By: Arli Lima, Staff Writer
It’s not everyday that a Baltimore native writes seven books, creates content for radio and television, and manages several entrepreneurial businesses all at the same time. Felicia Pride is a woman of the new millennium, a powerhouse in the world of literature, and did I mention she is from Baltimore. Her latest project is a book of essays she penned dedicated to hip-hop and impact it has on everyday life. Read on to find out what motivates her and what she thinks about being compared to Sanaa Lathan.
You started freelance writing in 2000, but have you always had a passion for writing and creating a story?
No, I didn’t always have a passion for writing. My teachers in high school and in college thought I was a good writer and my professors in college told me I should minor in writing, but for me I didn’t know any writers that made any money. I didn’t see writing as a viable career option so I kind of brushed it aside. I was always fascinated by words and I always say that hip hop was a vehicle for that because I just was mesmerized by how MC’s could put words together and I would write down lyrics and try my hand at poetry and rhymes but I wasn’t good at it. I knew I didn’t want to be a rapper but I didn’t know what other options there were in terms of making a career out of working with words.
O.K., so when did you realize that writing was your passion?
I was actually working in Corporate Marketing and had graduated recently from college with a business degree because that I thought I could get a job with that, but once I started working I was bored as hell [laughs]. I started just writing for fun and I started writing poems and rhymes. I would post them on a website this is when Def Poetry Jam had a website you could post stuff on their forum. I saw another opportunity for an internship to write for a local Staten Island newspaper so I did that too and the moment that I saw my name in print I knew this is exactly what I wanted to do. I felt like there was a power in knowing that people were reading my words and what I had to say, that was back in 2000 when it all started.
Fast forward 11 years and you’ve done a tremendous amount in your writing career, I don’t even know where to begin, but let us start with the seven books you’ve written. How did you come up with concepts and material for these books?
For the most part, my books have come from some sort of personal experience or some sort of experience of someone I know and that’s what always sparks the ideas. I also like to tell stories of people living their life and what that means is people with challenges, people who are pretty regular, and people who are complex and regular at the same time; that is probably the next step after I think about things that have happened to me or things that have happened to people I know.
What is your turnaround time from the idea of the book to the finished published book?
It depends on a lot of things. I mean I’ve written some books very quickly because the contracts demanded that. If I had all day to write I would probably take my time, so deadlines or contracts are very good with helping me produce a final product, but if I had to average it out…maybe a year.
Your latest book The Message: Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs has been receiving great reviews. I know you said earlier that you loved Hip Hop so it’s safe to assume that is what prompted you to write this book?
Yes because I’ve read most of the books about hip-hop, not all of them, but most of them and I felt like there wasn’t a book written that shows a lifestyle use of hip hop or a day-to-day use of hip-hop. I wanted to write a book that shows how to maneuver as someone of the hip hop generation. I feel like there has been a lot of great work on the words of hip- hop, the journalism of hip-hop, the aesthetics of hip-hop, the social political analytics of hip-hop, but not a book in terms of being a chick from the hip-hop generation who can quote Biggie lines; I wanted people to know what that looks like. That is where the idea came from to write a book that shows how I’m impacted by hip-hop day-to-day whether subconsciously or consciously. Yes, it’s [hip-hop] a culture but it’s also a perspective, it’s a way you maneuver in the world and it’s the way you look at things and I wanted to write a book that sort of focuses on that.
What is the format of the book? Are there short stories or is it a book of essays?
Yes, it’s more than100 essays and each essay is based on a particular song.
Have any of the hip-hop artists mentioned in your book read your work and commented on it?
Yeah, Chuck D says that he has two copies of it and he actually wrote the forward in the updated version. Phonte [of Foreign Exchange] said he showed it to his mother. It’s very interesting because when I wrote the book, I wrote it for myself but as the book came out I didn’t realize how hip-hoppers were using it and were attracted to it in different ways and I’ve gotten some really, really great feedback on the book from known people and from your every day hip-hoppers.
It reminds me of that line in Brown Sugar that says, “When did you fall in love with hip- hop?” Do you get that comparison a lot?
Yeah there are a few parts in the earlier version of my book that would always draw comparisons of me and Sanaa Lathan’s character in “Brown Sugar”. But I do get the comparisons because it’s about this woman who didn’t seem like she as into hip- hop and for me people don’t believe that I am into hip-hop the way that I am. Although I’m into it in a very intimate and personal way, it’s really a way to shape or navigate the world and people are surprised by that so yes I do get the comparison.
In addition to this book you have also written an educators guide for The Message….Were there educators coming to you asking for a curriculum guide or was it the students wanting to learn more about your views on hip-hop?
It came from educators. I honestly didn’t think about the connection between the book and education and I really didn’t know about the movement of hip-hop education. When the first version of the book came out in early 2007, a home girl of mine who has a PHD in hip-hop education told me she could write a lesson plan on my book. I was thinking “Really?! Wow, I’ve never thought of that.” After that teachers continued to use the book in classrooms and showed me how it connected with their students and I developed additional educational resources for it. When NBC re-released the book it was important for us to have an updated educators guide. Even now I’ve launched an initiative called “The Message Project” which is themed at helping young people amplify their messages and in doing that we will be developing additional resources because I’m very interested in helping young people tell their stories and using storytelling as a tool for multiplatinum storytelling.
Who is your favorite hip hop artist?
Oh I don’t have a favorite [laughs]. You know who I love though…I love Ghostface and every body knows that I love Ghostface. I’m a Big Daddy Kane fan… if you are talking about old school. I like Jay Electronica, I like Phonte … I think he’s very versatile.
Do you ever get writers block? And if so, what do you do to unblock your writer’s block?
Oh yeah I get writers block a lot because I do run a business, a communications firm so being a business woman as well as an entrepreneur my mind is always on those two things, so it’s very hard to switch into creative mode. It takes a lot for me to sit down and write something creative these days, I really have to be in that space, I did start writing some fiction recently and I’m feeling it so far, it’s not like pulling teeth. In terms of writers block I think inspiration is one thing, but discipline is another. Your most prolific writers they will all tell you that they have a writing schedule and so that’s what I have to do when I’m on deadline, so for me that’s what it’s really about that discipline.
You’ve also recently finished writing a screen play titled “Openended”…In the future, do you think you will dabble more into television and screen production?
It’s interesting because the screenplay has been something different because screen writing is different form in comparison to fiction or non fiction because you can’t write about anything you can’t see. So it’s been an exercise for me and I love it as a form. I’ve thought about television writing but I don’t know we will see what happens, I’m definitely open to different forms of writing and different forms of television so we will see.
So tell us a little more about your communications business.
My business is called Pride Collaborative. I’ve been running my own business since 2005 we’ve recently went through a re-branding, name change, and all that good stuff. We use media as a tool of engagement and we connect the dots between story telling, digital media, content strategy, and offline engagement. We work with primarily non profits as well as social change initiatives to amplify their messages and broaden their audiences. One of the big projects we just did was re-branding the educational components for a film called “Slavery by Another Name” which aired on PBS and was directed by the wonderful Sam Pollard and for that project we developed curriculum that could be used in the classroom. We also co-developed a digital storytelling workshop, we developed teacher training videos, we just finished the curriculum for a NPR radio show and we also manage an HIV and Aids advocacy campaign.
Wow, so many amazing projects you are working on, What motivates you to want to do more and take on various projects?
It can be a struggle sometimes, but for me I actually love what I do. I mean I know it sounds cliché at times, but I love that I get up and work on projects that I’ve selected and I have a team of people that want to work on these projects with me. Social change excites me, doing good excites me, and so does using media and storytelling in innovative ways, so I guess that’s what motivates me at the end of the day.
What mark do you want to leave on the literary world? How do you want people to remember you as a writer?
That’s a good question. You know when The Message came out I got some really good notes from adults and young adults that said The Message is actually the first book they’ve ever finished and that was kind of like “Wow”, that really touched me. You can’t go out and write a book for recognition because you could be sorely disappointed and as much as people don’t want to admit it you really do write a book for yourself and The Message is one of those books that I just had in me and I had to get it out. The fact that it impacted people on that level I feel like I’ve already made a mark because this book impacted people. I don’t feel like there is anything else that I need to achieve in the literary sense, but the only thing that is important to me now is to tell stories that matter, stories that are important to me and hopefully stories that continue to connect with people, that’s all I want.
What’s next for Felicia Pride?
Well the message project we are definitely doing some interesting things with that in terms of providing weekly services aimed at encourage young people because that is important to me. Whether or not writing is a profession that young people go into, it is so important that young people feel confident enough to enter into a larger conversation. That’s probably what’s next for me to continue to encourage this next generation to amplify their voices on the things that matter to them.