By Amy Cheney, M.L.S.
I can’t keep Harry Williams’ books on the shelf at my library! His book covers are dynamic, attracting my reluctant readers. Even though there is implied violence, the stories also depict a person struggling to change his life. This kind of balanced representation enables me to easily purchase and defend Mr. Williams’ books on the shelves of my lockdown institution in California.
|Harry Williams, reverend and author|
For example, one teen patron named Jacobo, 15, says of Williams' books: “They’re cool, interesting. There’s action, shooting, gangsters, money, drugs, but positive stuff, too. I could relate to how dangerous the neighborhood was and how you could switch your life around. You don’t have to sell drugs, you can go to college.”
With my students so attuned to Williams’ titles such as Straight Outta East Oakland (2008) and Straight Outta East Oakland II: Trapped on the Track (2011), I wanted to find out more about the preacher who writes and publishes urban fiction:
Amy: Tell us about your background and how you know the streets so well.
Williams: I grew up in Asbury Park, NJ. As a young person, I was blessed with many life advantages. Both of my parents had master's degrees and they were able to send me to private school. I became the first black editor-in-chief of my high school's newspaper. S.E. Hinton's book, The Outsiders, prompted me to write my first book (which never saw the light of day).
After I graduated from high school, I made some negative choices. Like many young people, I laughed when my parents told me that my choice of friends could impact my destiny. I moved back to New York City when I was 21 and lived there for close to ten years, involved in the hip hop scene and lived through the height of the crack epidemic of the 1980s. I have never smoked crack in my life but I saw friends become addicted to the monster. I saw what happens when automatic weapons arrive in the hood by the crateful.
Amy: Your website mentions a life changing moment. Can you give us the details?
Williams: When I was 23 years old, I became a Christian. My entire focus in life changed virtually overnight. Someone told me that God had a plan for me. I wanted to know what that plan consisted of.
Amy: What is the message you hope people will receive from your books?
Williams: My books are real. If young people can't relate they will never hear the message. The message is that the streets are a surefire dead end. Faith, with education, is a ladder. Lastly, once you've made it out of the hood, you have to go back to help others have a better life. The Bible says, "To whom much has been given, much will be required."
Amy: What are your favorite books? Who are you writing mentors?
Williams: Richard Wright's Black Boy and Native Son, along with James Baldwin's works changed my life, especially Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and Go Tell It On The Mountain. I was greatly influenced by the father of gangsta fiction, Donald Goines.
Amy: When is your next book coming out? Can you give us a preview of the storyline?
Williams: Straight Outta East Oakland 3: Funk Season - The Return Of Street Life should be released Spring of 2012. "Firstborn" is a college kid, kind of square around the edges, but he has seen the inside of the game. Like many people from the block, he's intensely loyal to his friends. When one of the members of his clique turns into an enemy and comes out of the pen ready to wage war against the Black Christmas Mob, Firstborn is tempted to go back to East Oakland to try to help his friends.
Amy: Part 3 of your series sounds like it will be a great read enjoyed by many who relate to characters like Firstborn. Thank you for your time and dedication to telling rich stories about the city experience.
For more information about Harry Williams:
Facebook: Soul Shaker Publishing
Author Interview: http://helpmepublish.wordpress.com
Amy Cheney is Librarian at Write to Read • Juvenile Hall Library & Literacy, San Leandro, CA.