book


Karrine and Lil Wayne

Dear Karrine Steffans,

I ride for you. I really do. Most people have no idea why. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Ebony Utley, a writer and an associate professor of communication at California State University Long Beach. I write and teach about popular culture and relationships. When Confessions of a Video Vixen dropped, I assigned it to my hip hop class and made all my students purchase it.

Confessions was important because it forced readers to contextualize a vixen’s life. After my students exhausted all the different ways they could call you a ho, I pushed them to move past their judgments and critique gendered double standards about sexuality. I demanded that they imagine how it would change them if they were sexually assaulted, abused, and abandoned as a young girl. I encouraged them to consider the conditions that lead to escapism through sex, drugs, alcohol, and hip hop fantasies. Your book was a perfect opportunity to discuss how and why women make choices in a man’s world. I asked them to respect the chutzpah of a woman not that much older than they were who put it all out there—haters be damned.

When it came time to build my brand, I modeled it after yours. Your early websites were my favorites. I learned form you that pink is a power color. You taught me how to be sexy and smart. I subscribe to the newsletter, buy the books, read the damn blog. In fact, The Vixen Manual is kinda like an Our Bodies, Ourselves for the hip hop generation. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but the pictures were a nice touch.

Your newest book How to Make Love to A Martian was a birthday gift to myself and it continues your prosex, prochoice advocacy. It was a brave decision to share your abortion story. It was also an important decision in a world where women’s rights to choose are being systematically stripped away.

Baby News: Fuck!

Four Weeks

And while Martian is a page-tuner, I’ve got to draw a line. The “love” that you and Lil Wayne have is dangerous. I know you have a niche. I know you have a core audience with expectations. I know you need to make that money, but I can’t ride for you and let other people think that your depiction of love is okay with me. Now, I generally don’t make a habit of telling people they love wrong. I’ve been flying around the country collecting definitions of love from women and children for my research, and I know there are as many definitions as there are people.

For my current project Shades of Infidelity, I’m interviewing women about their experiences with infidelity, and I’ve asked all of them to define love. I’ve learned so much about life and love that this isn’t me passing judgment on your open relationship with Lil Wayne. This is me telling you that a relationship that lacks mutual trust, respect, and honest communication isn’t a healthy love. Here come the spoilers. You define love as “the spirit of caring to the maximum level of shared connection.” Fine. Then you describe love with Wayne:

“Wayne didn’t want to know everything or anything at all, except that I loved him.”

“Wayne was loving me the way he wanted to love me, but I was loving him the way he needed to be loved.”

“He was a jealous and possessive man when it came to the women he loved. He never wanted to hear about other men. Ever. Even though all this women had no choice but to hear about all his other women and accept it.”

All bad, Karrine. Per your own definition, you’re coming up short. Is this what the maximum level of connection looks like? More importantly is this what the maximum level of connection looks like?

I know you’re both working and these representations are part of your jobs. I’m certain they fail to accurately reflect the extent of your relationship, but for all the babygirls that are fans of yours, I need them to know that:

  • When you can’t talk to your partner about that time he hurt your feelings when he flew you across the country, holed you up in a hotel, and never showed up to meet you, it’s not okay
  • Sleeping with his friend just to make him jealous instead of telling him that his getting everybody pregnant and you hearing about it on the street was hurtful, is not ideal.
  • Being in a relationship where there is no reciprocity is not a healthy relationship.

If you were just sexing Wayne for pleasure, that would be fine (although I’m not entirely sure what you see in him), but to call what you describe in Martian as love is not fine. Not. At. All.

Raw

I agree. Sometimes a man and a woman have an understanding that even they don’t understand. I have been there. But this is not that. There’s no understanding. He hurts your feelings. You swallow them. You try to move on. Love relationships require communication to achieve that understanding and that maximum level of connection. I need to communicate to you that you deserve better. You’ve been hurt. A lot. But don’t give up on yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Olivia Pope is wrong (but that’s another post). Love is not supposed to hurt more than it heals you. Love yourself first. Tell yourself the truth about this unhealthy relationship. If you can agree not to glamorize the pain anymore, I’ll agree to keep riding for you. Can you and I share that understanding?

Dr. Ebony Utley
The Woman with Ideas
theutleyexperience.com

MG Hardie’s  “It Ain’t Just the Size”, is thought-provoking book in which the female characters provide much spice. Hardie’s book is now featured on Afro-Editions.

“It Ain’t Just The Size” is the type of book that has people talking, not just about the love story, but because it doles out an amazing amount of life lessons. Hardie’s book is full of honest conversations, depth and passionate writing. “It Ain’t Just The Size”  is just as bold as it gets when confronting real world problems, as it is when giving solutions to many of America’s problems and at the same time the book has a solid love story. The books presentation of social and political issues does not detract from the love story between characters Lance and Princess.  “It Ain’t Just The Size” represents a new literary frontier with its style and diversity of characters from: men, lesbians, blacks, Hispanics and especially women all blended together with Hardie’s poetic dialogue. Hardie’s book is the featured book this month on Afro-Editions.com features. Afro-Editions.com represents timely information on all aspects of Black Literature.

MG Hardie will also be in attendance from 1-5pm at the 3rd Annual Authors Festival in Long Beach on April 2, 2011. The festival is free to the public and will feature over 20 authors

http://mghardie.com/

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Standing at a checkpoint in Israel with his assault rifle pointed over the heads of Palestinian Arabs, Marcus Hardie has to constantly remind himself, I am the good guy. Hardie was born and raised by his grandmother in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a black youth stuck in the urban ghetto. He survived the ghetto and graduated from college, Marcus Hardie seemed destined for a future far from the violent surroundings of his childhood, an upbringing filled with urban gang warfare. He appointed to the Governor’s office. No one would have imagined, though, that he would soon become an elite anti-terror operative in one of the most violent places in the world: The Middle East.

 

From a gang life, to political future to being the 1st African American in the Israeli military, Black and Bulletproof is a journey of faith. This life of redemption is further proof that the bridge between worlds are not as far apart as we might think.  

 

 

A Memoir

Now Available

 New Horizon Press

 ISBN-13:978-0882823461

 

 

 

 

One Name, Two Fates

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates is a memoir with a twist. Wes Moore is a young black man who rose from the drug, crime and poverty-stricken streets of Baltimore to attain prestigious academic honors. The twist is that Wes Moore is also a man who killed a Baltimore policeman while robbing a jewelry store. These two men grew up in the same neighborhood, both faced the same life obstacles, but they ended up on very different paths. One a Rhodes Scholar, interning for Condoleezza Rice, the other was behind bars for the rest of his life. It is the name of the latter individual that drove the author to reach out to him, to attempt to understand how they ended up in very different places.

Set in Baltimore we are given two boys with similar backgrounds and choices. The two Wes’ lived in the same neighborhood, both were raised by single mothers and both had early age brushes with law enforcement. The author believes that he is showing us a paralleling of lives by saying that what happened to the Other Wes Moore could have happened to him, this is not the case but it is interesting. “The Other Wes Moore” is a beautifully written narrative study on the effects of class and that alone makes it unique. Two black youths, who live in the same neighborhood, but in different classes.

The twist is more like a literary hook so-to-speak. Wes Moore’s mother was raised by college educated parents and she would have been a college graduate had it not been for forces beyond her control; his father was no slouch either although he dies early on. When Wes get too rambunctious she had the means to put him into military school. The Other Wes’ life was plagued with poverty and violence inside and outside his home, one day his father just takes off.  As a result of this familial disengagement he ends up having children by multiple women and selling drugs. Here, there is much to be said about “active parenting”.

The story is good, but I was quite disturbed and sadden that two hospitals allowed Race to place a major role in the deaths of two of the story’s characters.  Included in the book is a short ‘call to action’ by Tavis Smiley which will also, like the book, miss its intend mark. “The Other Wes Moore” will not reach the people who need to read it the most. This book is not filled with glorified violent acts, broad shouldered men, barely dressed married-single women, crime lords or thugs trying to get their paper. This book is not a copy of another book with changed names and places. No, it does not remain in the ghetto universe.

Throughout the book the Wes’ dialogue and we are exposed to the realest grit that life has to offer. We see the effects of not having positive mentors urban communities. We see the possibilities. We see the hope, but we also see the hopelessness. As the book ends we are left with these questions:  It is The Other Wes Moore’s fault that he was born into a lower class family? Was it his fault that he became a street urchin? Was it his mothers? His fathers? Or is it just easier to blame them instead the struggle in our society between, The haves and The have nots, The wants and The want mores?

Often these type of narratives make race or racism the deciding factor, “the man was holding me down” or “the opportunities were not there”, this is not so with Wes Moore’s book. These two children lived in the same neighborhood, shared the same obstacles and were divided only by Class. Class and it’s socioeconomic effects are subjects that very few want to discuss. Classism exist in every community, including the black ones. Wes Moore really didn’t need the hook, but I completely understand. And, he never really answers the question, How did this happen? In truth, he doesn’t need to because he knows that the answer is his upbringing. The book does not come across as arrogant, nor pretentious and I hope that this book will open discussions on the class warfare that is prevalent in our society. “The Other Wes Moore”  is less of a textbook for school and more of a textbook for life, so I am including a link to the author’s website, where there are resources for those that want to make a difference in their community, Wes Moore.

Wes Moore forces us to look at an overlooked, much maligned, under represented segment of our population, our children. They are ten percent of our population, but one hundred percent of our future. While adults spend countless hours with electronic doohickeys and bicker over race, politics and other created nonsense a child somewhere needs help with their homework, and another one needs to be told to put down the video game and pick up a book. What “The Other Wes Moore” points out more than anything else is that a child’s life course could be altered by acts as simple as that.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates  is an amazing book and I can’t stress it enough. The way this book is written is worth the read alone. The author’s style is simply beautiful. “The Other Wes Moore” makes you smile, and does much to restore some of the promise that modern literature has lost.

4.5 out of 5

Karen Hunter’s book “Stop Being Niggardly” loudly urges blacks to Stop all of the marching, all of the complaining and rise to action and fix what is wrong in our lives and our communities. This book is at its inspirational best when it talks about the “Quite Heroes” in our community and the need to “Write down the dream” in regards to setting goals and a plan of action. “Stop Being Niggardly” is filled with solid points to consider, statics to back up assertions and historical references for perspective.

Early on in the book Karen Hunter states that anger was her impetus for writing this book, and the book does reflect that anger along with her frustration in powerful lines such as, “I believe that black folks worry so much about what people are saying and calling us, but spend little time on what we are saying and calling each other and even less time on building out communities.”

Karen Hunter doesn’t just ‘Bring It’ when it comes to Black America, she also mixes it up with jaded Americans in general. When she isn’t lamenting on her life experiences she is calling a spade a spade. “People don’t know that a majority of Mexicans are of African descent.” Karen Hunter’s book  deals with many topics and subjects, but she is deft enough to push people to embrace and value who they are. Karen Hunter knows that the truth tellers of the world are not eagerly received, but she shows true courage when she writes, “We complain about the images of us in movies, yet when we get an opportunity to produce movies, what do we put out: Soul Plane? And, sorry, I love your heart, Tyler Perry, but you’re part of the problem.”

In the book’s most thoughtful moments Karen Hunter speaks of Martin Luther King and his dream, and his lack of and action plan, but many of the points in her book line up directly with the philosophy of Malcolm X, especially on having an economic power base. Ms. Hunter’s book/guidebook cleverly covers many topics and it moves smooth and quickly. Often her book speaks of life instances where she had to humble herself, but at times the tone of the book is elevated.

“Stop Being Niggardly” also takes time out to present a historical perspective, “When filmmaking began, the assault on the black image was heightened. Birth of a Nation, praised as one of the best films ever made is a Ku Klux Klan– inspired movie depicting blacks as savage, childlike, and inhuman beings that needed to be stopped and controlled.” As an added bonus “Niggardly” contains a reprinting of Nannie Helen Boroughs’ book, 12 Things the Negro must do to Improve Himself, with a commentary by Karen Hunter. Karen Hunter deserves a large amount of credit when it comes to telling us all like it is. Stop Being Niggardly: And Nine Other Things Black People Need to Stop Doing is a good book that you need to have on your bookshelf, as it appeals to all races because truth knows no color, or boundaries.

4 out of 5 stars

Every day countless authors make the error of thinking that covers don’t matter, well at least it appears that they think that it doesn’t matter. But that is precisely the point, how much time and thought you put behind your book cover can directly translate into sales. It can not be understated that your book’s cover is the most effective sales tool you have. Making an appropriate cover can be very tricky but it must be done.

But what is a good book cover? If you go to your local book store you will see hundreds of approaches to this question. Some try a minimalist approach, while others try to connect to the buyer through images. It is a new day and age in America, times are tough for everyone, so your book cover must say to the consumer “I am worth your disposable cash”.  It is also a new day in publishing, but what still seems to be true is that sex sells. The overdone shirtless model and uncovered sensual body parts still move books from the shelves, but this is not always the case.

Early on in the publishing process you’ll need to decide between photos, illustrations, sketches, computer generated images, 2 color, 4 color, or subliminal messages. You will have to decide on color schemes, what colors looks great against this background and whatnot. The type of cover you decide on usually depends on what kind of book you are publishing is it for children or is it very adult. It can also depend on what everyone else in the marketplace is doing. However, by going against the grain is where the unique cover can really stand out.

Available Now

If you don’t have a background in graphics and design it may cost you a little, but you can find many reasonable designers that will give you an original work for as little as $80 or as much as $1500. When I designed my book cover, for EveryDay Life, my mindset was that I wanted to create a book that people could have out on their coffee-table and not feel embarrassed or ashamed about having it out. So for me it started with the question of “Book cover to sell Vs. book cover as Art” I chose Art. Some authors want the cover images to convey what was inside the book and for me, the cover was the longest segment of the publishing process, aside from the actual writing of the book of course. You must decide on the best approach for your work.

Remember that your book will be judged by its cover. If the brick and mortal stores see any hint of an unprofessional cover, a cluttered front, if the cover screams I chose the wrong font because have no idea what I am doing, or my little sister created this cover, your book will be on Special Order so fast your nose will bleed. Error are unavoidable, but I can’t say this enough proofread everything and I mean everything.

Also do not neglect the book spine. Spend as much time creating the book spine as the front cover. You want to be able to read the title on the spine, but keep the same color schemes and fonts. Once the front cover gets someone to pick it up then it is the back cover that hooks them. What goes on the back cover? The synopsis, reviews of previous books, an author photo, bio and any blurb from noted professionals in the business. Usually white type on darker backgrounds is very readable. Make no mistake the back cover is where you will win over the audience.

  

 

Today one of the biggest publishing markets is Urban Literature. However, Street Lit has come under fire from many angles. With urban novels being turned into Oscar nominated movies such as Precious, this is as good of a time as any to ask what is the state of Black Literature? There are those that say that Street Literature has no real value to Black Literature as a whole, and that it is equivalent to gangster rap’s relation to the larger genre of Hip-Hop. Then there are people who swear by Urban Literature, as they claim that is type of literary fair is the only kind they will consume. Surprising the people who swear by Ghetto Literature the most are middle class black women.  Many Black authors are  relegated to an existence of selling books out their car trunks at every stop, while their white counterparts enjoy the heights of respected best seller lists.  Thousands of black authors have to ‘grind’, and or’ hustle’, while their counterparts have no concept of those two words. Is it the literature that is the problem, or is it those who are writing the literature?

Before I became an author I knew that urban literature had a credibility issue, I just didn’t know how deep that issue really was. I won’t go into how many authors have four or five books, but still don’t know how to use a simile, yet and still street literature dominates the market. With so many titles selling like hot cakes and its proponents saying ‘I’ve sold X amount of books” , “people are buying it’. So why would anyone think that there is a problem with black literature? I have heard statements similar to these being uttered by crack dealers of the 80s, as  justification as to why they sold drugs.  At a book event I overheard an author say “I am an Essence bestseller”, followed by the publisher snickering, is that respect?  This is not to say that there are not some wonderfully well written positive African American books out there. There are many stories of black success and black triumph, but are black people reading those books? “Any story celebrating the beauty and strength of black family life, the power of education, and the desire to succeed in the workplace and in business is now out of fashion.” wrote Juan William in his article titled “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature”.

Since “Urban Lit” began as an often overlooked subdivision of the Blaxploitation era, over 40 years ago. The Film genre was considered exploitative because they took place in the ghetto, played up stereotypes and were mostly written by whites. Today Urban Literature contains many element that were present in its now defunct film counterparts the only difference, no is that blacks are at the helm of these projects. The main argument for this type of literature is that it attracts new readers. It has also been said that Ghetto Lit provides escapism, but for many blacks this type of escapism can be had by not opening a book, but a door. After reading a novel filled with busty women and thugs, overflowing with misogyny, depicting female characters as “dime pieces” or “trophies”, novels that proudly display real gritty scenes of  infidelity, criminal activities and murder that go unpunished or they are glorified, one would have to wonder if Marva Allen owner of Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem was right when she said, “It’s not literature it’s fiction… they offer no literary advantages.” Or is there something more to this “Box” that these Black ‘Harlequins’ have put black literature in? Maybe it has something to do with where you find these books in the bookstore. I have never seen the White Literature section, though I have seen American Literature sections devoid of black authors, except for one dimensional books like Steve Harvey’s “Straight Talk, No Chaser” and sport stories of course. Is a book made urban by the skin color of its characters, the skin color of the author, or its content?

In the New York Times article “Their Eyes Were Reading Smut”, Nick Chiles said ,“On shelf after shelf, in bookcase after bookcase, all that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life. I felt as if I was walking into a pornography shop, except in this case the smut is being produced by and for my people, and it is called literature.” Is Nick Chiles right? Maybe the problem is in the definition, What is literature? If you solely define it as it as publication of printed material then there is no issue, but historically literature has meant much more than that. Rebecca West once said, “Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity.” Apparently many disagree, noting that literature can mean many things to many people Nick Chiles mused, “That leaves me wondering where we – writers, publishers, readers and the black community – go from here. Is street fiction some passing fad, or does it represent our future? It’s depressing that this noble profession, one that I aspired to as a child from the moment I first cracked open James Baldwin and Gabriel García Márquez about 30 years ago, has been reduced by the greed of the publishing industry and the ways of the American marketplace to a tasteless collection of pornography.” I do not believe that these articles, bloggers, or reviewers are trying to ‘hate’ on anyone, or ‘knock’ someone’s hustle and neither am I for that matter, but these are legitimate questions, what is black literature? Where do we go from here? Is Black Literature viewed as nothing more than a collection coming of age Pre and Post Prison tales? “A lot of people complain that most of the Urban Lit books are the same three or four stories with different titles, character names and locations . And that many of the authors have the same felonious background story in their bios. I have been to high profile author meetings where terms like “This is Crip Shit” and “Am a Blood” were tossed around with hand signs. It was comical and something I will most likely write about later, but I digress. “Urban List is just like Hip-Hop nowadays” Was Joey Pinkey correct in his widely viewed article, ‘Urban Lit is Dead? ‘

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire It's going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire
It’s going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

As an author I feel all of these sentiment, but I also believe that urban literature, like hip hop, is not dead and that the problem, with both forms of entertainment, lies in where you get it from. Many people have asked the question I have posed in the title, but there have been no definitive answers. Perhaps this literary dust-up is equivalent to the one going in among our “Black Leaders”, see Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley.  Perhaps this was summed up in an  article titled ‘The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament)’, “this new millennium of emerging writers and novelists are still struggling to find a place in contemporary literary circles.” For the sake of argument let’s say that the critics in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the blogs are all wrong, or at least mistaken. Let’s say books like mine and The Other Wes Moore are not “really Urban Lit. Let’s say that when you tell a publisher that you are an Essence Best Seller that they do not snicker, not even privately. Let’s say that the media gives black authors the same amount of press and credibility they do their white contemporaries. Let’s say that urban literature isn’t as watered down as hip hop. And let’s say that big publishing houses market African American works as they would the works of others. Does an author not want the respect of their peers? As a people we have always been told to wait for things, that everything takes time, this is what was said decade ago about urban literature. When street literature was young, we heard “it is just starting out, give it some time.” It is now 2011, so the question is has anything changed? Hopefully the documentary “Behind Those Books” answers some much needed questions, regarding the genre future.

Maybe, but now the question  is one of Credibility, but a question for who? Is it a question for The Relentless Aaron’s, Larry Wilson Jr’s, Vickie Stringer’s, and Zane’s of the literary world? Or is our new direction for the Aisha Ford’s, Eric Jerome Dickey’s, and Terry A. O’Neal’s to forge? Or do we follow the examples of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Phyllis Wheatley, and others? Chances are that those in Ghetto/Street/Urban/African American Literature wont stand up, but the hope is that they will coalesce around something more important than shelf space, money, the thrill of the hustle or fame. Maybe Black literature reader see more of themselves in Rachetville and Grimy than they see of themselves in the future, which is why they haven’t fully embraced black sci-fiction because of how omitted we see ourselves in the future. Unfortunately, like many forms of entertainment, it is all we got.

Perhaps the discussion can best be summed up by what Mo’Nique said when accepting The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious, “Sometimes you have to forgo doing what is popular, in order to do what’s right.”

The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament) http://blogginginblack.com/?p=1076 Urban Lit is DEAD http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/articles/editorials/urbanlitisdead.php “Their eyes were looking at smut” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/04/opinion/04chiles.html “A critical look at Street Lit” http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/interviews/nick-chiles.php “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703740004574514260044271666.html

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