As writers, we always have that one book (or two to three books) that changed our perspective on literature. Though I grew up on titles by greats such as James Baldwin, Donald Goines, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alex Haley, Toni Morrison and Richard Wright, there are two novels by contemporary greats that inspired me to find my own original voice.
In 1992, I picked up a hardcover novel displaying four African-American women donning bright hats and garb. More than 400 pages later, I exhausted every emotion I had as I became completely engulfed by Terry McMillan’s Waiting To Exhale. I saw a little of myself in many of the characters; Robin and Gloria exemplified my weaknesses, while Bernadine and Savannah personified my strengths.
Waiting To Exhale topped the New York Times Bestsellers list for months and sold over three million copies. It was later adapted into a movie by Forest Whitaker and grossed over eighty-million dollars at the box office. The amazing success of both the book and the movie proved that America was not only ready to hear our voices, but they were also willing to let us tell our own stories.
A few years later, I read The Coldest Winter Ever. I thought Sister Souljah was going to weave a grimy, street tale against a snowy, freezing cold backdrop. I imagined a blizzard so severe it would be historical. On the contrary, I learned the “Winter” she was referring to was a young lady who was forced to fend for herself when her world was ripped apart and her father was sent to prison; I also understood the double entendre on “Coldest” as well.
It took me less than forty-eight hours to read the tale of Winter Santiaga, and the fate that befell her father, mother, three younger sisters and her father’s worker. With an unforgettable cast of characters, and a storyline unlike any other ever written, The Coldest Winter Ever put Street Lit on the map. It became my standard for Urban Fiction.
Waiting To Exhale helped shape my voice and The Coldest Winter Ever incited my purpose. Today, I still want to be like these two trailblazers and tell stories that are stimulating and relatable. When I release my debut novel in the coming months, I hope my readers come away enlightened, entertained and most importantly, effected. May my words incite a writer’s creative juices and remain with readers long after the ending.