Community activist, recording artist and author, Sister Souljah is the God Mother of Urban Fiction. Born and raised in the streets of Bronx, New York, Souljah is a survivor who has seen and been through it all.
In 1985 Souljah graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in American History and African Studies, however, she is a global student having travelled and studied across Europe and Africa. Following her studies, Souljah founded the African Youth Survival Camp, a six-week program for homeless youth in Enfield North Carolina that was financed by Bad Boys Entertainment.
In 1992, Souljah became a member of Public Enemy and released the controversial album 360 Degree of Power that caught the attention of Bill Clinton, leading him to admonish her at a Rainbow Coalition event.
Souljah began her writing career in 1995 when she published an autobiography titled No Disrespect. In 1999, she published her debut fiction novel The Coldest Winter and later she published the bestselling titles Midnight: A Gangster Love Story in 2008, Midnight and The Meaning Of Love in 2009, and A Deeper Love Inside in 2013. All four books are considered urban tales, even urban romances, however, it is The Coldest Winter Ever that captured the attention of young, black girls in urban communities and helped pave the way for urban fiction today.
It is fair to say that over the last decade, urban fiction has grown rapidly in population primarily because of its creative connection to the stereotype of “Ghetto America”—profanity, violence, drug abuse, and fast, money-hungry women. Although Canada and America are two different countries, the urban communities are very much alike. The primary difference, to me, is that the urban communities in Toronto are multicultural.
When I think of “Ghetto Canada,” or in my case Toronto, I think of high and low-rise, brown-brick apartments flooded with low income blacks, whites, Asians and Indians with low English proficiency and limited education. It’s the choices one makes that will leave them in the cycle, or allow them to break free.
More youth in the urban communities are making a change in their values and lifestyles for the better, however, it’s the amount of young kids at risk who are accepting these lifestyles that is the problem.
It is no wonder that young girls and even some boys would take a liking towards this genre and engage in this culture of literacy. Souljah speaks in the language of Ghetto America in The Coldest Winter Ever to tell the story of a typical yet addictive lifestyle.
The Coldest Winter Ever is street saga that follows the life of a teenage girl named Winter who is the oldest daughter of Santiaga, an infamous drug dealer in Brooklyn. Winter is materialistic, dainty, superficial, and fierce. She has an eye for men and money, and she doesn’t take “no” for an answer. It’s her dominant personality that makes young female readers around the world idolize with her, although, when Souljah wrote this book, her intentions weren’t to create a role model out of Winter, but rather a lesson out of her life story—how easy it is to get caught up in a fast lifestyle; how fast you can lose everything, and learning to value the important things in life.
In the beginning of the book, Souljah gives her readers a taste of what it’s like when the odds are in ones favour in the drug game as Santiaga spoils Winter, her two younger sisters and her mother, with designer clothing, expensive jewellery, and fine dining.
Winter quickly turns into a spoiled brat and sucks up the luxurious street lifestyle like a sponge. Even when Santiaga moves their family into the suburbs, Winter’s heart is broken. She yearns to be in the streets of Brooklyn where she can be the “head bitch in charge,” and have the ability to brag to everyone about her notorious family.
But like most drug stories, the fame and fortune soon come to an end and Winter is forced to fend for herself.
Initially, Winter is not open to the idea of learning to live a ‘normal’ life without the glamour. She is reluctant about taking a helping hand, even from Sister Souljah herself. In the book she says, “Oh no, you tryna take me to Souljah’s house like I’m some kind of charity case. A homeless runaway or something.” Winter is so caught up trying to go back to the luxurious life she once lived, instead of embracing Sister Souljah’s uplifting lessons about self-love and respect; she steals and schemes with no intentions of giving up the fast life.
By the end of the book, Winter has tried everything from sleeping with rappers to stealing. She realizes her downfall: her love for money and her willingness to do anything for it.
When you are raised with a certain set of values, in the urban community, it’s hard to deviate from them, especially when nobody is telling you otherwise. Winter was raised in a family that thrived off the sale of drugs, and glorified materialism. By the time her family was taken away from her by the law, she already had the mind frame of a fast young girl. This was a problem many young women had and still have today.
In fact, in 1998, a year before The Coldest Winter Ever was published, there were more than a quarter million female drug arrests. This was accountable for approximately 18% of all arrests for drug law violations in America. That same year, 9,425 adult women were admitted to sentenced custody in Canada.
Any young lady could relate to Winter because despite her problems, she is popular, confident and adventurous. Not only does this urban fiction book follow a young, teenage girl, Souljah uses a ghetto narrative, giving the book a realistic touch. Thousands of women, young and old, have read The Coldest Winter Ever and said “this book is telling my life story.”
It’s easy for a young girl in Toronto to relate to Winter in New York, and even want to be her. It is easy to fall in the trap of the glamour of the fast life. When you live in a poor neighborhood, where violence and drugs surround you, something better is going to be addictive.
The”high risk” communities in Toronto could easily be Winter’s Brooklyn—Jane & and Finch, Rexdale, Regent Park, and certain parts of Scarborough, for example. Similar to Winter, many young girls in Toronto grew up seeing local drug dealers in their flashy cars and name brand clothes, riding around the hood with their own version of Winter in their passenger seats.
Children have been put into the system because they were exposed to drugs and/or guns. I remember thinking I was Winter. Fourteen years later, after the book has been published, versions of the Santiaga family are still roaming the streets of Toronto and young men getting gunned down before they could make something of their lives.
The Coldest Winter Ever doesn’t have a fairy tale ending. The events that take place in the book are everyday events. The drug dealers and their families are real. I’m sure anyone who has lived in Toronto for the past seven years remembers the raid that took place in Jamestown in 2006, which resulted in over 100 arrests, for example.
Children’s Aid Society is real too. In 2007-2008 over 77,000 children were allegedly abused in Ontario and 9,400 of these children remained in custody. The message in the book is quite clear—a drug dealer can only go so far until he ends up dead or in jail, and his family is torn apart by the system. This has been a problem in urban Canada (Toronto in particular) for a long time, and with more young women growing up wanting to be a “bad b****” like Winter…if anything, it is a bigger problem today.
Over the past two decades, the number of women being charged in Canada has risen by 34% with a total of 9,425 woman in 2009—4,010 per 100,000 female youths were accused by the police in comparison to 1,360 adult females, especially for assault, break and enter and uttering threats. What does this tell you about our young women today?
Sister Souljah does an exceptionally good job of keeping her readers in suspense as they follow Winter down an overwhelming road of destruction. The Coldest Winter Ever is a classic, urban, crime novel and is the perfect reason for any young girl, whether she is in New York or Toronto, to open her eyes and face reality. It is no wonder that the Website for Harriet included it on their list of 100 books to read by black women. Not to mention, A Deeper Love Inside hit number seven on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Women, especially black women, need more role models that can understand and relate to them and aren’t afraid to tell the world what’s going on in their communities. American urban fiction writers have reached out to the youth by speaking their language. Because of this, more and more black youths are turning to literature, regardless of the genre. With urban fiction growing in popularity, it will only be a matter of time before Canadian writers begin to put their name on the urban literary map with hopes of becoming prominent in the urban Canadian lifestyle and culture.
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