Miasha, a 28-year-old novelist, is walking through the Los Angeles Convention Center, home to the 2008 Book Expo America, an annual publishing conference. Sporting large diamond hoop earrings, sequined Manolos, and a short lime green dress with a keyhole neckline that reveals impressive cleavage for her tiny frame, Miasha, an African-American novelist who is one of the biggest names in urban fiction, looks as if she has wandered by mistake into the crowd of predominantly middle-aged white women clad in comfortable flats and faded lipstick.
With her husband, Rich Coleman, in tow, Miasha bypasses the booth of Simon & Schuster, parent of her publisher, Touchstone, and heads straight for the African-American Pavilion. There, Coleman hands out a calendar of Miasha’s 2008 events—which include, in one month alone, the release of her fifth novel, Never Enough, and appearances at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, the Black Expo in Indiana, a book fair in Harlem, and, back home in Philadelphia, opening night for a theatrical production of her first novel, Secret Society. Meanwhile, Miasha greets fans, fellow authors, and publishing execs with the nonchalance of a starlet. I wince as they wrap an arm around her and press their cheeks to hers. Her jaw is wired shut; she broke it in a car accident the week before.
“Hey, T,” Miasha greets Toy Styles, head of the Cartel Publications, in a clenched-teeth whisper. Styles shakes her head in admiration. “That’s my girl Miasha. Out here hustling with a broken jaw.”
That was last June, and Miasha, whose jaw healed nicely, by the way, hasn’t slowed down. Her latest novel,Chaser, due out this month, focuses on a love triangle set in the underworld of accident-insurance fraud (inexplicable, perhaps, until you know that tow trucks are her husband’s business). The couple is scheduled to do their usual drill at the 2009 Book Expo, with a few new twists. Samples of a rap song Miasha’s written, “Money in Your Pocket,” will be on offer, as will raffle tickets for her 2005 Maserati (the proceeds go to the Ask Miasha Foundation for underprivileged kids).
Although Miasha has sold a respectable 200,000 books, she flies herself to the Book Expo and all the other literary and African-American festivals she attends. She prints (and pays for) T-shirts and tote bags she gives away. She maintains her website, produces a webcast featuring scenes from her life, and has begun staging “street plays” of her novels—all on her own dime. She also foots the bill for lavish red-carpet release parties—complete with naked-models-in-body-paint re-creations of her book jackets—which sparked a trend among her urban fiction compatriots. “People in the game always commend me for that,” she says.
Growing up with two crack-addicted parents in Philadelphia, Miasha had to learn how to hustle to survive. “Anything you can sell, you sell,” she explains, gazing from underneath bangs that tickle her eyelashes. “We’d make Kool-Aid, freeze it, and sell it as water ices. We’d put potato chips from a big bag into little baggies and sell them.” Once, her father asked 11-year-old Miasha to panhandle with him. He didn’t do it in the end, she says. “Thank God.”
But the lessons that taught her “to do what you have to do to get by” are now helping her to get ahead. Just as a rap album contract used to be the golden ticket out of Compton (or Queens), writing has become the creative soul’s unlikely conduit to fame and fortune. “I’m trying to be a household name,” Miasha says, “a substantial person in the entertainment industry, a Tyler Perry or Will and Jada.” With six titles out in just over three years; book contracts totaling $400,000; photo ops with Jamie Foxx, Kanye West, and Jay-Z; and media coverage by the CBS Early Morning Show, the CW Network, syndicated radio powerhouse Wendy Williams (the Oprah of urban fiction), Essence, and Black Entertainment Television, her once-improbable dream is seeming ever more probable.
Called hip-hop lit, street lit, and ghetto fiction, as well as the more decorous urban fiction, sex-drenched tales of crime, drugs, and glamour like Miasha’s crowd the shelves of bookstores and tables of street vendors. Written in an expletive-laced, colloquial style, the opening sentences of Miasha’s first novel, which launched her career in 2004 with a bidding war between three New York publishers, are fairly typical: “You know what, bitch? You fucked with the wrong one! I’m gonna kill you right in front of ya little boyfriend, and then I’m gonna kill him!… Pop! Pop!” What follows is a suspenseful saga of two transvestites who use men to keep themselves in Marc Jacobs handbags, Dior minidresses, and Range Rovers.
Miasha’s books are engrossing—I read one straight through sitting in a Borders—and she has a talent for creating surprising plot twists and sympathetic characters…
GOOD DAY PHILADELPHIA