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Saco-Indonesia.com, Tak ada yang lebih indah daripada kehidupan yang penuh dengan kesyukuran. Rasanya semua orang menginginkannya. Berbagai usaha pun dilakukan, mulai dari yang kecil berupa membina hati, kemudian hal yang gampang dan ringan dengan ucapan atau yang berat dan besar dengan tindakan – tindakan nyata. Sayangnya, tak banyak orang yang pada akhirnya dapat merasakan predikat indah itu. Kesyukuran timbul tenggelam di dalam samudera kehidupan ini. Silih berganti. Sebab jumlah nikmat yang tak terhitung dan sifat lupa dan lalai manusia akan nikmat itu sendiri. Alhasil, hidup berlimpah dengan rasa syukur menjadi barang yang sulit ditemukan. Tak jarang, malah terlupakan.
Hal ini diperkuat dengan garis Allah di dalam Kitabnya, dimana Allah menyebutkan bahwa kategori orang yang bisa bersyukur itu sedikit. Dan sedikit sekali dari hamba- hamba-Ku yang bersyukur”. (QS Saba’:13) Konsekuensi dari hukum ini diantaranya adalah susahnya mencari keteladanan dalam bersyukur. Di Quran misalnya hanya beberapa hamba yang tertulis sebagai ahli syukur, Nabi Nuh misalnya seperti yang tertulis di dalam surat al-Israa ayat 3, innahu kaana ‘abdan syakuuron - sesungguhnya dia adalah hamba (Allah) yang banyak bersyukur.

Kemudian Nabi Daud dan keluarganya, yang disebutkan di dalam surat Saba ayat 13, i’maluu aalaa daawuuda syukron - bekerjalah wahai keluarga Daud untuk bersyukur (kepada Allah). Berkenaan dengan masalah syukur ini Nabi Dawud pernah bertanya kepada Allah. “Bagaimana aku mampu bersyukur kepadaMu ya Allah, sedangkan bersyukur itupun nikmat dari Engkau? Allah pun menjawab, “Sekarang engkau telah bersyukur kepadaKu, karena engkau mengakui nikmat itu berasal dari-Ku”.

Berkaitan dengan masalah ini Rasulullah SAW pun menegaskan dengan sabdanya; “Shalat yang paling dicintai oleh Allah adalah shalat nabi Daud; ia tidur setengah malam, kemudian bangun sepertiganya dan tidur seperenam malam. Puasa yang paling dicintai oleh Allah juga adalah puasa Daud; ia puasa sehari, kemudian ia berbuka di hari berikutnya, dan begitu seterusnya”.(Rowahu al-Bukhari, Muslim)

Juga Rasulullah SAW menjelaskan dengan sabdanya; “Tidaklah seseorang itu makan makanan yang lebih baik kecuali dari hasil kerja tangannya sendiri. Karena sesungguhnya Nabi Daud as senantiasa makan dari hasil kerja tangannya sendiri.” (Rowahu al-Bukhari)

Di dalam jalur riwayat lain, Ibnu Abi Hatim meriwayatkan dari Tsabit Al-Bunani bahwa Nabi Daud membagi waktu shalat kepada istri, anak dan seluruh keluarganya sehingga tidak ada sedikit waktupun, baik siang maupun malam, kecuali ada salah seorang dari mereka sedang menjalankan shalat.

Tampilnya keluarga Nabi Dawud sebagai teladan dalam bersyukur memang tepat dan contoh yang diberikan juga gamblang. Bersyukur tidak hanya dengan hati, perkataan dan tindakan sebagaimana yang dicontohkan Keluarga Nabi Daud. Lebih dari itu bersyukur adalah dalam rangka mencari kecintaan - keridhoan dari Allah. 

Demikian juga apa yang telah dilakukan oleh Rasulullah SAW dalam masalah ini. Ketika turun Surat Fath ayat 1 yang menetapkan pengampunan kepada Rasulullah SAW atas dosa yang terdahulu dan yang akan datang, kesungguhan Rasulullah SAW dalam bersyukur semakin menjadi. Shalat malamnya membuat kedua kaki beliau bengkak – bengkak, sehingga Aisyah pun berkata, “Kenapa engkau berbuat seperti ini? Bukankah Allah telah menjamin untuk mengampuni segala dosa-dosamu baik yang awal maupun yang akhir?” Rasulullah menjawab, “Afalam akuunu abdan syakuron - Tidakkah aku menjadi hamba yang bersyukur”. (Rowahu Al-Bukhari).

Dari tiga teladan di atas, kita perlu menelusuri lebih lanjut jalan menjadi ahli bersyukur. Walaupun tertulis sedikit kita berharap dan berusaha menjadi bagian yang sedikit itu.  Sebagai inspirasi cerita berikut layak dicermati. Suatu saat Umar bin Khaththab pernah mendengar seseorang berdo’a, “Ya Allah, jadikanlah aku termasuk golongan yang sedikit”. Mendengar itu, Umar terkejut dan bertanya, “Kenapa engkau berdoa demikian?” Sahabat itu menjawab, “Karena saya mendengar Allah berfirman, “Dan sedikit sekali dari hamba-hambaKu yang bersyukur”, makanya aku memohon agar aku termasuk yang sedikit tersebut.”

Ada hal – hal yang bisa dilakukan untuk menumbuhkan benih – benih kesyukuran agar terpatri di dalam hati. Yang pertama adalah benih hati “tidak merasa memiliki, tidak merasa dimiliki kecuali yakin segalanya milik Allah SWT.” Allah berfirman; “Dan sungguh akan Kami berikan cobaan kepada kalian, dengan sedikit ketakutan, kelaparan, kekurangan harta, jiwa dan buah-buahan. Dan berikanlah berita gembira kepada orang-orang yang sabar. (yaitu) orang-orang yang apabila ditimpa musibah, mereka mengucapkan: "Inna lillaahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji'uun" (QS al Baqoroh 155 – 156).

Sebab makin kita merasa memiliki sesuatu akan semakin takut kehilangan. Dan takut kehilangan adalah suatu bentuk kesengsaraan. Tapi kalau kita yakin semuanya milik Allah, maka ketika diambil oleh Allah tidak layak kita merasa kehilangan. Karena kita hanya tertitipi. Dalam kondisi seperti ini layak direnungi kaidah tukang parkir. Setiap hari di area parkir berjajar mobil mewah dari Mercy, BMW, Toyota, Mazda dan mobil bagus lainnya. Walau dari pagi sampai petang mobil – mobil itu di bawah tanggung jawab si tukang parkir, tetapi apakah dia bisa marah, sedih, ketika mobil – mobil tersebut diambil pemiliknya kala sore hari? Tentu tidak. Bahkan dramawan WS Rendra menulis dengan apik, hakikat harta sebagai titipan seperti dalam puisinya Makna Sebuah Titipan.

Sering kali aku berkata, ketika orang memuji milikku,
bahwa sesungguhnya ini hanya titipan
Bahwa mobilku hanya titipan Nya, bahwa rumahku hanya titipan Nya,
bahwa hartaku hanya titipan Nya
Tetapi, mengapa aku tidak pernah bertanya, mengapa Dia menitipkan padaku?
Untuk apa Dia menitipkan ini padaku?

Dan kalau bukan milikku, apa yang harus kulakukan untuk milik Nya ini?
Adakah aku memiliki hak atas sesuatu yg bukan milikku?
Mengapa hatiku justru terasa berat, ketika titipan itu diminta kembali oleh Nya?

Ketika diminta kembali, kusebut itu sebagai musibah,
kusebut itu sebagai ujian, kusebut itu sebagai petaka,
kusebut dengan panggilan apa saja yang melukiskan bahwa itu adalah derita

Ketika aku berdoa, kuminta titipan yang cocok dengan hawa nafsuku,
aku ingin lebih banyak harta, lebih banyak mobil, lebih banyak rumah,
lebih banyak popularitas, dan kutolak sakit, kutolak kemiskinan.

Seolah semua “derita” adalah hukuman bagiku
Seolah keadilan dan kasih Nya harus berjalan seperti matematika:
“aku rajin beribadah, maka selayaknyalah derita menjauh dariku,
dan nikmat dunia kerap menghampiriku

Kuperlakukan Dia seolah mitra dagang, dan bukan kekasih
Kuminta Dia membalas “perlakuan baikku” dan
menolak keputusan Nya yang tak sesuai keinginanku,

Gusti, padahal tiap hari kuucapkan, hidup dan matiku hanyalah untuk beribadah…
“Ketika langit dan bumi bersatu, bencana dan keberuntungan sama saja”

Rahasia benih kedua menjadi ahli syukur adalah “selalu memuji Allah dalam segala kondisi. " Kenapa? Allah berfirman; “Dan jika kamu menghitung-hitung nikmat Allah, niscaya kamu tak dapat menentukan jumlahnya. Sesungguhnya Allah benar-benar Maha Pengampun lagi Maha Penyayang.”  (QS An-nahl 18). Karena kalau dibandingkan antara nikmat dengan musibah tidak akan ada apa-apanya. Musibah yang datang tidak sebanding dengan samudera nikmat yang tiada bertepi.

Ini seperti cerita seorang petani miskin yang kehilangan kuda satu-satunya. Orang-orang di desanya amat prihatin terhadap kejadian itu, namun ia hanya istirja dan mengatakan, alhamdulillah, cuma kuda yang hilang. Bukan lainnya. Seminggu kemudian kuda tersebut kembali ke rumahnya sambil membawa serombongan kuda liar. Petani itu mendadak menjadi orang kaya. Orang-orang di desanya berduyun-duyun mengucapkan selamat kepadanya, namun ia hanya berkata, alhamdulillah.

Tak lama kemudian petani ini kembali mendapat musibah. Anaknya yang berusaha menjinakkan seekor kuda liar terjatuh sehingga patah kakinya. Orang-orang desa merasa amat prihatin, tapi sang petani hanya mengatakan, alhamdulillah cuma patah kakinya. Ternyata seminggu kemudian tentara masuk ke desa itu untuk mencari para pemuda untuk wajib militer. Semua pemuda diboyong keluar desa kecuali anak sang petani karena kakinya patah. Melihat hal itu si petani hanya berkata singkat, alhamdulillah. Allah telah mengatur segalanya.

Apa yang harus membuat kita menderita? Adalah menderita karena kita tamak kepada yang belum ada dan tidak mensyukuri apa yang ada sekarang.

Benih ketiga untuk menjadi ahli syukur adalah “manfaatkan nikmat yang ada  untuk mendekatkan diri kepada Allah SWT”. Allah berfirman; “Hai orang-orang yang beriman, makanlah di antara rezki yang baik-baik yang Kami berikan kepada kalian dan bersyukurlah kalian kepada Allah, jika benar-benar hanya kepada-Nya kalian menyembah.”  (QS Al-Baqoroh 172)

Alkisah ada tiga pengendara kuda masuk ke dalam hutan belantara, kemudian dia tertidur. Saat terjaga dilihat kudanya telah hilang beserta semua perbekalannya.  Betapa kagetnya mereka, karena alamat tidak bisa meneruskan perjalanan. Pada saat yang sama dalam keadaan kaget tersebut, ternyata seorang raja yang bijaksana melihatnya dan mengirimkan kuda yang baru lengkap dengan perbekalan untuk perjalanan mereka.  Ketika dikirimkan reaksi ketiga pengendara yang hilang kudanya itu berbeda-beda.

Pengendara pertama si-A kaget dan berkomentar; "Wah ini kuda yang hebat sekali, bagus ototnya, lengkap perbekalannya dan banyak pula!” Dia sibuk dengan kuda dan perbekalannya tanpa bertanya kuda siapakah ini? Pengendara kedua Si-B, gembira dengan kuda yang ada dan berkomentar; "Wah ini kuda yang hebat, dan saya benar – benar membutuhkannya. Terima kasih, terima kasih.” Begitulah si-B bersyukur dan berterima kasih kepada yang memberi. Sikap pengendara ke tiga, si-C beda lagi. Ia berkata; "Lho ini bukan kuda saya, ini kuda milik siapa?” Yang ditanya menjawab; " Ini kuda milik raja."
Si-C bertanya kembali; "Kenapa raja memberikan kuda ini ?” Dijawab; "Sebab raja mengirim kuda agar engkau mudah bertemu dengan sang raja". Dengan bersuka cita si-C menjawab; “Terima kasih atas semuanya, sehingga saya bisa sampai ke sang raja.”
Dia gembira bukan karena bagusnya kuda, dia gembira karena kuda dapat memudahkan dia dekat dengan sang raja.

Begitulah, si-A adalah gambaran manusia yang kalau mendapatkan mobil, motor, rumah, dan  kedudukan sibuk dengan semua itu, tanpa sadar bahwa itu semua adalah titipan. Yang B mungkin adalah model orang kebanyakan yang ketika senang mengucap Alhamdulillah.  Tetapi ahli syukur yang asli adalah yang ketiga yang kalau punya sesuatu dia berpikir bahwa inilah kendaraan yang dapat menjadi pendekat kepada Allah SWT. Ketika mempunyai uang dia mengucap alhamdulillah, uang inilah pendekat saya kepada Allah. Ia tidak berat untuk membayar zakat, dia ringan untuk bersadaqah, karena itulah jalan mendekatkan diri kepadaNya.

Benih syukur yang keempat adalah “berterima kasih kepada yang telah menjadi jalan perantara nikmat.” Seorang anak disebut ahli syukur kalau dia tahu balas budi kepada ibu dan bapaknya. Benar orang tua kita tidak seideal yang kita harapkan, tetapi masalah kita bukan bagaimana sikap orang tua kepada kita, tetapi sikap kita kepada orang tua. Sama halnya dengan nikmat lainnya, kadang datangnya melalui perantara, maka yang terpenting adalah bagaimana kita bisa bersikap yang baik kepadanya.

Diriwayatkan dari Usamah bin Zaid r.a. dia berkata, “Rasululloh SAW bersabda; ’Barangsiapa diberi suatu kebaikan, lalu dia berkata kepada pemberinya – Jazaakallohu khairo/Semoga Allah membalas kebaikan (yang lebih baik) kepadamu – maka dia telah sampai (sempurna) di dalam memuji.”(Rowahu at-Tirmidzi, dia berkata hadist hasan ghorib)

Dari al-Asy’ats bin Qois r.a. dia berkata, “Rasululoh SAW bersabda tidak bersyukur kepada Allah orang yang tidak bersyukur (berterima kasih) kepada manusia.” (Rowahu Ahmad)

Dari Abu Huroiroh r.a, dari Nabi SAW beliau bersabda,”Tidak bersyukur kepada Allah orang yang tidak bersyukur kepada manusia.” (Rowahu Abu Dawud dan at- Tirmidzi dia berkata hadist shohih)
Sebagai pelengkap benih – benih di atas, tentunya adalah memperbanyak doa untuk menyirami benih – benih itu. Berdoa untuk menjadi hamba yang penuh kesyukuran, sebagaimana yang diajarkan oleh Rasulullah SAW kepada sahabat Muadz bin Jabal.  Hadist itu diriwayatkan oleh Sunan Abu Dawud (Kitabu Sholah) dan Sunan Nasa’i (Kitabu as-Sahwi), juga terdapat dalam Musnad Ahmad, yang dishohihkan oleh Ibnu Hibban dan al-Hakim. Dari Muadz bin Jabal r.a. sesungguhnya Rasulullah SAW memegang tangannya Muadz dan berkata; ”Ya Muadz, Demi Allah sesungguhnya aku benar-benar mencintaimu, Demi Allah sesungguhnya aku benar-benar mencintaimu.” Seterusnya Beliau berkata, ”Aku wasiat kepadamu hai Muadz, jangan meninggalkan sungguh engkau di dalam setiap habis sholat untuk berdoa - Allohumma a’innaa ’alaa dzikrika, wasyukrika wahusni ’ibadatik - Ya Allah tolonglah kami untuk senantiasa berdzikir kepadaMu, bersyukur kepadaMu dan beribadah kepadaMu dengan baik”.
Setelah menjadi orang iman, tantangan berikutnya yang menghadang adalah berpacu untuk menjadi orang yang berkelimpahan kesyukuran. Walaupun kesempatannya kecil, kita masih punya peluang meraihnya bukan? Nah, sebagai parameter penutup bisa dirujuk cerita tentang seorang pengembala yang ditanya oleh tuannya. “Bagaimana cuaca hari ini?” “Hari ini cuacanya sangat menyenangkan”, jawabnya. ‘Apakah kamu tidak melihat bahwa dari pagi mendung dan tak tampak matahari? ” “Betul tuan, tetapi kehidupan ini telah mengajarkan kepada saya bahwa banyak keinginan yang tidak saya dapatkan, oleh karena itu saya mulai mensyukuri apa saja yang saya dapatkan.”

Lalu, dimanakah kita sekarang?

Oleh :Ustadz.Faizunal Abdillah
Sumber:LDII

Editor:Liwon Maulana(galipat)

BERSYUKUR

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?”

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Three of the nearly 50 works of urban fiction published by the Colemans over the last decade, often featuring drug deals, violence, sex and a brash kind of feminism.Credit Marko Metzinger

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.

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The roots of street lit, found in the midcentury detective novels of Chester Himes and the ‘60s and ‘70s “ghetto fiction” of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.Credit Marko Metzinger

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.”

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The Colemans in their new four-bedroom house in the northern suburbs of Detroit.Credit Courtesy of Ashley and JaQuavis Coleman

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.”

 
From T Magazine: Street Litís Power Couple

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