Sunday, October 26, 2008

Kongo Square Chat with Odie Hawkins Part 2

As far as I'm concerned Pimp Put Holloway House on the Map! Odie Hawkins

A terrible cover illustration! He looks Nothing like the character Chester Simmons!

Editoral Photo of Joe Nazel

Crime Rhyme Rap Originator Ice T/Iceberg Slim admirer

An Early example of a series of great HH Covers!
The Fifth Novel by Donald Goines
An early novel by Iceberg Slim

Robert Iceberg Slim Beck

A young adult novel written by Joseph Nazel I could not find covers of his crime fiction. Check your local library

Pan Afrikan Occult Fiction Originator Odie Hawkins

Good Afternoon and thank you for joining A Choice of Weapons for the second portion of our Kongo Square Chat with Author Odie Hawkins. In our previous installment we talked about Chicago, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Writing, The Watts Writers Workshop, The Writers Guild and the Open Door Program just to name a few subjects. In this installment we will cover Holloway House, The Core Four, The Black Experience Genre, Iceberg Slim, Ghana, Inspector Bediako, The birth of Pan Afrikan Occult Fiction and at last you will finally find out what the heck is a Kosmic Muffin. And now please welcome once again. Watts Writer, Black Street Fiction Pioneer Odie Hawkins. Enjoy!

Holloway House

Jaycee: How did you get to Holloway House?

Odie: My agent took me to Holloway House because of my first book Ghetto Sketches. It started as a play that would be produced in Minnesota at the Guthrie Theatre by Michael Langhan. They didn't end up doing the play the deal fell through. I redeveloped it as a novel and signed for one book with Holloway House who was looking for Black Experience material. I built a relationship with them because they were willing to allow me to go off genre.

Jaycee: What is Black Experience material? Is that like street fiction?

Odie: The Black Experience Genre or more aptly named Black Street Fiction would be similar to all pulp novels. The language encompasses the regional slang of the day, the clothes, the music, and the characters are often working class and the subject matter is from the time periods underbelly. The hero or villain in pulp is sometimes barely distinguishable. There are few heroes wearing White hats and Villains wearing Black ones. Black Street fiction as with all pulp fiction the moral compass of a character is imbalanced to say the least.

Jaycee: Now, what do you mean Holloway House allowed you to go off Genre?

Odie: If you start at one publishing house as Octavia Butler, you will stay Octavia Butler; you won't become a Walter Mosley. They will expect even demand in most cases that you continue to write in the genre that they signed you under.

I wrote only four books that would be called Black crime fiction now. They are The Ghetto Sketches, Sweet Peter Deeder, Chicago Hustle, and The Great Lawd Buddha. All the other novels are about everything!

Jaycee: What do you mean everything?

Odie: The novel Conspiracy is about Government manipulation of the drug trade for their own purposes. Amazing Grace is a collection of esoteric short stories. Simone was biographical, Brazilian Nights was a stream of consciousness style narrative and Black Chicago was a historical look at Chicago from the time it was started by a Black Man named Du Sable.

Jaycee: Midnight and Conspiracy were the first two novels of yours that I read. When Conspiracy came out Gary Webb’s amazing series of stories on the CIA/Freeway Rick Ross/Crack connection was still a hot topic. I loved the relevance of the subject and the idea that a ruling body would sell drugs to a segment of a population in order to stay in power is always readable

Jaycee: How many books did you eventually publish with Holloway House?

Odie: It was about Seventeen Books. Since then, I had one published by Ile Orunumila Communications, Publisher Chief Fawa called The Snake. Afterwards the last four books have been published by Author house. They are Shackles across Time, AKA The Curse, which is the sequel to The Snake. Then Mister Sweets, Lady Bliss, Mr. Bonobo Bliss. Jaycee: Sounds like you've been real busy. Now Odie, you are considered one of the Core Four of the Holloway House Black Experience Genre. The principals being Robert IceBerg Slim Beck, Donald Goines, Joe Nazel, and yourself.

Odie: Yes! That's correct! Holloway House published several different types of fiction and non fiction primarily in paperback. They were basically a pulp fiction mill pioneering and specializing in Black Pulp fiction novels. One of the most famous for them was The Nigger Bible! That book sold based on the title alone!

Robert Beck

Now of me and the rest of what's been called the Core Four, I don't know who got there first. Pimp the Story of my life by Iceberg Slim may have already been on the shelf. Pimp the story of life put Holloway House on the map as far as I'm concerned.

Now Donald Goines wrote sixteen books. Some say he only wrote six! The rest where outlines that were fleshed out by other writers. Maybe it's the truth maybe not I don’t know.
Donald Goines

Jaycee: Did Holloway House plan on publishing Black Street Fiction? Were they really that visionary?

Odie: Bentley Morris and Ralph Weinstock of Holloway House had a lock on a certain type of Black writer. The established Black academic press didn't want us.

"Naw, that's too raunchy!" They would say. "We don't wanna write about that class of people."

No, Ebony and others were trying to present the new Black middle class and the Black upper class and everything was supposed to be all Johnny Johnson. You know pure, middle class, uses the right makeup, speaks without colloquialisms or slang and the rest of that stuff.
The good thing about Holloway House was that they didn't alter your manuscripts. You turned it in and it went out. I once turned in an outline for a book called Black Casanova and they published the outline. (Laughter)

But on the downside Holloway House did not care about the artwork! That's just my opinion but I personally would argue with Bentley Morris and Ralph Weinstock over the galleys. They would put just about anything on the cover even if it didn't fit the book.
Jaycee: I've witnessed what you mean alright. The first Holloway House novel I read was Donald Goines " Inner City Hoodlum" which had a great cover as did all the Goines books I read doing that time but when the next editions were printed the wonderful art covers were gone, replaced by cheap updated hip hop style
photographs. It's like they tried to update a novel set in 1972 with someone wearing today's fashion. It doesn't work and in my opinion it does the novel a disservice. Pulp novels are very much of the time period in which they are conceived.

Odie: The writers today have no idea what we went through. You can get published at least ten different ways now. Blogs, desktop publishing, vanity press and have thousands of people see it. Back in those days you had to go to a publisher if you wanted to get distributed. Alot of writers gave up after dealing with the archaic way we had to do business. They couldn't deal with the rejection. You’re dealing with some sensitive people already and you send your novel off and it comes back two years later with a letter maybe saying we don't like it.

Jaycee: Did you know Donald Goines?

Odie: No, I never met him. I met his son but by that time Donald Goines was dead and buried.

Jaycee: I know you knew Joe Nazel who wrote forty books for Holloway House. He also edited Players Magazine from time to time, and wrote for the Los Angeles Sentinel. Did you know Robert Beck, Iceberg Slim?

Odie: Yeah, I knew him.

Jaycee: Did you know him from Chicago?

Odie: Yeah, I lived in the red light district on 39th and Cottage Grove. I lived in a building called the Almo Hotel. The first floor was transit. We lived on the second floor. The third and fourth floor was where the prostitutes and pimps lived.
Iceberg Slim had, I believe, nine or ten girls. He was a brilliant guy who lectured alot. He was a good looking guy, well dressed, he didn't dress ghetto chic. He lectured about pimps and hoes. He could have been the Alan Greenspan of Pimps. He saw his scene in economic terms, supply and demand.

That's the way he put it. I was about 14 years old and I listened to him. Years later, about 1967 I was active in Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles at 89th and Vermont. Iceberg Slim showed up with a play. None of the people knew who he was.
I did so I reintroduced myself. He didn't know who I was but he was cordial. He didn't shine me off. We were both from Chicago and he knew I was Chicago and I knew who he was. Later on he was in the Open Door Program. From time to time we'd have drinks at the Parisian on Labrea and Washington.

We never hung out. We were never close buddies, he was into his thing and I was into mine. I spoke with Ice T's manager and he is currently putting together a documentary on Iceberg Slim. He interviewed me for it. They also interviewed Bentley Morris. That will be interesting. (Laughter) Bentley asked me, what did you say? What did you say? (Laughter)

Jaycee: So you really didn't hang out with Goines or Beck but what was it like at Holloway for the Core Four? Did y'all trade notes or ideas?

Odie: No, I was closest to Joe Nazel. He had been the interim editor of Players Magazine. He was the perpetual interim editor. My friend Wanda Coleman from the Watts Writers Workshop was the first Woman editor of Players.

Wanda Coleman

Jaycee: You're kidding?

Odie: No! ( Laughter) She knew me so she would publish all my stuff. And there was Emory Holmes, who was trying to turn Players into a class magazine but Ralph Weinstock didn't want that. He wanted Players to be raunchy and crazy. Joe Nazel ended up sitting in the editor’s seat every time someone got fired. Joe was just into it for the money. He didn't mind. Joe at the time would drink a fifth of something and then he would write. He actually wrote street fiction like Black Cop then he would write biographies about famous people like Ralph Bunche. These novels were aimed at school libaries. God Bless him! He wrote for the Los Angeles Sentinel for years! A really nice guy! He's missed! (Laughter)


Jaycee: Why did go to Ghana?

Odie: It was 1992 and I had wanted to go for while. I had just got an advance for two books from Holloway House and the 1992 Riots had just finished. I want to emphasize that it was not to discover my roots. Alex Haley already did that for me. I simply wanted to see Afrika.

Jaycee: So you didn’t just go on a spiritual quest or for inspiration or anything?

Odie: You don’t miss racism and you can’t escape Coca-Cola no matter what you do. (Laughter)

Odie: It’s a small world go see it.

Jaycee: Where did you stay while you were there?

Odie: Accra! Accra is divided into neighborhood. I stayed in OSU, I stayed in Labadi, (the bad one) Roman Ridge, Labone, Adabraka.

Jaycee: How long were you there?

Odie: Three years, I can say I know a little about getting around Accra.

Accra! Sprawling, dirty, nasty, and beautiful. And I do mean beautiful.
I believe that everybody should visit Ghana. They are surely the friendliest people. They call us Obruni. The best way I can translate what that means is the European. That's the word they use for American Afrikans. "Oh here comes the Obruni!"

There is no point in getting upset about how the Ghanians refer to us because it's not really intended to be an insult. Not necessarily anyway. It just is. It’s the same in Germany how they call us Auslaunder. He is not like us. I was just saying I got to know Accra.

It’s a walk able city. You can walk from end to the other in a couple of days. Some areas you wouldn’t want to walk through. They got a section called Jamestown that smells like a slaughterhouse. They have a slaughterhouse not far away.
I got lucky because I met a taxi driver who drove me named Kwame who drove me for three years. In my first year there I got hooked up with a man named Kojo Yanka who wanted to produce a detective show so he hired me to basically design the character. I created a composite of Columbo, the saint and Sherlock Holmes but actually he was none of them cause he was West Afrikan.

A Different Type of Detective
Inspector Bediako

Jaycee: How did you come up with that name?

Odie: Kojo came up with it. They name you after the day you were born. I found out that my name is pronounced Oday (O-Day) not Odie (O-Dee) like I’ve been pronouncing it for a lifetime. I was walking around Ghana and it was awkward because I would introduce myself and people would be like O-Dee! No! O-Day! You don’t know how to pronounce your name? (Laughter)

Jaycee: Now you wrote and directed that show? Had you ever directed before?

Odie: No, (laughter) I would just fake it and when someone would ask a question like where would you like this light? I would answer place it over there. They would reply Mr. Oday, you would like it over there? Yes, well where would you put it? Me, I would place it over here. Well then let's do that then. ( Laughter) I had a wonderful photographer named Napo Gbanda who helped me. This went on like that for a while until I figured it out

I was writing for Uhuru and The Ghanaian Voice and Public Agenda and Horizon. I was sending articles to Players Magazine and selling articles to Sweden and Scandinavian newspapers.

I was teaching English at the Acrra girl’s secondary school and the Ghana International School and from time to time the Ghana institute of Journalism. I was teaching Capoeira Angola at a fitness center owned by a Brotha named Tyrone from Philadelphia.

Jaycee: What was Inspector Bediako about? It seemed that some of the cultural things would be different and as an American Born I wouldn’t get it.

Odie: The work ethic was different. I would get there early before it got hot. Ghana is very close to the Equator, maybe the script girl would be there but they wouldn’t show until 9:30 -10am. Ghana is 10-12 miles from the equator. I wanted to get to work before it got hot and we would not be able to do anything. We’d fight and I tried to fine them 500 cedes and they’d say hey you can’t come up in here acting like a German we’ve been doing it this way for five hundred years. You know if you wanted to do something efficient they say we gonna do this like the white man. You believe that? That is a problem we have over there. You see the continent (Afrika) is still easing along and the rest of the world is speeding by. We have got to catch up!

Jaycee: What kinda of character is inspector Bediako? He’s not like Columbo right?

Odie: His thing was mostly human deduction. The show had no murder, no sex. If someone was killed I couldn’t show the body. It was alluded to. Bediako was a smart guy. Ghanaians take great pride in figuring things out. Plus there were only two channels.

Jaycee: Will you name some of the wonderful people who worked on the show?

Odie: Akosua Abdallah was one of my favorite actresses. And Grace Nortey was wonderful. The shortcoming of the things was the technology. You had to improvise. I couldn't film a car chase scene in Accra. We didn't have the equipment and it would not have been safe. People would have been killed! Now I was dealing with professionals who came out of the National Academy of Film but it would take weeks to get a new light if one blew out. They had to send away to Germany to get a light. When people talk about being in the Third world they mean it. It didn't occur to the lighting manager that it would be prudent to order three or four replacement lights since they were so hard to get and so far away.

Jaycee: How many episodes did you do?

Odie: I don’t know. I left after the first year and came back to America then I went back. Kojo had become a member of parliament by then and his wife, Naana, had taken over the show. She didn’t like me much so I was reduced to just writing the scripts. I did that for three years. I was treated very well and I got an opportunity to do something I never would have been able to do here. I got paid forty thousand cedis per script and the average school teacher makes thirty thousand a month.

The Flood and the Snake

Odie: In the rainy season, it’s a great torrent and I got caught in the rain about a hundred yards from where I was trying to go, the charlatan bar. I had built a little house in PALM WINE JUNCTION in Labadi. I had malaria at the time. I put my hand on the side of the bed because I was hot.

The rain was coming down on the metal roof, the rain came down the hills, and we stood on the tables, with water up to my neck for eight hours before the water went down. We had good screens luckily because rats couldn’t get in. I had to go the great PX and get checked out because the malaria was killing me. I had it on and off for three years. Sometimes bi-weekly. I was having cerebral malaria. Your brain swells up. It never got that far but it came close a few times.

While in Ghana, I had a friend who owned a carpentry shop and he wanted a better car, a bigger shop and another wife and he went to see a Juju man. In order to explain Juju it is not the same as Voodoo or Voudun.

Juju and the Obeah Man, my friend went to see have a sinister aspect to it. My friend’s shop was becoming very successful but he was doing some evil things that involved bloodshed and a murder and the village banned together to stop him. My friend got caught pulling cedis out of a snake’s mouth in his shop. This was the inspiration for the snake.

The Birth of Pan Afrikan Occult Fiction

Kosmic Muffin Publisher Zola Salena-Hawkins

Jaycee: What made you decide to father a new genre?

Odie: I started to think about all the places I’ve lived. Navajoha, Ochoajoa, small places. Everywhere I ran into Afrikan people not to mention Spain. You could always find certain kinds of spiritual beliefs. I feel that we share a certain joy for life and similar superstitions.

Jaycee: Odie, please elaborate on that! I kinda understand what you mean but for the sake of the interview.

Odie: Afrikan Culture grows and changes in any soil. In any political system. Afrikan Culture has roots so deep that even when it's grafted onto something else or mutates completely the essence can still be recognized. Every Afrikan has the drum and knows the rythym.

In the Ifa tradition Eleggba is asked to open the way of the Orisha for us. Our Afrikan culture translates the practice of opening the way, for example, the Christian tradition of opening a service with prayer and asking the Holy Spirit by way of Jesus to take prayers up to God the Father. Just like our traditions have been adapted in new arenas our essence remains intact!

Jaycee: I read Dr. Ben's "Afrikan Orgins of Western Religions" and that shined alot of light on some of the so called Western religions tracing thier starts back to Afrika.
Odie: Now Pan Afrikan Occult fiction...

Jaycee: Excuse me, Odie, but Occult doesn't that mean like Satanic or Devil worship?

Odie: No.....Occult means hidden. Numerology, Alchemy, Tarot, Astrology are sciences that are not meant for just anyone. Good and Evil, light and darkness, these are universal. It is the lens that we use to view it that determines one's understanding. My genre addresses this.

What scares White folks is not the same as what scares Black folks.

Jaycee: I agree. Clowns are evil! (Laughter)

Odie: Oh...Jay! Clowns are not evil! That's harsh!

Jaycee: I stand by my statement. ( Laughter)

So a monster in the bed is not universal?

Odie: A Black Family and a White family may hear that a particular house is haunted. The White family in some case would attempt to prove scientifically that this either was not true or that prove and scientifically prove it exists!

A Black family would enter that same house and when or if something occurs then they may bless the house, or simply just leave that house. The point is that we would not need to prove that it exists! We would not wait for a concrete evidence before we left. We would leave understanding that there are indeed things that we don't understand and that we don't have to understand.
Jaycee: The Snake! I'm not gonna give away too much cause I want folks to go out and buy it but Kojo Brown, Man! That dude! It's like Faust, Afrikan style in some ways, he is offered a deal from Asiafo, who's bargin requires that he marry a girl in three months, have a child, and feed the visitor. As long as Kojo keeps his end of the bargin then he gets everything he desires. All his obstables are removed. Just feed the visitor and it will all be cool.

Even the Afrikans in that story are not sure how far evil forged in Afrika will travel. At first they shun Kojo, but realize again, he is not of their culture, he is an American, and he may not understand what he's dealing with although he is explicitly warned to beware Asiafo. I loved the demonstation of how while vacationing in Mexico, Kojo stops to relieve himself behind a cactus and a small rock transforms into the wizard Asiafo.

"She is a very lovely girl, Kojo. Feed the visitor and it will all be cool."

Damn! I was like Kojo, don't do it! But you do look silly yelling at a piece of literture.

Odie: Our foods, spices, style of dress, and all the lens we use are original, unique and our own. Afrikan folks across the Diaspora use a different criteria than the Western mindset. Pan Afrikan Occult fiction does not just deal with spirits and monsters, but of science and superstition, of love and hate.
Jaycee: Good and Evil!

Odie: Good, Evil....Adventure....Love, Joy, Laughter. What do you feel? What do you taste? What do you smell? What do you see and if you can't see what are you gonna do about it? I suggest you read and write about it!

Jaycee: I need to ask, what's a Kosmic Muffin?

Odie: Kosmic Muffin is that name of the publishing company that I founded together with my Kosmic Muffin Zola Salena. We plan to publish not only my work but the works of other writers as well.
Jaycee: Now, I know that you have published the sequel to the Snake through Author House, The Curse BKA Shackles Across Time. But recently Holloway House was sold to Kensington Publishing. What's gonna happen to your catalog?

Odie: Well, I had been working with the writers unions and guilds, my attornies and what not in order to get the full benefits of my rights and royalties. Long story short, Kensington has returned the rights of all my books to me.

Jaycee: Odie, that's wonderful! So I hope that you will bring back Chester L. Simmons! The Great Lawd Buddah! I love that character on his own and also when he is interwoven in your other novels. He is truly a Shaharazad figure. Telling story after story. Before you even get to the end of one story he's on to the next! Is he telling a lie? You just can't tell.
Odie: We shall see... Thanks for the interview. It was a pleasure.


Jaycee: Odie, Thank you for the interview. It was a pleasure for me as well.

The views expressed in Kongo Square Chat with Odie Hawkins Parts 1 and 2 as well as those that appear regularly in A Choice of Weapons are not neccessilary the views of anyone associated with this medium, Odie Hawkins or Mista Jaycee. Photos are courtesy of the web and Odie Hawkins. com

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