Tag Archives: The Coldest Winter Ever

The Coldest Winter Ever: A Coming-of-Age Tale & Hip-Hop Opera

Winter Santiaga, the protagonist of Sister Souljah’s 1999 debut novel The Coldest Winter Ever, is anything but a wallflower. The equally beautiful and selfish favored daughter of Brooklyn drug kingpin Ricky Santiaga, Winter is sixteen going on twenty-five, and accustomed to the luxuries bought with dirty money—her biggest concerns are looking fly, getting off, and having fun. When things are good, Winter’s life is a label-flashing Hype Williams video. Her father expresses his love through expensive gifts, from 14-K gold and diamonds to head-to-toe Chanel and Gucci outfits. Winter admires Ricky’s hustle, confusing wealth for the promise of unshakeable stability, social status, and security. Unfortunately, Ricky’s empire implodes when jealous rivals snitch to the feds. He is arrested and shipped off to Rikers. CPS snatches up Winter’s three younger sisters, and her mother is arrested for being an accessory to her husband’s felonies. Without hesitation, Winter snaps into solider mode, plotting and scheming ways to make some quick cash while remaining in hiding. She’s not above using sex to get what she wants, whether that be cash, transportation, or a place to crash for the night. She says, “To be able to shit on people before they get a chance to shit on you. That’s power.”

Including her fiction debut, Sister Souljah’s books continue to sell year after year. Despite the staggering success, mainstream publishing has been quick to categorize her work as Urban Literature or Street Lit. The origin of the name is literal and, according to scholars such as Keenan Norris and authors such as Omar Tyree, refers to stories around the plight of urban life, ranging from Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” to Iceberg Slim’s memoir, Pimp: The Story of My Life, and Richard Wright’s Native Son. Yet mainstream publishing, which is typically not a reflection of diversity but racial and often gender uniformity, uses this label as a code for Black, as though all work revolving around Black characters in urban environments repeat the same stories. One look around your last standing Barnes and Noble, or even while browsing the endless genres on Amazon, shows this race-based categorization and exclusionary hierarchy of literature. Souljah’s novels routinely address the trials and tribulations of Black and African-American people. However, this does not mean that her work cannot also embody a category not defined by Otherness. This would otherwise simply be known as Fiction. Continue reading

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