*“If you ask those same women about their own personal relationships, what happened, they would also not know. If you ask those same women why the men who they loved in the past didn’t choose them; didn’t stay; didn’t be a real father to their children; they still would not know the answer. So that means that here is a group of people who are caught in a cycle of unfortunate social and cultural events that they don’t understand; won’t understand; refuse to understand – because of the inability to engage in a self-critique.” — Sister Souljah
Always real, always succinct, and never at a loss for words, in the quote above activist, educator and author Sister Souljah responds to a question that was posed to her. Her response spoke to the African American women in the book clubs of America who had problems with the character Midnight, first introduced to readers in the debut novel “The Coldest Winter Ever”; then as the main protagonist in her follow-up novel MIDNIGHT: A Gangster Love Story had fallen in love with a Japanese girl instead of a sister. It is obvious from her lack of pause in the interview with EURweb journalist DeBorah B. Pryor, this is not the first time she has heard the question.
Undeterred by the politics and controversy that has become synonymous with her name, Sister Souljah continues to march to the beat of her own drum and some of the very same women who criticized Midnight and the choices he made, are most likely amongst those who helped make her newest book, MIDNIGHT: AND THE MEANING OF LOVE (and its predecessor), New York Times Bestsellers.
Fans have been waiting two long years for this newest work; which follows the character Midnight – a teenaged, Sudanese-born Muslim trained in the martial art Ninjutsu – through the challenges that confront him and his beloved family following their move from Africa to Brooklyn, New York. Following the example of his father, a wealthy Sudanese scientist and political advisor; Midnight exemplifies a solid sense of self, extreme discipline and astute business acumen. He uses these tools to build a successful family business and buys his mother a home – all at the ripe young age of fourteen. When he meets Japanese-born Akemi Nakamura – a 16-year-old artist who doesn’t speak English, they fall in love and he takes her as his wife in a beautiful and unusual ceremony. Their love is passionate and intense. But when Akemi’s father, who had previously signed the marital permission forms, kidnaps his daughter to Japan, Midnight says, “There’s not one ounce of inferiority in my blood,” methodically secures his family and heads to the continent of Asia. In MIDNIGHT AND THE MEANING OF LOVE, the book that documents this fantastical journey, Sister Souljah erases any doubt: She is a writer without peer.
Showing no signs of jetlag from the NYC flight that brought her to Southern California just in time to participate in the L.A. Times Book Festival, Souljah stayed way beyond the festival’s closing hours to autograph the book for the hordes of fans who showed up to buy it. This endearing act – which the author has a reputation of doing at just about every book signing, ended on this day with a visit from the fire marshall.
With only a few days in town to promote the new book, Sister Souljah made time to check in with Lee Bailey’s EURweb. In the two-part interview that follows, she reveals the organic way that her stories manifest; what goes into the development of her colorful characters; and talks about the women who deny Midnight is a work of nonfiction and email her for his contact information. She lets us in on the humorous story of how she met the young man on the book’s cover; and what happened when she approached him. She shares her opinion on what makes some writers better at their craft than others. Sister Souljah’s books have been hailed by everyone from Sean P. “Diddy” Combs to Chuck D. to Jada Pinkett Smith. And everyone who reads her works makes the same comment: “When is the movie coming out? She responds to this inquiry when asked if “Hollywood” has come a-calling. Part 1 of the interview with Sister Souljah and EURweb journalist DeBorah B. Pryor starts here.
DeBorah B. Pryor: Are you satisfied with your accomplishments?
Sister Souljah: Well I look at writing as a spiritual thing; as having a higher purpose than just entertaining people. And I also look at it as a responsibility… If you get a gift you should use your gift to do something good and not evil…so when I’m writing, I’m really writing to please God and I feel that if I can accomplish pleasing God then my job is complete…and the blessings that I receive are more than enough.”
DBP: So let me ask you this, let me interject, do you feel that you do please God?
SS: Oh, I hope that I do (laughs). In my prayers everyday I am saying that I am hoping that I am doing what I’m supposed to do and I am doing it well. I am asking for approval on every single word and every single page…I believe that sometimes when a person receives a lot of opposition they look inward and they become more spiritual. They realize that the most important power is the power of the maker of your soul. And that makes you strong enough to withstand the continuous isolation from people or the continuous criticism that comes from people at every turn.”
DBP: Tell me a little bit about the process you go through, Souljah. How do you prepare to write a book?
SS: Well, I am asked this question often, and I would like to believe that I really don’t have a process or at least I don’t think about it as a process. I try to just move and flow in a very organic, natural way to me so …I’m always thinking and my characters are alive in my mind …always speaking to me so I could be in the supermarket and all of a sudden I want to jot something down…it could be in the middle of the night… or early in the morning because its so peaceful in my house. There really is no, like, formula for it.
DBP: How long did it take you to write this book from beginning to end; from the first thought to the last period on the page?
SS: It took me 2 years to write this book. I began writing it after Midnight: A Gangster Love Story. I went to Japan after I wrote Midnight: A Gangster Love Story before [the book] was even in the store. So that would be my first research of Japan. So I was travelling in Japan, Korea and China and surrounding areas over a period of 2 ½ to 3 years. I would spend 90 days at a group, then I would travel to another country and I would return. I was getting familiar with the continent of Asia in general and then getting familiar with the country of Japan in particular.
DBP: You also seem to know so much about the Muslim culture, excuse me, the Muslim religion and the Sudanese culture. Did that happen the same way? Did you travel as well? How did that come about, the knowledge that we learned through Midnight.
SS: Well, I have actually never been to the Sudan. It’s a trip that I would love to take but I have not taken yet, at this point. I wrote Midnight: A Gangster Love Story without having gone to the Sudan or to Japan, so the characters Midnight and Akemi are all characters I just wrote from whatever knowledge I had accumulated thus far. As far as Muslim, I’ve grown up knowing Christians, Muslims and Jewish people. I’m a New Yorker. I think if you live in New York you have to encounter all of those faiths and more, you know, because it’s a very diverse place. I also went to Rutgers University…a university of about 40,000 people from all around the world… I’m a historian, that’s my thing, so I’ve read a lot of history from a lot of areas in the world so writing a novel wasn’t very difficult for me because these are topics and things I have looked at through books and through real-life living before.
DBP: When we were first introduced to the character Midnight in The Coldest Winter Ever he was older. And of course when he was in Midnight: A Gangster Love Story we saw him younger, he was in his teens. Did you know [he would have his own book]; was this the plan when you wrote The Coldest Winter Ever or was it feedback from the fans who said, ‘I want to know more about Midnight?’
SS: When I wrote The Coldest Winter Ever Midnight was introduced to the reader through [the character] Winter’s eyes, and through Winter’s voice…The reaction to the character Midnight was so incredible. So many women from all around the globe were sending me emails explaining to me how they love him; asking me for his phone number and address (laughs)…
DBP: (Laughing) NO!!!
SS: (Continuing)…telling me that they saw him on the highway, driving. It became so bazaar that I thought ‘wow, this is obviously a character that has captured a lot of female hearts but at the same time, doesn’t make that many appearances in The Coldest Winter Ever.”
DBP’s note to readers: Souljah says she had actually began writing a novel about another character in The Coldest Winter Ever; got halfway in that story, but put it down due to the demand for Midnight’s story.
SS: I thought his story is actually more timely because he’s young, Black, African, Muslim; all the things that are scorned and misrepresented in the American media. So I thought, ‘wow, let me let him tell his story and that should be powerful because people are always talking about Muslims but mainstream America doesn’t hear Muslims speaking about themselves. And people are always talking about the youth, and how backwards and confused they are, but mainstream America doesn’t normally hear youth talking about themselves in an uncontrolled dialogue. So I just thought he had the right combination of things: young, Black, African, Muslim, male; all of those things were apropos for what was going on in the country at the time.
DBP: And you put a face on them. You put a face on Midnight, on [his girlfriend] Akemi and on Umma [his mother]. It’s like a movie in a book. I was like did she just pull these people from somewhere and ask them to pose?
SS: I wrote the characters first, I wrote the story first and actually I selected the people that fit what I imagined in my mind when I wrote the story. And none of the people fit exactly, but they fit enough for it to be a good projection of the characters that I had already written. I had Akemi and Umma well in advance but I didn’t have a Midnight so it took me really, literally, two weeks before the deadline to identify somebody and it was just a pure serendipity or whatever you want to call it. I was just walking in the mall with my husband and my family and the guy was walking in the other direction with a couple of his friends; and I saw him.
Later this week be sure to catch Part II of Sister Souljah’s informative interview; where she continues with the funny story of her meeting with the young man that made the final cut on the cover of MIDNIGHT.
MIDNIGHT AND THE MEANING OF LOVE retails at $26.99 and is available at all bookstores. To learn more about Sister Souljah, book signings, or securing her for a visit to high schools in your area visit her official website at http://www.sistersouljah.com
DeBorah B. Pryor is the author of “Public Speaking for the Private Person” a communications and leadership training workshop designed for ‘everyday people’ who aim to become better communicators. The 1-day course will be offered on Saturday, July 30 at UCLA Extension. For more information on the class content or to schedule a private consult visit http://www.dpryorpresents.com or email [email protected]