Editor’s Note: While working on this piece, writer Chanel Clark discovered her and subject Wahida Clark are long-lost cousins. Check back with the Good Life next week to read about Chanel’s reunion with Wahida.
Wahida Clark knows how to turn a negative into a positive.
While spending a little over nine years in jail for mail fraud, money laundering and wire fraud, the Trenton, New Jersey native began putting pen to paper, officially becoming an author by writing a slew of novels about hood love.
Twelve books later, the two-times New York Times bestselling author’s rags to riches story has not only inspired others to pursue their own dreams despite their trials and tribulations, but also caught the eye of Cash Money’s Bryan “Birdman” Williams, who signed her to a publishing deal with Cash Money Content.
Clark recently released her latest novel, Payback Ain’t Enough, the second book under the new deal, with a book release party on April 24th in New York City’s Ink 48 Hotel. Birdman and his brother Slim were in the building to help Wahida celebrate along with hip hop vets like Fat Joe and Busta Rhymes.
XXL’s Good Life caught up with Wahida before and during the Big Apple celebration and chatted with her about her past, her secret for success and her future with Cash Money Content. —Chanel Clark
Good Life: Wahida, tell me about growing up in Trenton NJ? What was your childhood like?
Wahida Clark: Average. First I grew up in Donnelly homes. For me, life just began. My mom was a single parent, my dad left when my brother was born, so it was just my mom. Then we moved in with my uncle and aunt. They helped raise me.
How did you end up in prison? And what has does that experience mean for you?
I went to prison for money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud. The hardest part about prison was being separated from my daughters. But I don’t regret going to prison. I wouldn’t alter the experience by one second. I learned a very valuable lesson in prison. My husband (who was also incarcerated) said, “Wahida, don’t waste time.” He just kept telling me don’t waste time and I said, “Okay, don’t waste time.” So the hardest part was being separated from my two daughters and one of the things I did to keep busy, I stumbled upon writing. That’s when I started writing and I ended up getting published while in prison. When I stepped out of the prison walls, I had seven books under my belt, had already hit the Essence bestseller’s list and the USA Today’s bestseller’s list. I had my business plan for my publishing company, so when I came home, I just implemented my business plan and now have Payback Ain’t Enough as book number 11. I put my publishing company out and I have 14 authors and 18 books that’s in stores around the country. Prison for me was really a blessing. If I change one minute of it or one second of it, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you as a New York Times bestselling author with my own publishing company, celebrating my 12th book.
When you first go into prison, you learn how to do more crime; you learn how to be a better criminal, but as the years go past—remember I spent 9 ½ years in prison—I got to the point where, “Oh no, I can’t come back. I can’t do this no more.” That was the only life-changing thing for me. Coming back to prison was not an option. The life of crime was over.
Tell me about your family? You’re married with kids? How old?
I’ve been married and I have two daughters, still married to my same husband. He is also an author, he wrote this fabulous book called Uncle Ya Ya and part two came out on May 1st.
The new book is called Payback Ain’t Enough. What inspired you to write the book? Without giving away too many details, what is it about?
Payback Ain’t Enough is a Detroit-based hood version of a double love triangle. It’s a part three (there may be a part four). It’s weaved with revenge, deceit, scandal, drug dealings, gangsters, hustlers and scorned women. The main character is a young mother, but when she matures, she decides to live life on her own terms. She makes decisions based on her own reality, some may say the decisions were good, others may say the decisions are bad, but as a writer, I let the reader decide. It is definitely a page-turner.
How did you meet Birdman and how did you get in with Cash Money Content?
My agent at the time gave me a call [and said,] ‘Cash Money is opening up a publishing label.’ I said, Cash Money? As in Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj? The rapper/producer Birdman? So I hung up the phone and thought about it. So then I told him to set up a meeting and let me hear what they got to say. In the process of thinking about it, I thought about Cash Money Millionaires and all of the CDs they sold. That huge audience they have that buys their music. I said, wow, I need to tap into that market. They sold millions of CDs and I need to sell millions of books. When I met up with Slim, we went to his office in New York. I asked him if this was going to be big, and he said, ‘Wahida, this is going to be big.’
Hip-hop and street (literature) are the same. Hip-hop is the art of story telling, street lit is what we do. We tell stories on what we been through, what we live and what we saw. So it was a no-brainer for me. To collaborate with them, was a no-brainer.
The first book that came under Cash Money Content was Justify My Thug. It debuted as number 19 on the New York Times bestseller’s list. So this is the second book, Payback Ain’t Enough, which dropped April 24th..
You are a motivational speaker. You lecture at detention centers and prisons. Tell me more about that.
I am the National Vice President of a non-profit organization called Protocol Sons and Daughters Redirection Services/ Prisoner Re-Entry program. I go into juvenile facilities, junior high schools, halfway houses, prisons. Being that I am a celebrity, they wanna hear my story. So when I go in and talk to this population, I let them know just because you’re down, you don’t have to stay down, ’cause look at me. If I did it, you can too. Just while you’re doing time, don’t waste time. If you don’t have your GED, get your GED. If you don’t have any skills, get some skills. The prisons have courses; you can come out with some certificates and some new skills. Dream big while you’re in prison. Don’t waste your time. That’s the main thing I say when I go to the prisons, halfway houses and the youth houses.
Do you have any other projects that you will be working on in conjunction with Cash Money in the future?
The priority right now is promoting Payback Ain’t Enough. Baby aka Birdman aka Stunna, says he wants all 11 of my books to turn into movies. That’s another project we’re working on. And I signed another two-book deal contract with them. Then I have my publishing company and nonprofit organization. My plate is pretty full.