Exclusive Feature: Shahrazad Ali on Terry McMillan, “Black Chic Lit”, and the Millions More Movement
In 2005 controversial topics are helping to drive Internet video sales, book sales and tabloid newspaper sales more than we have ever seen. The common belief is that controversy sells. That is not actually a fact, but should be weighed on a case-by-case basis. Controversy can be positive or negative but usually it is associated with negativity. Once upon a time in America a negative controversy could destroy one’s career. In 1990 many African Americans were caught up in a controversy of social merit. The discussion stemmed from issues touched upon in a very controversial book by Author Shaharazad Ali.
The book was called The Black man’s Guide to Understanding the Black woman. In the book Ali advocated a slap to the mouth of a loud, “out of control female” although her words were blown out of proportion – to those that read the book there was no denying that that they were in context of “controlling the black woman” – something many black woman will never forgive her for. Ali however, is not asking to be forgiven in fact she is just as controversial 15 years later.
If you don’t pay attention you might think that this controversy caused her to go dormant but she is still writing books and she’s starting to speak publicly again. In 2005 she seems to be re-energized by the media reports of salacious behavior involving African-Americans, particularly black women. Nowadays Black women find themselves equally part of the controversy landscape and infamy gets people paid as if they were famous. Witness Karrine Steffans and Nicole Narrain just this month. In 2005 negative controversy is so chronic and epidemic that it knows no racial boundaries. Ali may be annoyed but at the same time she says she is not surprised by anything she reads. As she played with her grandkids and spoke with Playahata.com the author did not mince words or any of the subjects we approached her with. She’s not one to bite her tongue in print or live conversation.
Those not familiar with the books of the outspoken society critic might have had a chance to catch her occasionally talking politics on the internet at http://www.Libradio.com or http://www.innerLightRadio.com, In Philadelphia on community Radio Station WURD 900 AM or in New York at Harlem community radio station WHCR 90.3 FM. However more frequently she has been talking to Hip-hop audiences with frequent appearances on the very controversial Star and Buck Wild Morning Show of 105.1, and although her support and placement there has raised the eyebrows of some of her peers, she seems to be consistent in her criticism of things and people.
Ali is the author of seven books How Not to Eat Pork, Life Without the Pig, Urban Survival for the Year 2000: How to Prepare for the Y2K Computer Problem in the Hood, How to Tell If Your Man Is Gay or Bisexual, The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackman, The Black Man’s Guide to Understanding the Black Woman, and Are You Still a Slave? Things Your Parents Should Have Told You.
Ali told Playahata.com that she is basically the mother of non-fiction literature and Black female literature and all this explosion of Black female writers that we see today; she said there was no self-publishing going on until her books. According to Ali 98% of the titles that you see today all came after 1990 after her book opened up the market. Prior to that all you saw on shelves was Roots, Why the Caged Bird Sings, etc. She urged me to go into the bookstores and check the dates on all the black authors books and see if any were copy written before 1990 when she started publishing her books. I never checked, I took her word for it (but somebody please check this pretentious claim). However since Ali believes she is responsible for opening up the book market for all these authors today, she was a good person to talk with since we review a book per month in addition to movies and music.
Warning – Shaharazad Ali may offend, she is fearless and controversial but with those labels often comes confusion and inconsistency so I wanted to set the record straight by getting her thoughts on a few topics –Bruce Banter.
Millions More Movement in October – Support It or Not
Ali said she “supported the first march and it was a good thing for black men to all come together in solidarity to the tune of a million plus and not have to worry about having women present to confuse men issues and agenda. You can’t mix women and men together cause women have no self-control. However the first effort was spoiled and a lot of potential wasted because Minister Louis Farrakhan has strayed so much from the original teachings of Elijah Muhammad. He had all these black men at his disposal and the best he could do is tell them to go vote for somebody and this time around its not going to be more effective. All he is going to do is bring a whole lot of black people together converge on D.C. and make white folks richer. He has lost focus he is inviting everybody including poor whites almost like a politician now. I can’t throw my support behind that all inclusive efforts those are not the teachings I grew up on and I don’t care what anybody from the Nation Of Islam (NOI) has to say, I been a Muslim for 39 years and can’t none of’em try to tell me what to say. People think that I am a NOI Muslim but I am not, so I can just tell the truth whenever I feel like it. The National Urban league came out with their annual report in 2005 and it says we are in worse condition than we were in 10 years ago. Farrakhan should just stay home and tell people to send a check
The New wave of “Black Chic Lit*”
“I don’t like any of it, I don’t like that name “Black Chic Lit” and I don’t like those books, they all look alike, it’s junk books, it’s nonsense romance nonsense, white publishers put this stuff together. They started grooming these women, flooding market with unheard of women whose whole world is based in sexual stuff, its just ignorance, Where are the health books at? White people have taken over the black book industry ” – when an attempt was made to clarify which books (chic lit or street lit*) and suggest she may be judging a book by its cover (some covers may look similar but the story may be nothing like what one assumes) the author said she just had to play it safe and that although some people who might not read are reading now its still not a good thing, its surely not what she envisioned when she was “paving the way”.
In a last ditch effort I attempted to differentiate the female authors in this explosion are not all the same, there are some books grouped in as bad that are not as known. However the street literature books have more popularity There are the very popular and now mimicked. Vicki Stringer type books of female gangsters, woman supporting her drug dealer boyfriend, etc Terri Woods, Nikki Turner and these books are saturating the market but – then there are others that book content separate themselves from other female authors, take a book like Drama Factor which, is about struggles of a Haitian buppie or a book life “Picture Me Rollin”, about a female Tupac by a Ivy league educated, activist.
Ali said she doesn’t waste time trying to figure out who is who; the book covers are all alike to her. It’s the same to me, same design, same type of illustrations, big type, line spacing “The other black chicks books not about guns- that I’ve seen, are about ‘gotta find a man’ no story development, copying what white people want them to say – citing an exception for sister Souljah books. These characters don’t have a background, they just exist in a controversial way. What happened to the real Black books we used to have asked Ali?
Ali herself has written, primarily controversial books but feels the difference is that her works are not fiction.
The Terry McMillan drama and her recent book How To Tell If Your Man Is Gay or Bisexual
“I could have saved Terry McMillan a lot of time in her situation, if she had only read my book, she wouldn’t be going through the stuff that she is going through now. She should have been able to see it; I mean look at him (Jonathan Plummer). She should have known better this stuff happens because Black women rejected my book it was received better by men both black and white but black woman rejected it. I believe they rejected it because they personalized the title of the book too much. I should have entitled it “How to tell if a man is gay or bi-sexual” instead of saying how to tell if your man is gay or bi-sexual by putting your man they took it personal as if I was talking about their man at home. Some women don’t even want to read that type of advice from other women. When J.L King came out with his down lo book they flocked to purchase that. He didn’t break it down like I did but they brought that book and my book didn’t sell as well. My book sold more with white men and black men. Also J.L. King had open invitation to the media. I break it down for everybody no matter who you are and what you been through my book will have the signs to identify a gay man. I just wanted to warn women.
You had Star Jones husband rumors before Terri McMillan and there are a lot of regular women still guessing because they have yet to read my book. In the end Terri relationship failed for the following reasons: Age Gap of 20 years is too big and she’s wiser and smarter than him and he knows it. The cultural differences, of the two he’ Jamaican and she’s black Negro and we as black people been in America so long they we are a new type of black people, we are Uncle Tom American Blacks, we just different we don’t mix too well with others”.
*Chick Lit – relationship and/or sex based literature geared towards single, upwardly mobile, women in their twenties and thirties.
*Street Lit – literature geared towards young crowds in their thirties and twenties (and maybe even younger) usually poorly written and marketed as Hip-hop books but generally have nothing to do with Hip hop. Often based around stories involving gangs, violence, crime, and street life (i.e. the Donald Goines book series )