cash Money? As in Lil’ Wayne?” I went back to Juvenile and all of them. [laughter] I thought about the huge audience they have. They sell millions of records. We need to be selling millions of books. I set up the meeting and went to their management office in New York. I said to Slim (Ronald “Slim” Williams, CEO of Cash Money), “Is this going to be big?” and he said, “Wahida, it’s gonna be big.” So, I said, “Ok. I’m in.”
I wanted to tap into that huge audience that they have, and Baby said, “I feel I can sell as many books as I do records,” And, that’s what I’m talking about. And, Hip-Hop is street lit. I can’t leave out the fact that they gave me full creative control. The writing, the cover, they let me do me, and sure enough, "Justify My Thug", debuted at number 19 on the New York Times Bestseller List, and now "Payback Ain’t Enough" is coming out, and we can’t wait to see what it’s gonna do.
AllHipHop.com: Still speaking of Cash Money Content. I know what they bring to you, that large audience and fan base, but what do you bring to them? What did you say in that meeting that Wahida can do for them?
Wahida Clark: I didn’t have to tell them anything. They had already done their research. Every time a book comes out, my numbers are growing. Nobody can doubt that I can write street lit, just like nobody can doubt that they can sell CDs. I didn’t have to tell them that I brought anything to the table. Just wanted me to bring ME to the table, and keep doing what I do.
Follow Wahida on Twitter (@WahidaClark). Follow Senior Staff Writer (and aspiring author) Biba Adams on Twitter (@BibatheDiva).