I am the consummate reader. I truly am. I like variety. I like a full-bodied story. I like a story that can bring me into the plot and make me believe that I am right in the thick of the action. A novel has to capture my attention within the first two paragraphs. If not, it is a rarity that I continue reading. Being a book reviewer, I have read everything. Literally. Good novels, ugly novels. Sad novels, tragic novels. Romance novels, and Jackie Collins novels. I have also dabbled a bit into the ‘street’ or ‘urban’ novels.
With ‘street’ novels these days, there is an explosion of sorts. Omar Tyree claims to be the catalyst to the twenty-first century ‘street’ novel resurgence. Then there is my personal favorite, Vickie M. Stringer, publishing magnet of Triple Crown Publications. Vickie’s TCP happens to be the foremost publisher of ‘street’ fiction. Her company has gone international! But Vickie’s story begins after serving a bid in federal prison for being a drug ‘queen-pen’ in Columbus, Ohio’s biggest drug bust ever. Vickie decided to tell her story of life as a naive college girl, turned out and into street life by her drug dealing boyfriend in “Let That Be The Reason.” But she couldn’t find a publishing house that would take her manuscript. Always a sista trying to get her grime on, Vickie decided to self-publish her novel. Doing so, instead of hustling ‘in the life,’ Vickie M. Stringer turned her life story into a legitimate business where new authors, with a gritty story to tell, can do so freely.
Vickie Stringer, a Detroit native, is carrying the torch that another ‘hustler’ trailed years before. Detroiter and legendary author Donald Goins has sold over five million copies of his sixteen novels written in a five year time span. Goins was murdered execution style in his home in Highland Park, Michigan one evening in October 1974. His common-law wife, Shirley, was murdered right along side of him. Their two children were locked away in the basement.
Some say that Goins was murdered because of a drug debt. Others say that he was murdered because his novels were too realistic to be fiction. In other words, he supposedly talked too much about the wrong people. No one will ever know the full story because neighbors pleaded ignorance and legend has it that the killers were from out of town.
What is known, though, is that the body of work Donald Goins left behind is a prolific one. Getting his inspiration from reading an Iceberg Slim novel, Donald realized that he could legitimize his ‘street game’ by writing books about the world he was immersed in. Donald Goins wrote what he knew. He knew about pimping because he had been one. He knew about the dope game because he was a heroin addict. He knew about the ‘life’ because he lived it.
My first Donald Goins experience happened purely by accident. I was fourteen and a freshman in high school. My locker partner was reading this book she borrowed from her big sister titled “Donald Writes No More.” On the cover was a picture of this man in a casket holding some paperback books. First of all, I was freaked out by the cover. Is that a real dead man? In a casket? Next, this guy is a writer? When my friend finished the biography, I immediately grabbed it and took it home to read. I read it all in one night. I was intrigued and hooked.
From that point on, I was on a hunt for Donald Goins. I knew that his books weren’t in the school library. But the liquor store across the street from school had a few for sale. My first book? “Dopefiend.” Scared the crap outta me! I knew dopefiends, had personal experiences with them because they lived in my neighborhood. Practically next door. Okay. Next door. But to actually get a picture of how they operated and survived from day to day, I was scared straight! Then I had to buy “Whoreson.” The shock began at the very beginning of the book. A prostitute gives birth to a baby boy and decides to name him exactly what he was: a whore’s son. What? Names have a spiritual effect contrary to what some perceive. Donald Goins knew this particular bit of psychology when he penned “Whoreson.” Whoreson lived up to that name and much more.
From “Whoreson” I went into one of my favorite Donald Goins tales, that of a “Black Girl Lost.” Reading “White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief,” I was given the realistic picture of the justice system as it existed in Detroit during Donald Goins’ life. When I was a teenager, a lot of the places that Donald Goins wrote about in his books were long gone. Either due to the expansion of I-75 or the destruction of the ’67 riots, those historic neighborhoods of Blackbottom survive only in the story-telling of Donald Goins classic books.
Those books, even though I read them in secret, gave me a clear cut choice of what I could become if I didn’t listen to my parents, teachers and mentors advice. I didn’t need to experiment with drugs because Donald Goins showed me a picture of myself as a dopefiend. I knew to avoid the sweet, slick talk of smooth hustlers driving Cadillacs and wearing flashy, showy jewelry with the flyest threads and gators, straight from City Slicker and The Broadway. Feigning any type of interest in that lifestyle could land me on the dark corners of Woodward between Six and Eight Mile. You get the idea.
As a writer, Donald Goins inspired me to press forward despite adversity. A life long addict, somehow Donald Goins was able to crank out the novels despite jonesing for another fix and surviving poverty. Though popular, Donald Goins was broke down poor. So broke that his wife walked the streets to put food on the table…and heroin in Donald’s veins. Donald Goins’ heroin addiction was overwhelming, all consuming and overpowering. Heroin, a chemical substance derived from a poppy plant, but far more powerful and addictive than any other drug on the street; changes the chemical balance of brain cells upon the first hit. This leads to instant addiction. Having first discovered heroin in Korea, Donald Goins suffered his entire adult life with the battle of chasing that heroin high. In his books, Goins true to life depictions of dopefiends, the realism of shooting up, chasing that ‘smack’ high, the horrible pains of withdrawal, are as vivid and bright as a Claude Monet original. This is because Donald Goins was writing from his own personal tragedy. I felt and believed that as a voyeur in his world.
So, every ‘street’ novelist has got to give it up to Donald Goins because he was the first to give it to you straight from his 232 Cortland flat. One more thing, a true ‘street’ novel isn’t something that is drummed up out of a fictitious mind entirely. True ‘street’ stories comes from first hand experience or knowledge. A reader can always tell the difference. It’s in the story-telling. It is legitimate. Not fake like Rick Ross.
Hip Hop, too, owes its’ existence to Donald Goins. But that topic is for a different dissertation.
Donald Goins writes no more…but he doesn’t have to. He left a piece of himself and the autobiographical seedy side of ‘street life’ for posterity. Donald Goins, in all sixteen of his novels, never sugar-coated or glossed over and glamorized what it meant to be ‘in the life.’ As his own life ended tragically and abruptly, so Donald Goins truthfully left the message, for all those generations after him that would pick up his books, that the moral of his tales are simple: ‘BEWARE! The streets will eat you alive…and whole.’