It was like meeting Michael Jordan. Or The Rolling Stones. Will Smith. It was like the opportunity of a lifetime, being able to connect face-to-face with THE top of the writing game, and the woman who has single-handedly written a collection of books that have defined a generation of urban fiction. Sister Souljah's visit to Toronto this weekend was legendary for me. I got to meet my literary role model. I got to connect with a tangible example of what I would love to achieve: storytelling genius.
I can't remember exactly when I first read "The Coldest Winter Ever." It wasn't long after it's 1999 release. I just remember hearing SO much about this book, that I had to pick it up. And when I picked it up...I couldn't put it down. It was freaking fantastic, from top to bottom. That story moved me on so many levels that it made me forget about the dozens and dozens of other books I had read in my life. This book was the TRUTH.
After discovering this gem, I went back to read "No Disrespect" around 2004. Again, I was captivated by her personal story, and motivated to improve my own writing skills. This woman was excellent at her craft, and the experience reading her work was just that...an EXPERIENCE.
Those two books left me on a mental high after reading the last pages. Leaving me pensive. Inspired. Curious. It made me realize that I needed to READ good writing to really understand how to BE a good writer.
I'm admittedly extremely under-read, for someone who has dedicated her life to story-telling and publishing. There are so many classics, and great books that I am almost embarrassed to admit that I haven't turned the pages of. One day I will...but in the meanwhile, I am a very picky reader with a very short attention span.
Sister Souljah's next two books "Midnight: A Gangster Love Story" and "Midnight and the Meaning of Love" just blew my mind. Through her words, I was literally taken to another world. Back to the 80s. Into Islam. To Japan. I was introduced intimately to various cultures that I had never taken the time to analyze in any depth. But through her stories, I was taken there. I was educated.
Needless to say, the minute I read that Sister Souljah was coming to Toronto, I made my plans to reach. Thursday, May 9th at York University, and Friday, May 10th at Knowledge Bookstore: I was going to hit up both appearances. One group of friends accompanied me on Thursday, and another on Friday...and I'm grateful I got to experience the author in both environments.
At York University, it was a packed auditorium (Curtis Lecture Hall) of mainly black university-aged women, sprinkled with other fans, readers, and professionals from all ethnicities. She introduced her novels and their origin, and then opened the floor to questions.
My original plan was to come equipped with notepad and camera, prepared to almost "report" on the experience...but due to her request to not be photographed, I put away my Canon Rebel T3, and decided to just sit back and take it in.
To even attempt to reiterate her messages would be impossible. There was so much said, so much asked, and so many wonderful discussions happening in that room that I was literally having one of the rare moments of EXTREME motivation that only happen on occasion in my life. Of all the musical and creative inspiration I receive on a day-to-day basis, I can count on two hands the POWERFUL moments that have changed my psyche, and shifted my life paradigms by the time I have walked through them.
This was one of those moments.
Listening to her speak, hearing her knowledge, feeling her love for the empowerment of women, discussing the various characterizations and messages in her novels, all of these things were processes and thoughts that literally drive my life. For example, why am I a writer? What types of messages and images and I trying to create and sustain? What type of identity am I attempting to build for myself, and my community through my activities?
As much as I know my goals in life, and know what types of activities I enjoy and respect...I do appreciate the opportunity to have these processes reinforced and strengthened. Like, Sister Souljah covered topics from polygamy, to Pan-Africanism, to community violence, media images, hip hop, and the role of religion in relationships.
One intelligent question led to another insightful response, and you could literally feel the buzz of positive energy in the room. As much stimulation as we receive...there was something particularly stimulating about the conversation, and the gathering of like-minded individuals in the one setting.
The 1.5 hour wait after the session for her book signing was more than worth it. I can barely remember what I said to the sister, but I hope that my gratitude and respect was evident: this woman is one of the reasons why I am inspired to continue writing, and inspired to be good at what I do, and to do so being a woman of character and strength.
She embodied all of those things.
To repeat her messages would be impossible...not because I don't remember then, but because they were so rich with wisdom and compassion, that I would be doing her injustice by trying to recreate them.
Even on Friday night, at Knowledge Bookstore, her words and information conveyed to the group of attentive writers and community members was equally powerful. Questions took on a different angle, more about her writing process and experiences with travel and American culture...and again, I was able to take in her thoughts and see how she has successfully manifested her experiences and observations into an amazing collection of literature.
I got my book signed on Thursday. I ordered "A Deeper Love," her latest novel that was just released in January, and was fortunate to see it arrive in the mail just days before I found out she was coming to town. I'm ready to have the story of Winter Santiaga's younger sister Porche unveiled in this sequel to "The Coldest Winter Ever" and I'm excited that I have another level of inspiration and spirit-moving words to digest.
As a writer, this is what I live for. Information. Inspiration. Forward movement. Strong ideologies about life, culture, and interpersonal relationships. I THRIVE off of positive energy, and especially when it is communicated to me well. It's like my drug.
It's not often that I feel this...this vibration of extreme liberation. Like this feeling of empowerment where I just KNOW that my path has just been made a little bit clearer, and my purpose has become a little bit more identified. It's not often, but when it happens I am eager to roll with it.
The main thing I received from hearing Sister Souljah speak was that her books are just a vessel for sending messages and images out to her readers. With roots in politics, community service, and a strong educational foundation, she has the ability to produce pieces of work that are full of gems and thought-provoking circumstances that you can't help but walk away feeling strengthened.
Shortly after returning home, from her trip to Toronto, Sister Souljah expressed her gratitude for Toronto on Twitter, mentioning that the people of our city treat their favourite authors like rock stars. And rightfully so.
The words of Sister Souljah have moved me, like any song, movie, or book ever could. The subtle messages, and the gripping story lines are the perfect vessel for creating images and ideas that can be utilized in day-to-day life.
That is my wish for myself. The gift of transitional writing. The ability to be able to manipulate words and feelings and sociology and intention, into beautiful tales with beautiful characters.
It is so important to have a tangible example of seeing this done successfully. If I had never read a story that made me FEEL this feeling, I would never have the desire to create a similarly moving piece of work.
So again, after seeing Sister Souljah on two occasions this week, I am feeling so full of gratitude, and my passion for the written word has increased. I thank God for her talent, and for giving her the ability to inspire change, inspire movement, and encourage progression. A part of who I aspire to become is due to the admirable manner in which she has already paved the way.
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.