Al-Saadiq Banks is a true pioneer in Urban literature, he’s been flourishing for two decades, and to date, he has authored and published 18 titles. Alongside his brother, Naim Banks, he co-founded True 2 Life Productions, a small press publishing house in 2002.
Their debut title, No Exit, opened doors in Urban literature, selling approximately 90,000 books in the first year. True 2 Life Productions has sold over 1,000,000 books nationally and continues to operate independently.
I delved into No Exit two decades ago, never fathoming that I would one day converse with the brilliant mind behind the pen. Banks has a dedicated following that has supported him since the beginning of his writing career.
I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in several of his books, and each time, it has captivated me from the first page to the very last.
With a background in Fine and Industrial Art, Banks’ passion for art shines through. Whether crafting vivid stories with words, painting on canvases, or creating fashion designs to set moods and themes, he believes that art is life.
In 2017, he introduced Bespoken By Al-Saadiq Banks, an outerwear line featuring high-quality leather, sheepskin, and furs for both men and women, all designed by Al-Saadiq Banks and his team of talented designers.
Banks’ love for art has led to another exciting addition to the True 2 Life brand. He recently unveiled his collection of digital, oil, and acrylic paintings, aptly named: The Tony Austin Collection Inspired by Al-Saadiq Banks. This collection pays homage to his most popular character from the best-selling Block Party book series and comprises six stunning pieces.
And for all you movie enthusiasts, mark your calendars because Sincerely Yours, (the film based on Banks’ best-selling novel), will hit the big screens.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
SGBC: You began writing and self-publishing Urban Lit before social media, how were you able to make a name for yourself early in the Urban Lit genre?
Al-Saadiq Banks: I made a name for myself by getting out there on the streets and putting my books in the reader’s faces. I traveled from state to state in the grittiest of places, pushing my books.
I build my readership from the ground up, unlike today where the social media authors want to build from the top, sitting behind the computer.
SGBC: What early experience taught you that language had power?
Al-Saadiq Banks: As a young man I realized the power of words on the streets. I’ve witnessed men lose their lives over the words that escaped their mouths. I’ve watched men lie in cold blood for saying things that most would consider minor.
I learned that emphasis on one word can change the context and that change of context can be the difference between life and death, depending on how the next man receives the message.
SGBC: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Al-Saadiq Banks: It didn’t change my writing process because I had already written three books before publishing. My process didn’t change until I had to deal with the business side of it. Dealing and haggling and arguing with distributors and bookstore owners was draining and it would affect my writing process.
SGBC: Describe your writing process, do you outline, plot, and plan, or is your writing more organic? Have you incorporated your experiences in your writing?
Al-Saadiq Banks: I start with a basic outline of events that I want to take place but those events/situations always open up other situations and events. I incorporate every aspect of me in my writing, from the honor roll schoolboy to a KFC worker, a college graduate, a boxer, a drug dealer with a love for gunplay, a family man, a husband, and a father. It’s all in there.
I’ve seen life from every angle which makes it easy for me to write on many levels touch on many subjects and appeal to an urban lit audience to a more mainstream cross-over audience.
SGBC: To date, what is your favorite (or most difficult) chapter you have written?
Al-Saadiq Banks: In Back 2 Bizness, Block Party 4 I killed the main character of the Block Party series. It was like I killed off the last of the real solid and honorable. That was my point to show my readers that the game was over. When I killed that character it represented the death of the game.
SGBC: Who is your favorite character to write, and why?
Al-Saadiq Banks: My favorite character to write about is Attorney Tony Austin. Through Tony, I was able to unleash my life onto the pages. Tony, like me, started as a schoolboy but got caught up in the streets.
SGBC: What is your favorite line from one of your books?
Al-Saadiq Banks: “When you feed, you lead. When you follow you swallow” – Attorney Tony Austin
His hustler mentality is what makes him such a powerhouse of an attorney. His challenges, his highs, and his lows are loosely based on all of mine.
SGBC: As a Black male author, what women inspired you when writing female characters?
Al-Saadiq Banks: Women that I have encountered in my life inspire me when writing female characters. I’m always amazed at women on the whole, by their mindset and even their erratic behavior. You can never fully figure out the woman and that is what keeps us men on the chase.
I’ve studied women closely which makes it easier for me to write female characters.
SGBC: What has been the harshest criticism you have received as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Al-Saadiq Banks: There were so many harsh comments but your skin gets thicker over time. I would have to give you three pages if I went into all the harsh comments readers and non-readers have made.
SGBC: What’s the best way to market your books?
Al-Saadiq Banks: By first identifying and understanding your target audience. You’d be amazed by how many authors I’ve spoken to who don’t even know their target audience. They believe their book is for everyone. A book for everyone ends up being for no one.
SGBC: What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Al-Saadiq Banks: Believing that anybody can write a book and discrediting authors as if it takes no skill level to do so.
SGBC: What does literary success look like to you?
Al-Saadiq Banks: Literary success to me is having a loyal readership base that supports me.
SGBC: How do you feel about the genre now vs. when you first began writing?
Al-Saadiq Banks: Truthfully I don’t pay much attention to the genre as a whole. I have carved a nice little niche of an audience for myself and I focus on building on that. From day one I never got involved in the industry like that, I just focused on myself and my readers. That’s always worked for me.
SGBC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Al-Saadiq Banks: Honestly, if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way. Back in the beginning I was screaming for independence while everyone else was trying to get signed to the majors.
They thought that was the top floor; you had made it. I saw it as selling yourself short. The authors thought I was crazy for turning down two major deals. I never saw the glamour in being signed.
I wanted to own all my copyrights and build my catalog as I have done. Today, all those authors who were getting signed are independent. Those mainstream publishers used them up and spit them back out.
SGBC: Is there anything you want readers to take away from your books?
Al-Saadiq Banks: I want the readers to understand the mindset and thought process of the individuals who put it all on the line every day, risking their freedom in those streets. I want them to understand that a lot of times it’s desperation and hopelessness that will drive a man to risk it all.
Interview by: Nikita M. Lattimore-Martin
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