Omar Tyree: The Last Street Novel?
by Elaine Watkins
Omar Tyree is going for broke!
Although his new title, The Last Street Novel, isn’t scheduled for release until early July, fans, supporters and haters alike are all buzzing with anticipation for his latest. The Last Street Novel chronicles the life of Shareef Crawford, a romance novelist and Harlem native who returns to his home base to find inspirations for his new novel. Once there, Shareef is sold on an idea to uncover the never-before-told life story of an imprisoned Harlem gangster. Convinced this is his only way to gain respect from his peers and the fickle writing industry Shareef ignores the odds, determined to see his story to an end. With the threats of old gangsters, young criminals, past friends and forgotten enemies, Shareef has definitely got his work cut out for him.
And from the looks of it Omar, the sometimes called "Godfather of contemporary urban literature" has perfected a story that will not disappoint!
More on a living legend
In a time where the industry is overflowing with authors, many fail to realize that when Omar was first published, he was one of a few Black authors among Teri McMillan and Walter Mosley who paved the way for authors today. With all the changing faces of this genre, Omar continues to prove his worth and is not budging from his spot as one of the top Contemporary African American Literature writers.
Let’s take it back in time to the early nineties when Black writers were pretty much ignored. Omar exploded on to the scene with Flyy Girl, which has gone on to sell millions and land him a NAACP Image Award in 2000. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Omar had a late start on his writing career. It wasn’t until his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was studying Pharmacy, that he realized he had a talent for writing. Before then Omar was more interested in math and science, until being assigned a special project in his Writing and Comprehension class, which he was instructed to write about whatever he wanted. It was then he realized that he could write about things that were dear to him such as his friends and neighborhood. Always a movie person, storytelling came natural to Omar, and his peers soon started to follow his lead.
After receiving an A in his freshman English class, Tyree transferred to Howard University where he began to pursue his writing career. As a senior Tyree became the first student to have a feature column in the schools newspaper, The Hilltop. When his schooling was complete Omar was hired as an editorial assistant and reporter at The Capital Spotlight newspaper in Washington D.C. He later moved on to the position of Chief reporter at News Dimensions weekly newspaper while working freelance for the Washington View Newspaper.
In late 1992 Omar published his first novel Colored, On a White Campus, through MARS productions, an independent company he organized. The sales from Colored, On a White Campus were enough for him to produce his second novel Flyy Girl. By July of 1993 Omar was working for himself.
In August of 1995 Simon and Schuster signed Omar to a two book deal, which allowed for the republication of Flyy Girl in hardcover. Tyree has since signed three consecutive deals with Simon to publish a total of ten books.
Presently Tyree has a total of twelve published novels, including Diary of a groupie, Leslie, Just Say No!, For the Love of Money which was on the New York Times Bestsellers List after one week of publication, Single Mom, Sweet St. Louis, Boss Lady and Flyy Girl, What They Want which were all published by Simon and Schuster, and The Underground, Cold Blooded, College Boy, and One Crazy-Ass Night under his new line of novels as The Urban Griot.
Read on for an excerpted interview with Omar!
UBS: When did you know that you were born to be a writer?
Omar: I would say I became interested in writing when I was headed toward my college years. Once I got to the college level I was given assignments where could I write about my own things, like my neighborhood, friends, or my hobbies. I was given the autonomy to write what I wanted, and that’s where my skills came out. But I was always a story teller by nature. When ever my friends and I would ever get in trouble I was always the one who had the chronology of events down, so that came in handy when I started to pen my stories.
It really struck me that I needed to be a writer freshman year when my peers in college started saying I was pretty good at what I was doing and started to copy the things I was doing. I figured I was either going to use it or lose it, and I didn’t want to waste it.
UBS: Who influenced you as a writer?
Omar: I didn’t have any writer influence me. If we look at old school writers, I really loved Richard Wright because he was writing for a purpose for black folks. I was reading a lot of different authors, but I had my own things to say. When I first came out the only other authors that were out that were my contemporaries were Walter Mosley and Terri McMillan. There weren’t that many authors out there to emulate.
UBS: How do you feel about the hip-hop/street fiction genre?
Omar: Initially I didn’t have a problem with that label; I started off calling my books Urban Classics. I feel it’s okay as long as we have a balance with other stories being told dealing with other aspects of African American culture. But once something becomes popular and profitable, people start going toward that avenue to make capital. Now it seems if you don’t write urban or street no one wants to read your material. But that’s the way it goes. Ten years ago it was the relationship craze, where if you weren’t writing something about a Black woman and her relationship no one would pay you any attention.
Right now I am looking for us to break out of that stage, to start writing about our community from other aspects than what’s already out there.
UBS: What kind of writer do you consider yourself?
Omar: I would call myself an issue writer. I came out with a book called Leslie which was about New Orleans poverty in 2002 way before the Katrina tragedies. Back then reviewers didn’t want to deal with what I was writing, but now everyone is talking about it. I’m writing on a three dimensional level. I am way past a girl visiting a guy in jail. I am dealing with family, education, and generational stuff; the politics of humanity./span>
For more information on Omar Tyree, visit: www.omartyree.com
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