odie hawkinsOdie Hawkins:
The Last OG Standing

by Rhonda Crowder
August 2009

When readers think of classic street-lit, the names Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, and Chester Himes generally comes to mind. Those from the Tri-State area may even speak of Nathan Heard as he sold a million copies of his novel Howard Street back in the day. But, are you familiar with Odie Hawkins? And, if so, did you know he’s still writing? As one of the original Holloway House authors, Hawkins, 82, has authored over a dozen novels, wrote screenplays as well as episodes of Sanford and Son, and even worked as a journalist in Ghana during the course of his 40-year writing career. Just recently, Hawkins acquired the rights to all of his earlier titles and has re-released those with themes still odie hawkins quoterelevant today through his own publishing company. So, being the great-granddaddy of the genre, he’s passing some gems to the next generation.

How difficult was it for "street" lit writers to get major publishing deals when you started out? Why?
Major publishing deals for “street lit” writers were non-existent when I started out. And it’s true to this day. Why? Because major publishers are deathly afraid of failing. If an editor fails to come up with a best selling item, he or she is lower-leveled. No one wants to take a chance at failing. Aside from that, most of the Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Thomas Sowell, Keyes – guys and gals who have been appointed to open the sluice gates for African-American writers – are firmly out to lunch. Check out the shelves… their choices.

What was it like working with Holloway House?
Holloway House was a special experience. Despite the fact that Bentley Morris, the publisher, always seems to think that I’m downing the scene whenever I say he never promoted our (Iceberg, Goines, Nazel, Hawkins) books in a major fashion properly, I will always maintain that he had the vision to exploit us when no one else had the vision to do it. Go figure. I think the record should show that Holloway House was built on the backs of a bunch of Black writers and that publisher who had the vision to exploit these writers benefited. What else can I say? He might not agree with this view but let’s see the novels he wrote.

As young writers, what do we need to know or do to ensure street lit’s survival?
I would say to young writers… pay much more attention to the works of your ancestors. We need to know what they did so that we can enrich their endowments. Dig it? If we find that they built on a bogus foundation, call’em on it. But first, do a serious investigation of their lives, their times, their circumstances.

To ensure the survival of this so called urban thingamajig, we need to screen it constantly, to make certain that pseudo-impostors are not allowed to cloak themselves with a mantle that they’ve never been under and shouldn’t be trying to cover themselves with.

Can street lit, as we know it, survive another 40 years and beyond?
I have to say straight up that despite the Messianic belief a lot of folks (African Americans and non African Americans) have in our recently elected Obama, a whole bunch of stuff is not going to change. Will not change. Ain’t. As long as people are forced to survive on the streets, in one sense or another, there will be street lit. Writers must write about what they know to write about. The nature of it may reach the virtual reality level and maybe beyond but, if it draws from the well of their experiences in this life, it’s going to be there. Sometimes I think about the differences in dynamics that created a Phyliss Wheatley, a Donald Goines, an Iceberg Slim, an Odie Hawkins. Was Sister Wheatley, George Washington’s favorite Black poet, a ghetto writer? Was her stuff street lit? Who was she…?

What do writers need to know before trying to break into film and television?
Writers need to know that breaking into film and television is a bunch of bullshit. You can be a superb writer. This has nothing to offer television. Television caters to mass consumption: farting, belching, Plumber Joe, Sara Palin, Boss Rumbaugh. Who you know. Film, almost the same thing. Don’t you wonder, sometimes, as you see one jive ass movie after another come out of Weirdywood, that you could do that one better? But it has nothing to do with artistic excellence. It has to do with who our brother is/was, how much money you want to lose? Tax write offs, bidness. Can I gain more income by investing in a losing project? Or, investing in a project that’s going to breakout? Under the current trend of capitalistic thinking you can make more being bailed out than by making a superior film. Go figure again.

How can today's street/urban writers step up their game to make a bigger impact in the literary industry?
I can’t say anything in a generic fashion about what street/urban writers should do or how they can step up their game to make a bigger impact in the literary industry. But I will be willing to speak to those writers who’ve done me the honor of asking that I speak out.

I would ask my brothers and sisters to learn how to write. There, I’ve said it. What does that mean? Learn the mechanical elements of film, television, novel, short story writing. I’ve had writing classes for years and people showed up, prepared they thought to write world shakin’ novels. But, they didn’t know how to do a character sketch or an outline. You wouldn’t try to go from California to Maryland without a road map. Why try to write a 300-page novel without an outline?

We know that African American writers and other people of color are always going to be asked to write better, more perfectly, more better, more accurately, than the average non-colored writer. So, if you want to get into the mix, be better at their game than they are. You’ll have half a chance of succeeding, at least. Sorry, folks, it still be like that. And it will be, until you do your own thang.

To learn more about the works of Odie Hawkins visit: www.odiehawkins.com

Rhonda Crowder is a general assignment reporter for the Call and Post Newspapers in Cleveland, Ohio, freelance journalist, editor, and aspiring novelist.
Comments page 2 of 5:
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Yo Yves :
Posted 3327 days ago
Odie’s firm commitment to saying things without changing them to please the powers that be gives a strong impact to his words.
A master of survival shows the magic of being able to create and thrive by holding on to your dreams. Odie is a spokesman and as such he refuses to be reduced to the status of a passive onlooker. In his writing Odie speaks just as he sees the world around him, with no apologies. Odie is representing…..humanity. The scenes that the writer evokes from his memory and imagination are a vindication for those who refuse to be silenced or erased from the palette of America’s artistic and historical landscape. When the well oiled machine thrives on ignoring large portions of our society as if they did not exist some brave souls come up to remind us that not everyone lives in the artificial and one-sided TV world of “Baywatch,” “Friends” and “Sex in the City.”
It is a jolt that comes as if from the center of the earth to wake everyone up. Odie is a kind of earthquake maker in his writing.
Shades Of Afrika :
Posted 3329 days ago
Odie Hawkins Master Writer & Friend ... In 2002 with an office space available I was introduced to now friend and family Odie Hawkins. My name is Renee the owner of Shades of Afrika a African American Gift Shop located on the West Coast at 1001 East 4th Street in Long Beach, CA 90802. .I loved the interview and the above comments made...were right on the money with regards to his writing career. I wonder if the readers know that Odie Hawkins is much more then just a Master Writer, in addition he is a Djemba drum teacher and Capoeira Instructor, writing couch . and so much more. Odie Hawkins and his wife Zola are in fact as the children would say Magic when it comes to telling stories which makes him a Griot which means Story Teller. My hat's off to brothers like Odie Hawkins who bring so much love and understanding back to the community allowing our children to see that they too can aspire to be all the things they would like to be, and have fun in life doing it . And too the sister's that love them I say Carry On... To aspiring writers I would say read the interview. Thank you Odie & Zola for the ways and the roll you have played in making Shades of Afrika the cultural Art & Gift shop that she is today.. You were the first to touch the hearts and minds of many children as they hurried their parents in to see... Thank you ... Thank you... Thank you..
Sachin Timbadia :
Posted 3332 days ago
Sharp as a razor with wit,wisdom and vision. ...Odie is never afraid to speak his mind or mind what he speaks....Loved it
Tasha Timbadia :
Posted 3333 days ago
Fantastic and thought-provoking interview. Bravo Odie, from an aspiring "young writer."
Ian Whitaker :
Posted 3335 days ago
Enjoyed reading this interview especially because Odie speaks his mind: you get it raw. And his writing is. One of the originals. I recently interviewed Odie and Bentley Morriss for the book "Iceberg Slim: the Lost Interviews with the Pimp" which is now out.
Posted 3336 days ago
Brother O'Dee Hawkins lends advise as a seasoned writer.Let all wannabees take heed! What a journey he takes the novice to...The whole TV and Film writting Thang, that certainly makes one think and sharpen their pencil..Hailing from the mean streets of Chi-Town myself..I can only say,I find his writtings so profound!.I think he would have made a damn good Taxi driver on the side!...Write on,Brother,Write on!!!!
vertrezal beasley :
Posted 3344 days ago
The brother hails from the streets of Chi Town how could he not be a fantastic street author. He is brutelly honest I love it and know he
write forever. your baby's mama
pathfinder :
Posted 3345 days ago
WoW! This was a great interview with Mr. Hawkins. Not only is he a prolific writer but a great mind as well. He made a refreshing and poignant statement " I would ask my brothers and sisters to learn how to write." I think Mr. Hawkins stated something that a lot of writers would have loved to say but didn't. In that sense I'm glad that he was the one to make the aforementioned statement. Nonetheless, great interview overall! Enlightening indeed! Love it!
Jorge :
Posted 3347 days ago
Odie Hawkins is a great writer and a great interview, as the above can attest too. I recently interviewed him for my Doc on Iceberg Slim and he was brilliant. If you have not read Sweet Peter Deeder than do it now, its a great book!
J. Gaddy :
Posted 3349 days ago
Very enlightening discussion. I would agree with Mr. Hawkins' assertions: as long as there are streets, there will be 'street literature' and that before a writer can do their art form justice, they should learn the history and the mechanical aspects of the form.
L.B :
Posted 3350 days ago
I just read "Sweet Peter Deeder a.k.a. Mr. Sweets". I was really surprised how much I enjoyed the characters. Mr. Sweets was such a man full of surprises..."working women" doing Tai Chi? The women he married really seem to adore him. I wonder if Mr. Hawkins has any other books like this one. I really liked the end. By the way is he really 82? Someone told me he was 72. Nevertheless, he's an exceptional author.
Mestre Preto Velho :
Posted 3355 days ago
Well I would like to sing about this Hero! He has had a profound influence in my life. I checked out of mainstream flatulence and check into sole proprietorship in October 1985 as a direct result of my observing the mighty penmanship of the profound Odie Hawkins and having the pleasure of many meaningful conversations with him. The dexterity of pen strokes slicing up and down the pages of his many articles and books like an African sword fighter from Ethiopia (I am still reading "The Snake" slice by slice) is tantalizing and sometimes amazing! I am looking forward to reading some of his Sci-Fi works since I am a Sci-Fi buff!



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