Seperti yang telah disebutkan pada bagian terdahulu, bahwa pada pertengahan abad ke tujuh agama Islam sudah mulai memasuki Minan
Seperti yang telah disebutkan pada bagian terdahulu, bahwa pada pertengahan abad ke tujuh agama Islam sudah mulai memasuki Minangkabau. Namun pada waktu itu perkembangan Islam di Minangkabau masih boleh dikatakan merupakan usaha yang kebetulan saja, karena adanya pedagang-pedagang yang beragama Islam datang ke Minangkabau. Pengaruh Islam pun hanya terbatas pada daerah-daerah yang didatangi oleh pedagang-pedagang Islam, yaitu di sekitar kota-kota dagang di pantai Timur Sumatera.
Masuknya agama Islam itu ada yang secara langsung dibawa oleh pedagang Arab dan ada yang dibawa oleh Pedagang India atau lainnya, artinya tidak langsung datang dari negeri Arab. Perkembangan yang demikian berlangsung agak lama juga, karena terbentur kepentingan perkembangan Politikk Cina dan Agama Budha.
Di kerajaan Pagaruyung sampai dengan berkuasanya Adityawarman, agama yang dianut adalah agama Budha sekte Baiwara dan pengaruh agama Budha ini berkisar di sekitar lingkungan istana raja saja. Tidak ada bukti-bukti yang menyatakan kepada kita bahwa rakyat Minangkabau juga menganut agama tersebut.
Secara teratur agama Islam pada akhir abad ke tiga belas yang datang dari Aceh. Pada waktu itu daerah-daerah pesisir barat pulau Sumatera dikuasai oleh kerajaan Aceh yang telah menganut agama Islam. Pedagang Islam sambil berdagang sekaligus mereka langsung menyiarkan agama Islam kepada setiap langganannya. Dari daerah pesisir ini, yaitu daerah-daerah seperti Tiku, Pariaman, Air Bangis dan lain-lain dan kemudian masuk daerah perdalaman Minangkabau. Masuknya agama Islam ke Minangkabau terjadai secara damai dan nampaknya agama Islam lebih cepat menyesuaikan diri dengan anak nagari. Barangkali itulah sebabnya bekas-bekas peninggalan Hindu dan Budha tidak banyak kita jumpai di Minangkabau, karena agama itu tidak sampai masuk ketengah-tengah masyarakat, tetapi hanya disekitar istana saja. Habis orang-orang istana itu, maka habis pulalah bekas-bekas pengaruh Hindu dan Budha.
Perkembangan agama Islam menjadi sangat pesat setelah di Aceh diperintah oleh Sultan Alaudin Riayat Syah Al Kahar (1537-1568 ), karena Sultan tersebut berhasil meluaskan wilayahnya hampir ke seluruh pantai barat Sumatera.
Pada permulaan abad ketujuh belas, seorang ulama dari golongan Sufi penganut Tarikat Naksabandiyah mengunjungi Pariaman dan Aceh. Kemudian beberapa lama menetap di Luhuk Agam dan Lima Puluh Kota. Juga dalam ke abad ke-17 itu di Ulakan Pariaman bermukim seorang ulama Islam yang bernama Syeh Burhanuddin, murid dari Syeh Abdurauf yang berasal dari Aceh. Syeh Burhanuddin adalah penganut Tarikat Syatariah.
Murid-murid Syeh Burhanuddin itulah yang menyebarkan agama Islam di pedalaman Minangkabau dan mendirikan pusat pengajian di Pamansiangan Luhak Agam. Sebaliknya ulama-ulama dari Luhak Agam ini pergi memperdalam ilmunya ke Ulakan Pariaman, yaitu tempat yang dianggap sebagai pusat penyebaran dan penyiaran Islam di Minangkabau. Dari Luhak Agam inilah nanti lahir ulama-ulama besar yang akan membangun agama Islam selanjutnya di Minangkabau seperti Tuanku Nan Tuo dari daerah Cangkiang Batu Taba Ampek Angkek Agam. Tuanku Imam Bonjol sendiri merupakan salah seorang murid Tuanku Nan Renceh Kamang Mudiak Agam.
Pada awalnya agama Islam di Minangkabau tidak dijalankan secara ketat, karena disamping melaksanakan agama Islam para penganut juga masih menjalankan praktek-praktek adat yang pada dasarnya bertentangan dengan ajaran agama Islam itu sendiri.
Keadaan ini ternyata kemudian setelah datangnya beberapa orang ulama Islam dari Mekkah yang menganut paham Wahabi. Yaitu suatu paham dimana penganut-penganutnya melaksanakan ajaran Islam secara murni. Di tanah Arab sendiri tujuan gerakan kaum Wahabi adalah utnuk membersihkan Islam dari Anasir-anasir bid’ah. Kaum Wahabi menganut Mazhab Hambali dan bertujuan kembali kepada pelaksanaan Islam berdasarkan Qur’an dan Hadist.
Pada waktu beberapa ulama di Minangkabau, seperti Tuanku Pamansiangan, Tuanku Nan Tuo di Cangkiang, Tuanku Nan Renceh dan lain-lain juga sudah melihat ketidak beresan dalam pelaksanaan praktek ajaran Islam di Minagkabau dan ingin melakukan pembersihan terhadap hal tersebut, tetapi mereka belum menemukan bagaimana caranya yang baik. Baru pada tahun 1803 dengan kembalinya tiga orang haji dari Mekkah, yaitu Haji Miskin, Haji Sumanik dan Haji Piobang, sesudah mereka itu menceritakan bagaimana yang dilakukan oleh gerakan Wahabi disana (di Makkah).
Untuk melaksanakan pembersihan terhadap ajaran agama Islam itu Tuanku Nan Renceh membentuk suatu badan yang dinamakan “Harimau Nan Salapan” terdiri dari delapan orang tuanku yang terkenal pada waktu itu di Minangkabau. Diakhir tahun 1803 mereka memproklamirkan berdirinya gerakan Paderi dan mulai saat itu mereka melancarkan gerakan permurnian agama Islam di Minangkabau.
Mula-mula Paderi memulai gerakan pembersihannya di daerah Luhak Agam yang tidak terlalu lama telah mereka kuasai, dengan berpusat di Kamang Mudik. Selanjutnya gerakan Paderi melancarkan kegiatannya ke daerah Lima Puluh Kota dan di daerah ini mereka mendapat sambutan yang baik dari rakyat Lima Puluh Kota.
Gerakan kaum paderi baru mendapat perlawanan yang berat dalam usahanya di Luhak Tanah Datar, karena pada waktu itu Luhak Tanah Datar masih merupakan pusat kerajaan Pagaruyung yang mempunyai kebiasaan-kebiasaan tertentu secara tradisional. Tetapi berkat kegigihan para pejuiang paderi akhirnya daerah Luhak Tanah Datar dapat juga diperbaharui ajaran Islam nya berdasarkan Qur’an dan Hadist, selanjutnya gerakan kaum paderi mulai meluas ke daerah rantau.
Pada waktu itu di daerah Pasaman muncul seorang ulama besar yang membawa rakyatnya ke arah pembaharuan pelaksanaan ajaran Islam sesuai dengan Alquran dan Hadist Nabi. Karena gerakannya berpusat di Benteng Bonjol maka ulama tersebut akhirnya terkenal dengan nama Tuanku Imam Bonjol, yang semulanya terkenal dengan nama Ahmad Sahab Peto Syarif.
Setelah di daerah Minangkabau dapat diperbaharaui ajaran Islamnya oleh kaum paderi, maka gerakan selanjutnya menuju keluar daerah Minangkabau, yaitu ke daerah Tapanuli Selatan yang akhirnya juga dapat dikuasai dan menyebarkan ajaran Islam di sana.
Setelah Tuanku Nan Renceh meninggal tahun 1820, maka pimpinan gerakan paderi diserahkan kepada Tuanku Imam Bonjol dan diwaktu itu gerakan paderi sudah dihadapkan kepada kekuasaan Belanda yang semenjak tahun 1819 sudah menerima kembali daerah Minangkabau dari tangan Inggris.
Karena terjadinya perbenturan kedua kekuatan di Minangkabau yaitu antara kekuatan paderi di satu pihak yang berusaha dengan sekuat tenaga menyebarkan agama Islam secara murni dengan kekuatan Belanda di lain pihak yang ingin meluaskan pengaruhnya di Minangkabau maka terjadilah ketegangan antara kedua kekuatan itu dan akhirnya terjadi perang antara kaum paderi dengan Belanda di Minangkabau. Perang ini terjadi antara tahun 1821-1833. pada akhirnya rakyat Minangkabau melihat bahwa kekuatan Belanda tidak hanya ditujukan kepada gerakan kaum paderi saja, maka pada tahun 1833 rakyat Minangkabau secara keseluruhannya juga mengangkat senjata melawan pihak Belanda. Perang ini berlangsung sampai tahun 1837.
Tetapi karena kecurangan dan kelicikan yang dilakukan pihak Belanda akhirnya peperangan itu dapat dimenangkan Belanda, dalam arti kata semenjak tahun 1837 itu seluruh daerah Minangkabau jatuh ke bawah kekuasaan pemerintah Hindia Belanda.
Dari masa inilah Minangkabau di rundung duka yang dalam, karena menjadi anak jajahan Belanda. Tuanku Imam ditangkap Belanda dengan tipu muslihat, dikatakan untuk berunding tetapi nyatanya Belanda menangkap beliau, dibuang semula ke Betawi, tinggal di Kampung Bali, selanjutnya dipindahkan ke Menado. Ditempat yang sangat jauh dari kampung halaman, badan yang telah sangat tua itu akhirnya dihentikan Tuhan Dari penderitaan yang berat, berpulanglah seorang Patriot Islam Minangkabau dirantau orang.
Beliau telah berjuang sekuat tenaga menegakkan Syiar Islam di Ranah Minangkabau tercinta ini, jasatnya terbujur disebuah desa kecil yang sepi bernama “Lotak” nun jauh diujung pulau Selebes, harapannya kepada kita semua anak Minangkabau, lanjutkan perjuangan beliau dengan menegakkan akidah Islam dalam kehidupan sehari-hari, jawabnya barangkali yang paling tepat bagi kita sekarang, ” Mari kita berbenar-benar menegakkan Adat Basandi Syarak-syarak Basandi Kitabullah “ dalam kehidupan kita.
MENYEGERAKAN IBADAH HAJI
Bagi orang yang telah memiliki kemampu-an dan memenuhi segala persyaratan, wajib untuk segera melaksanakan ibadah haji. Hal ini
Bagi orang yang telah memiliki kemampu-an dan memenuhi segala persyaratan, wajib untuk segera melaksanakan ibadah haji. Hal ini berdasarkan sabda Nabi Shalallaahu alaihi wasalam :
"Barangsiapa hendak melaksanakan haji, hendaklah segera ia lakukan, karena terkadang seseorang itu sakit, binatang (kendaraannya) hilang, dan adanya suatu hajat yang menghalangi."( HR. Ibnu Majah, dan dishahihkan oleh al-Albani. Lihat Shahih Ibni Majah No. 2331))
Dan sabda beliau:
"Bersegeralah melaksanakan haji, karena sesungguhnya salah seorang di antara kamu tidak mengetahui apa yang akan merinta-nginya."( HR. Ahmad dan dihasankan oleh al-Albani dalam Irwaa-ul Ghaliil No. 990).)
Finding Scandal in New York and New Jersey, but No Shame
From sea to shining sea, or at least from one side of the Hudson to the other, politicians you have barely heard of are being accused of wrongdoing. There were so many court proceedings involving public officials on Monday that it was hard to keep up.
In Newark, two underlings of Gov. Chris Christie were arraigned on charges that they were in on the truly deranged plot to block traffic leading onto the George Washington Bridge.
Ten miles away, in Lower Manhattan, Dean G. Skelos, the leader of the New York State Senate, and his son, Adam B. Skelos, were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on accusations of far more conventional political larceny, involving a job with a sewer company for the son and commissions on title insurance and bond work.
The younger man managed to receive a 150 percent pay increase from the sewer company even though, as he said on tape, he “literally knew nothing about water or, you know, any of that stuff,” according to a criminal complaint the United States attorney’s office filed.
The bridge traffic caper is its own species of crazy; what distinguishes the charges against the two Skeloses is the apparent absence of a survival instinct. It is one thing not to know anything about water or that stuff. More remarkable, if true, is the fact that the sewer machinations continued even after the former New York Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, was charged in January with taking bribes disguised as fees.
It was by then common gossip in political and news media circles that Senator Skelos, a Republican, the counterpart in the Senate to Mr. Silver, a Democrat, in the Assembly, could be next in line for the criminal dock. “Stay tuned,” the United States attorney, Preet Bharara said, leaving not much to the imagination.
Even though the cat had been unmistakably belled, Skelos father and son continued to talk about how to advance the interests of the sewer company, though the son did begin to use a burner cellphone, the kind people pay for in cash, with no traceable contracts.
That was indeed prudent, as prosecutors had been wiretapping the cellphones of both men. But it would seem that the burner was of limited value, because by then the prosecutors had managed to secure the help of a business executive who agreed to record calls with the Skeloses. It would further seem that the business executive was more attentive to the perils of pending investigations than the politician.
Through the end of the New York State budget negotiations in March, the hopes of the younger Skelos rested on his father’s ability to devise legislation that would benefit the sewer company. That did not pan out. But Senator Skelos did boast that he had haggled with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in a successful effort to raise a $150 million allocation for Long Island to $550 million, for what the budget called “transformative economic development projects.” It included money for the kind of work done by the sewer company.
The lawyer for Adam Skelos said he was not guilty and would win in court. Senator Skelos issued a ringing declaration that he was unequivocally innocent.
THIS was also the approach taken in New Jersey by Bill Baroni, a man of great presence and eloquence who stopped outside the federal courthouse to note that he had taken risks as a Republican by bucking his party to support paid family leave, medical marijuana and marriage equality. “I would never risk my career, my job, my reputation for something like this,” Mr. Baroni said. “I am an innocent man.”
The lawyer for his co-defendant, Bridget Anne Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, a Republican, said that she would strongly rebut the charges.
Perhaps they had nothing to do with the lane closings. But neither Mr. Baroni nor Ms. Kelly addressed the question of why they did not return repeated calls from the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., begging them to stop the traffic tie-ups, over three days.
That silence was a low moment. But perhaps New York hit bottom faster. Senator Skelos, the prosecutors charged, arranged to meet Long Island politicians at the wake of Wenjian Liu, a New York City police officer shot dead in December, to press for payments to the company employing his son.
Sometimes it seems as though for some people, the only thing to be ashamed of is shame itself.
From T Magazine: Street Lit’s Power Couple
THE WRITERS ASHLEY AND JAQUAVIS COLEMAN know the value of a good curtain-raiser. The couple have co-authored dozens of novels, and they like to start them with a bang: a headlong action sequence, a blast of violence or sex that rocks readers back on their heels. But the Colemans concede they would be hard-pressed to dream up anything more gripping than their own real-life opening scene.
In the summer of 2001, JaQuavis Coleman was a 16-year-old foster child in Flint, Mich., the former auto-manufacturing mecca that had devolved, in the wake of General Motors’ plant closures, into one of the country’s most dangerous cities, with a decimated economy and a violent crime rate more than three times the national average. When JaQuavis was 8, social services had removed him from his mother’s home. He spent years bouncing between foster families. At 16, JaQuavis was also a businessman: a crack dealer with a network of street-corner peddlers in his employ.
One day that summer, JaQuavis met a fellow dealer in a parking lot on Flint’s west side. He was there to make a bulk sale of a quarter-brick, or “nine-piece” — a nine-ounce parcel of cocaine, with a street value of about $11,000. In the middle of the transaction, JaQuavis heard the telltale chirp of a walkie-talkie. His customer, he now realized, was an undercover policeman. JaQuavis jumped into his car and spun out onto the road, with two unmarked police cars in pursuit. He didn’t want to get into a high-speed chase, so he whipped his car into a church parking lot and made a run for it, darting into an alleyway behind a row of small houses, where he tossed the quarter-brick into some bushes. When JaQuavis reached the small residential street on the other side of the houses, he was greeted by the police, who handcuffed him and went to search behind the houses where, they told him, they were certain he had ditched the drugs. JaQuavis had been dealing since he was 12, had amassed more than $100,000 and had never been arrested. Now, he thought: It’s over.
But when the police looked in the bushes, they couldn’t find any cocaine. They interrogated JaQuavis, who denied having ever possessed or sold drugs. They combed the backyard alley some more. After an hour of fruitless efforts, the police were forced to unlock the handcuffs and release their suspect.
JaQuavis was baffled by the turn of events until the next day, when he received a phone call. The previous afternoon, a 15-year-old girl had been sitting in her home on the west side of Flint when she heard sirens. She looked out of the window of her bedroom, and watched a young man throw a package in the bushes behind her house. She recognized him. He was a high school classmate — a handsome, charismatic boy whom she had admired from afar. The girl crept outside and grabbed the bundle, which she hid in her basement. “I have something that belongs to you,” Ashley Snell told JaQuavis Coleman when she reached him by phone. “You wanna come over here and pick it up?”
In the Colemans’ first novel, “Dirty Money” (2005), they told a version of this story. The outline was the same: the drug deal gone bad, the dope chucked in the bushes, the fateful phone call. To the extent that the authors took poetic license, it was to tone down the meet-cute improbability of the true-life events. In “Dirty Money,” the girl, Anari, and the crack dealer, Maurice, circle each other warily for a year or so before coupling up. But the facts of Ashley and JaQuavis’s romance outstripped pulp fiction. They fell in love more or less at first sight, moved into their own apartment while still in high school and were married in 2008. “We were together from the day we met,” Ashley says. “I don’t think we’ve spent more than a week apart in total over the past 14 years.”
That partnership turned out to be creative and entrepreneurial as well as romantic. Over the past decade, the Colemans have published nearly 50 books, sometimes as solo writers, sometimes under pseudonyms, but usually as collaborators with a byline that has become a trusted brand: “Ashley & JaQuavis.” They are marquee stars of urban fiction, or street lit, a genre whose inner-city settings and lurid mix of crime, sex and sensationalism have earned it comparisons to gangsta rap. The emergence of street lit is one of the big stories in recent American publishing, a juggernaut that has generated huge sales by catering to a readership — young, black and, for the most part, female — that historically has been ill-served by the book business. But the genre is also widely maligned. Street lit is subject to a kind of triple snobbery: scorned by literati who look down on genre fiction generally, ignored by a white publishing establishment that remains largely indifferent to black books and disparaged by African-American intellectuals for poor writing, coarse values and trafficking in racial stereotypes.
But if a certain kind of cultural prestige is shut off to the Colemans, they have reaped other rewards. They’ve built a large and loyal fan base, which gobbles up the new Ashley & JaQuavis titles that arrive every few months. Many of those books are sold at street-corner stands and other off-the-grid venues in African-American neighborhoods, a literary gray market that doesn’t register a blip on best-seller tallies. Yet the Colemans’ most popular series now regularly crack the trade fiction best-seller lists of The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. For years, the pair had no literary agent; they sold hundreds of thousands of books without banking a penny in royalties. Still, they have earned millions of dollars, almost exclusively from cash-for-manuscript deals negotiated directly with independent publishing houses. In short, though little known outside of the world of urban fiction, the Colemans are one of America’s most successful literary couples, a distinction they’ve achieved, they insist, because of their work’s gritty authenticity and their devotion to a primal literary virtue: the power of the ripping yarn.
“When you read our books, you’re gonna realize: ‘Ashley & JaQuavis are storytellers,’ ” says Ashley. “Our tales will get your heart pounding.”
THE COLEMANS’ HOME BASE — the cottage from which they operate their cottage industry — is a spacious four-bedroom house in a genteel suburb about 35 miles north of downtown Detroit. The house is plush, but when I visited this past winter, it was sparsely appointed. The couple had just recently moved in, and had only had time to fully furnish the bedroom of their 4-year-old son, Quaye.
In conversation, Ashley and JaQuavis exude both modesty and bravado: gratitude for their good fortune and bootstrappers’ pride in having made their own luck. They talk a lot about their time in the trenches, the years they spent as a drug dealer and “ride-or-die girl” tandem. In Flint they learned to “grind hard.” Writing, they say, is merely a more elevated kind of grind.
“Instead of hitting the block like we used to, we hit the laptops,” says Ashley. “I know what every word is worth. So while I’m writing, I’m like: ‘Okay, there’s a hundred dollars. There’s a thousand dollars. There’s five thousand dollars.’ ”
They maintain a rigorous regimen. They each try to write 5,000 words per day, five days a week. The writers stagger their shifts: JaQuavis goes to bed at 7 p.m. and wakes up early, around 3 or 4 in the morning, to work while his wife and child sleep. Ashley writes during the day, often in libraries or at Starbucks.
They divide the labor in other ways. Chapters are divvied up more or less equally, with tasks assigned according to individual strengths. (JaQuavis typically handles character development. Ashley loves writing murder scenes.) The results are stitched together, with no editorial interference from one author in the other’s text. The real work, they contend, is the brainstorming. The Colemans spend weeks mapping out their plot-driven books — long conversations that turn into elaborate diagrams on dry-erase boards. “JaQuavis and I are so close, it makes the process real easy,” says Ashley. “Sometimes when I’m thinking of something, a plot point, he’ll say it out loud, and I’m like: ‘Wait — did I say that?’ ”
Their collaboration developed by accident, and on the fly. Both were bookish teenagers. Ashley read lots of Judy Blume and John Grisham; JaQuavis liked Shakespeare, Richard Wright and “Atlas Shrugged.” (Their first official date was at a Borders bookstore, where Ashley bought “The Coldest Winter Ever,” the Sister Souljah novel often credited with kick-starting the contemporary street-lit movement.) In 2003, Ashley, then 17, was forced to terminate an ectopic pregnancy. She was bedridden for three weeks, and to provide distraction and boost her spirits, JaQuavis challenged his girlfriend to a writing contest. “She just wasn’t talking. She was laying in bed. I said, ‘You know what? I bet you I could write a better book than you.’ My wife is real competitive. So I said, ‘Yo, all right, $500 bet.’ And I saw her eyes spark, like, ‘What?! You can’t write no better book than me!’ So I wrote about three chapters. She wrote about three chapters. Two days later, we switched.”
The result, hammered out in a few days, would become “Dirty Money.” Two years later, when Ashley and JaQuavis were students at Ferris State University in Western Michigan, they sold the manuscript to Urban Books, a street-lit imprint founded by the best-selling author Carl Weber. At the time, JaQuavis was still making his living selling drugs. When Ashley got the phone call informing her that their book had been bought, she assumed they’d hit it big, and flushed more than $10,000 worth of cocaine down the toilet. Their advance was a mere $4,000.
Those advances would soon increase, eventually reaching five and six figures. The Colemans built their career, JaQuavis says, in a manner that made sense to him as a veteran dope peddler: by flooding the street with product. From the start, they were prolific, churning out books at a rate of four or five a year. Their novels made their way into stores; the now-defunct chain Waldenbooks, which had stores in urban areas typically bypassed by booksellers, was a major engine of the street-lit market. But Ashley and JaQuavis took advantage of distribution channels established by pioneering urban fiction authors such as Teri Woods and Vickie Stringer, and a network of street-corner tables, magazine stands, corner shops and bodegas. Like rappers who establish their bona fides with gray-market mixtapes, street-lit authors use this system to circumnavigate industry gatekeepers, bringing their work straight to the genre’s core readership. But urban fiction has other aficionados, in less likely places. “Our books are so popular in the prison system,” JaQuavis says. “We’re banned in certain penitentiaries. Inmates fight over the books — there are incidents, you know? I have loved ones in jail, and they’re like: ‘Yo, your books can’t come in here. It’s against the rules.’ ”
The appeal of the Colemans’ work is not hard to fathom. The books are formulaic and taut; they deliver the expected goods efficiently and exuberantly. The titles telegraph the contents: “Diary of a Street Diva,” “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” “Murderville.” The novels serve up a stream of explicit sex and violence in a slangy, tangy, profane voice. In Ashley & JaQuavis’s books people don’t get killed: they get “popped,” “laid out,” get their “cap twisted back.” The smut is constant, with emphasis on the earthy, sticky, olfactory particulars. Romance novel clichés — shuddering orgasms, heroic carnal feats, superlative sexual skill sets — are rendered in the Colemans’ punchy patois.
Subtlety, in other words, isn’t Ashley & JaQuavis’s forte. But their books do have a grainy specificity. In “The Cartel” (2008), the first novel in the Colemans’ best-selling saga of a Miami drug syndicate, they catch the sights and smells of a crack workshop in a housing project: the nostril-stinging scent of cocaine and baking soda bubbling on stovetops; the teams of women, stripped naked except for hospital masks so they can’t pilfer the merchandise, “cutting up the cooked coke on the round wood table.” The subject matter is dark, but the Colemans’ tone is not quite noir. Even in the grimmest scenes, the mood is high-spirited, with the writers palpably relishing the lewd and gory details: the bodies writhing in boudoirs and crumpling under volleys of bullets, the geysers of blood and other bodily fluids.
The luridness of street lit has made it a flashpoint, inciting controversy reminiscent of the hip-hop culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s. But the street-lit debate touches deeper historical roots, reviving decades-old arguments in black literary circles about the mandate to uplift the race and present wholesome images of African-Americans. In 1928, W. E. B. Du Bois slammed the “licentiousness” of “Home to Harlem,” Claude McKay’s rollicking novel of Harlem nightlife. McKay’s book, Du Bois wrote, “for the most part nauseates me, and after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath.” Similar sentiments have greeted 21st-century street lit. In a 2006 New York Times Op-Ed essay, the journalist and author Nick Chiles decried “the sexualization and degradation of black fiction.” African-American bookstores, Chiles complained, are “overrun with novels that . . . appeal exclusively to our most prurient natures — as if these nasty books were pairing off back in the stockrooms like little paperback rabbits and churning out even more graphic offspring that make Ralph Ellison books cringe into a dusty corner.”
Copulating paperbacks aside, it’s clear that the street-lit debate is about more than literature, touching on questions of paternalism versus populism, and on middle-class anxieties about the black underclass. “It’s part and parcel of black elites’ efforts to define not only a literary tradition, but a racial politics,” said Kinohi Nishikawa, an assistant professor of English and African-American Studies at Princeton University. “There has always been a sense that because African-Americans’ opportunities to represent themselves are so limited in the first place, any hint of criminality or salaciousness would necessarily be a knock on the entire racial politics. One of the pressing debates about African-American literature today is: If we can’t include writers like Ashley & JaQuavis, to what extent is the foundation of our thinking about black literature faulty? Is it just a literature for elites? Or can it be inclusive, bringing urban fiction under the purview of our umbrella term ‘African-American literature’?”
Defenders of street lit note that the genre has a pedigree: a tradition of black pulp fiction that stretches from Chester Himes, the midcentury author of hardboiled Harlem detective stories, to the 1960s and ’70s “ghetto fiction” of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, to the current wave of urban fiction authors. Others argue for street lit as a social good, noting that it attracts a large audience that might otherwise never read at all. Scholars like Nishikawa link street lit to recent studies showing increased reading among African-Americans. A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that a greater percentage of black Americans are book readers than whites or Latinos.
For their part, the Colemans place their work in the broader black literary tradition. “You have Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, James Baldwin — all of these traditional black writers, who wrote about the struggles of racism, injustice, inequality,” says Ashley. “We’re writing about the struggle as it happens now. It’s just a different struggle. I’m telling my story. I’m telling the struggle of a black girl from Flint, Michigan, who grew up on welfare.”
Perhaps there is a high-minded case to be made for street lit. But the virtues of Ashley & JaQuavis’s work are more basic. Their novels do lack literary polish. The writing is not graceful; there are passages of clunky exposition and sex scenes that induce guffaws and eye rolls. But the pleasure quotient is high. The books flaunt a garish brand of feminism, with women characters cast not just as vixens, but also as gangsters — cold-blooded killers, “murder mamas.” The stories are exceptionally well-plotted. “The Cartel” opens by introducing its hero, the crime boss Carter Diamond; on page 9, a gunshot spatters Diamond’s brain across the interior of a police cruiser. The book then flashes back seven years and begins to hurtle forward again — a bullet train, whizzing readers through shifting alliances, romantic entanglements and betrayals, kidnappings, shootouts with Haitian and Dominican gangsters, and a cliffhanger closing scene that leaves the novel’s heroine tied to a chair in a basement, gruesomely tortured to the edge of death. Ashley & JaQuavis’s books are not Ralph Ellison, certainly, but they build up quite a head of steam. They move.
The Colemans are moving themselves these days. They recently signed a deal with St. Martin’s Press, which will bring out the next installment in the “Cartel” series as well as new solo series by both writers. The St. Martin’s deal is both lucrative and legitimizing — a validation of Ashley and JaQuavis’s work by one of publishing’s most venerable houses. The Colemans’ ambitions have grown, as well. A recent trilogy, “Murderville,” tackles human trafficking and the blood-diamond industry in West Africa, with storylines that sweep from Sierra Leone to Mexico to Los Angeles. Increasingly, Ashley & JaQuavis are leaning on research — traveling to far-flung settings and hitting the books in the libraries — and spending less time mining their own rough-and-tumble past.
But Flint remains a source of inspiration. One evening not long ago, JaQuavis led me on a tour of his hometown: a popular roadside bar; the parking lot where he met the undercover cop for the ill-fated drug deal; Ashley’s old house, the site of his almost-arrest. He took me to a ramshackle vehicle repair shop on Flint’s west side, where he worked as a kid, washing cars. He showed me a bathroom at the rear of the garage, where, at age 12, he sneaked away to inspect the first “boulder” of crack that he ever sold. A spray-painted sign on the garage wall, which JaQuavis remembered from his time at the car wash, offered words of warning:
WHAT EVERY YOUNG MAN SHOULD KNOW
ABOUT USING A GUN:
MURDER . . . 30 Years
ARMED ROBBERY . . . 15 Years
ASSAULT . . . 15 Years
RAPE . . . 20 Years
POSSESSION . . . 5 Years
JACKING . . . 20 YEARS
“We still love Flint, Michigan,” JaQuavis says. “It’s so seedy, so treacherous. But there’s some heart in this city. This is where it all started, selling books out the box. In the days when we would get those little $40,000 advances, they’d send us a couple boxes of books for free. We would hit the streets to sell our books, right out of the car trunk. It was a hustle. It still is.”
One old neighborhood asset that the Colemans have not shaken off is swagger. “My wife is the best female writer in the game,” JaQuavis told me. “I believe I’m the best male writer in the game. I’m sleeping next to the best writer in the world. And she’s doing the same.”