student and professor Todd Craig and I had a brief
conversation via phone on one of his many trips down
to Philly from his home in NYC. Unfortunately, the
tape was damaged, but that won't stop me from writing
about his latest endeavors. So, I asked him a few
more question via email and thankfully, he complied
with some very thorough answers.
We linked up to discuss the project that added "published
author' to his list of esteemed accomplishments.
Craig's novel, tor'cha hit bookstands, car trunks,
community centers and libraries this past February.
It's a book that he calls – a novel about the
hood, not a hood novel. While prepping for the tor'cha
Boston launch party, he breaks down his thoughts on
hood novels, and why this book is a bit different:
"I think a lot of these hood or street novels
that we see out these days glorify this life of crime.
I wanted to engage my people in using their brains,
because I think a popular misconception about the
hood is that we don't use our brains. But it is so
untrue, because there are so many unfound geniuses
in the hood, and it's sickening that they're caught
up in some of the nasty elements of street life. I
wanted my novel to engage learning. Some of these
'hood stories' give kids an unrealistic view about
street life. Instead, I wanted to act more like a
reporter. I cannot deny that these things take place,
so there are those elements within the stories. However,
instead of glorifying these elements, I place them
in a spectrum of choice – hopefully readers
will see that there are indeed other choices that
can be made, various choices. We just have to be strong
enough to know what they are, and maybe even make
different choices than some of the ones we see in
these hood novels."
Let me give you a little preview/teaser. tor'cha tells
the tale of 3 brothers in the hood that are confronted
with certain choices that have them questioning themselves.
The book digs deep into their lives. Namely, Emil
(a stick-up kid turned musician), Damon aka Abdullah
Zahir (incarcerated felon turned Muslim) and Christian
(escaped the streets via education). While they struggle
with what is right vs. what is easy, they are faced
with the breaking the Ten Commandments and the morals
from Supreme Mathematics, an Islamic concept that
originated from the Nation of Gods and Earths.
I had to ask Craig about the religious/spiritual backbone
of tor'cha – like why he chose to bring those
elements in, and if injecting the faith aspect would
perhaps turn readers off?
"Growing up, I went to church -really Sunday
school- with a lot of dudes in youth. As we got older,
some of them turned to lives of crime. What I began
to notice more and more was that once dudes went away
to do their bids, but they came back righteous-it
was the teachings of Islam (mainly 5 percenters or
Gods and Earths) that brought them back positive and
kept them on the straight and narrow. I was always
intrigued by how that worked out. Once I started to
do the research on the Nation of Gods and Earths,
I found their influence reached further than many
of us realize."
any hip-hop record, and you're gonna hear 5 percenter
language. Listen to the slang in the hood, it's got
the Gods and Earths speech written all over it. I
didn't feel that I could write the story without it.
And it fit perfectly for me to couple the Ten Commandments
with Supreme Mathematics. If you really look at it,
Supreme Mathematics works for the Gods and Earths
quite similar to the ways the 10 Commandments work
wanted to build a bridge between the two in a creative
and innovative way. Given the climate of the world
we live in these days, it was real important to me
to make sure that I cast a positive light on the Gods
and Earths as well as Islam, instead of the foolishness
we see in the media, where Islam has been painted
as this "deviant" culture, where people
are doing nothing but violent acts. I know it's not
like that at all. There are good and bad people in
religions everywhere, throughout history. But the
Gods and Earths that I know are positive influences
in our communities-I wanted to honor that positivity
and celebrate it properly."
When we first started talking about various ways that
Craig would like to reach the community with tor'cha,
he spoke o f creating a book that would interest the
kids in his neighborhood to read. Craig is targeting
urban markets on the East Coast that have programs
with disadvantaged youth for a donation of books.
Recently, Prodigy of Mobb Deep (who is also featured
on the soundtrack – more on that later), and
Voxonic Records has purchased a chunk of novels to
be donated on behalf of Infamous / Voxonic to disadvantaged
youth in 5-7 markets across the country.
"For me, it's important that our youth in urban
inner city communities really and truly know that
knowledge is power. There's an old saying that goes:
"you want to hide something from a black person
– put it in a book!" It's scary, but the
climate we live in shows this to be true. For youth
these days, it's cool to be "stupid" in
a sense; instead of being in school, getting an education,
and making the long-term commitment that leads to
a better life, these kids have been brainwashed to
think that it's cool to be out selling drugs, getting
shot or shot at, and even more – going to jail.
I wish someone would tell me what's cool about jail!
Ask anyone in jail, they'll tell you they don't want
to be there. Check the drug dealer on the corner that's
been caught in that rut, he'll tell you it's not poppin'
at all. A lot of my friends as we grew up have told
me how they wish they would've stayed in school, so
that maybe they wouldn't be stuck in the cyclical
trap the hood orchestrates for keeping people locked
to give the youth in my community stories they could
relate to, characters they could understand speaking
just how they speak, with the hopes that it may be
a springboard for them to continue reading more complex
texts, and make a way out of some of the pitfalls
the hood presents on a daily basis. There's nothing
easy about escaping the clutches of the hood. For
me, I made it out through reading, writing and engaging
in education. So in giving back, I wanted to give
youth something they could read hoping that would
spark their interests do make some other choices…even
if they don't make the choice, I really want them
to know there are indeed other ways."
In addition to the brain food, readers will get some
ear candy courtesy of the tor'cha soundtrack that
comes with every book. The soundtrack was made for
the book and sets the vibe for each chapter. It includes
songs by artists like Mobb Deep, Big Twins, Truck
North, Big Noyd, and production from various talents
like Havoc, Bear-One, and Mr. Len.
Craig bounces around the idea of tor'cha being the
first in a 3-part series, but says he isn't sure of
that. What he does know is that isn't his last published
novel and that he hopes the book reaches those that
can identify and learn from his words and his life.
for a contest!!!
If you haven't picked up tor'cha yet, then GeoClan
has your back! Here is your chance to win a copy.
Just answer the following questions correctly by May
31, 2008 and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. If both
are correct, your name will be entered with the others
to win the tor'cha book and soundtrack. Winner will
be notified on June 1, 2008. Good Luck!
1. What college or colleges did Todd Craig graduate
2. What does blackerinkwells mean?
To find out more about Craig or pick up the book/soundtrack
combo for yourself, check out: http://www.blackerinkwells.com/writings/
sure to drop GeoClan a line at email@example.com