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by Evette Brown

These former incarcerated authors turned their sentences into real-life experiences for millions of readers.

Dominating the Essence and New York Times bestsellers lists, respectively, street literature, officially recognized as urban fiction, has evolved into a permanent part of American literature. Telling the often tragic stories of African-American men trapped in the gritty realities of urban culture and the women who love them and become victims of vicious cycles, these novels have captivated many in the black community and beyond. With the success of street literature, many African-American authors have been transformed from street-savvy hustlers to literary inspirations and millionaires. Most of these prominent urban authors are using their life experiences to fuel their passion and words. Here, we feature eight urban authors who were once or are still incarcerated. They all have criminal histories, but now their experiences are used to prevent others from following down such a despairing path.

Wahida Clark

With the release of her 2005 acclaimed debut novel, Thugs and the Women who Love Them, the world was introduced to an emerging talent in urban fiction, Wahida Clark. The “Queen of Thug Love Fiction” immediately built a dedicated foundation of readers that were mesmerized with her depictions of a lifestyle that involved hustling, murder, and millions. Writing about the realities of the “ghetto,” where loyalty is more valuable than life, Clark used her words to create a literary empire.

Though the New Jersey native is one of the most popular authors writing street literature, for most of her Essence Bestselling career, she was once incarcerated in a women’s federal camp in Lexington, Kentucky. After reading a small portion of Shannon Holmes’ B-More Careful in XXL magazine, Clarke made the conscious decision to dedicate the remainder of her nine-year-sentence to creating the “Thug” series, thus sharing her experiences in life with the world. Since her release, Wahida Clark has used her position in literature to expose other urban authors to her audience. She is now the head of W. Clark Publishing and is now regarded as a savvy business woman and wise entrepreneur.

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