As a young girl growing up in the 90s riddled with drugs and gun violence, when Sister Souljah gained notoriety in hip-hop I was totally blown away. I found inspiration in messages like “Fight the Power,” but it was something about Sister Souljah that was womanly, strong, and awesome.
I watched her music videos with intensity and proved my infatuation by plastering my bedroom wall with posters and brushing my hair for long periods of time ensuring the perfect side ponytail.
Many dismissed her as a radical, but I thought of her as a teacher. I saw her as trying to open our eyes, boldly, about the world in which we live in.
I saw her as just a conscious hip-hop artist, but truth is, Sister Souljah is a graduate of Rutgers University, attended the Cornell University Advanced Placement Studies, and studied abroad in Europe at the University of Salamanca.
She’s traveled to various countries in Europe and has worked to build a medical center for families in Bindura, Zimbabwe.
Sister Souljah is an activist, lecturer and an author.
In college, I remember riding the bus to class and overheard two students talking about this book called The Coldest Winter Ever (TCWE). It sounded like a really good book — and it was. Next to The Color Purple, TCWE is one of the most awe inspiring, important, and entertaining books I’ve ever read.
After a long literary hiatus, Sister Souljah is back with a new book.
Sister Souljah recently talked with the Recorder to update fans on her life and give readers insight on her eagerly anticipated new novel Midnight, A Gangster Love Story.
Recorder: In the 90s, you were known as an activist, hip-hop and lecturer. What’s been going on since then?
Sister Souljah: Yes, I lecture regularly every year on college campuses across the country; both the Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as the major ones including the Ivy League. I’ve been doing that consistently for more than 20 years. For 12 years I ran the Daddy’s House Social Programs for Sean “P.Diddy” Combs and parted ways with that company in September 2007. I’ve written three books thus far and I’m working on the fourth one right now.
What did you think about Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and him becoming president?
I was outside of the country writing and doing research (during) a lot of the campaign, Democratic convention and the election itself. But I thought that President Obama showed a great deal of endurance and fought like a champion. The process itself was very revealing in the way in which he was attacked as being wrongfully accused about his religion, you know, the constant challenge to who are his friends or affiliations. You could see a lot of the racial attitudes and racial bias in the United States of America in the way people, companies, the media addressed him, handled him, and dealt with him. At the same time, he showed how his patience and intelligence and determination was able to conquer the negativity people were trying to swell around him.
You’re educated, traveled the world, spoke to all types of audiences, you’ve worked in Africa; how’d you come up with TCWE?
I was a person who came up from the projects and saw drugs destroy my community and communities across the country. I was also a young female who came up during the hip-hop era, and saw some people — not all, glorifying the using and selling of drugs. Since I was young and was taught hip-hop and history and I was a writer I thought it would be great to write a cautionary tale that showed how drugs destroys the community. I thought to do a unique angle by making the story be told by a young teenage female perspective. In that way I’d be able to talk to the young females in my community and across the globe about how we’re living, what we’re doing and what it means.
In your newest book, Midnight, the main character is also a character from TCWE. Why’d you choose to write about Midnight as opposed to other characters in your TCWE?
Initially I was writing about Portia Santiaga, the sister of Winter Santiaga, and I did write half of that novel then I put it down. The climate in the country and the globe was very serious, very political and I thought it was interesting that a lot of the African-Americans I knew in urban areas were into fashion, music and trends, but not that aware of politics and the international landscape. I thought about how I had written TCWE and how it had been this huge success and how many women told me they fell in love with the character Midnight. Midnight was introduced as very mysterious, young, silent, strong soldier in an illegal empire. He introduced himself being born in the Sudan, an African country, being interested in martial arts and was fascinated with Asian culture. I thought his back-story in TCWE was phenomenal enough to introduce a lot of urban literature readers and people in America to the political landscape. The thoughts of a foreigner, a completely different lifestyle and cultural experience. I thought it had great value so I decided to begin writing about Midnight and decided that was the novel to release first.
In reading Midnight, it’s like you’re painting a picture for the reader. Why do you take the time to create such detail?
I don’t have a conscious thought like that. As a writer I just want to be a great writer. I think great writers write in detail; just enough words. Not too many words and those words should be simple, descriptive, full of feeling and imagery and that’s what I did with Midnight. I was hopeful that I could make my readers see the story the same way they would watch a movie. I had to make a movie in the mind of the reader.
As a woman, how were you able to find that male voice to make the character mysterious and masculine?
Most people know that I’m an activist. In that capacity I have a lot of experience in the community. When I was a teenager, I was always out talking with other teenagers and when I was a college student, working beside males and females. When I moved back to Harlem, N.Y., I was always in the street, on the street talking to people from different backgrounds and perspectives. A great writer is capable of being a great listener and observer of life and how people move, talk, express and feel. A great writer should be able to have the power of imagination and the power of recall to capture what are the differences between what a teenager does and what an adult does, what a girl does and what a boy does and what a man does and what a woman does; capture that voice and put it into words.
Your message from TCWE was a cautionary tale, what’s the message you’re sending in Midnight?
Any book I write always has multi-layered dimensions and competing themes so there are several themes in the Midnight story. One of the major themes is love and if you recall in TCWE it opened with a poem saying there’s no such thing as love. I took it back because Midnight is a prequel. I took it back to when there was a love, an intense feeling between a son and a mother, family members, a love between a boy and his friends that wasn’t a perverted love, real love, real friendship, real loyalty. A love for a boy who loved his mother so he was capable of also loving women. I really wanted to generate a powerful feeling of love and show the readers what that feels like, looks like and what that does. Secondly it’s manhood. It’s a book that I wrote with men in mind.
For more information, visit www. www.sistersouljah.com.