Revisiting Street Literature Classics – Part I

I picked up a copy of Teri Woods first book, True to the Game – Collector’s Edition, a couple of weeks ago the local bookstore.  After I made my purchase, I drove home reminiscing about the first time I read this classic book.

I first read True to the Game in the late 90’s when I worked as a production assistant at a local origination television station. While editing segments for a weekly show, I would steal away and read a couple of pages...I just couldn’t put the book down. The love story of Quadir and Gena intrigued me so much that I read the book within a day. Now years later, I enjoyed Woods book just like I had read it the first time. Yes... I did read it again in one day!   
Here’s a brief synopsis of the story that started it all.

It was 1988, the golden age of rap music where guys sported Run-DMC Kangols with gold medallion necklaces and the girls rocked Salt-n-Pepa asymmetrical hairstyles and large bamboo earrings. 1988 also marked the year of the Seoul Korea Summer Olympics, daddy Bush’s presidential win and President Ronald Reagan's signature on the 'War on Drugs'' bill that cracked down on the death penalty for murderous drug traffickers.

True to the Game is a Street Literature novel for adults that also appeals to teen readers. Gena the protagonist, is a young teenage girl from the turbulent West Philadelphia projects. Her world is turned upside down when she meets Quadir, a millionaire drug dealer, and falls in love. When she meets Quadir, he is at the top of the drug game but desperately wants out to escape to a life of normalcy.

Gena faces the challenges of holding onto Quadir, her comfortable jet-set lifestyle and of course, the money. Both of them find themselves caught up in the viscious cycle of street life and learn the hard way that success in the game is no easy win. Gena and Quadir also learn that once you're in, there's no way out, 'cause everyone stays in forever.’ This message is conveyed eloquently by Woods to the reader through a poem called, ‘Game Anthem’ at the beginning of the story:

As you struggle to hustle, taking gain after loss, don't get discouraged.
Just remember whose boss. Handle your business,
and always watch your back.
Don't sleep on the stick-up boys waiting to attack.
As you creep through the streets, the crack fiends holler.
They've done any and everything just to give you those dollars.
I hope it will last. I hope you make something of it.
Time will tell if something good can come from it.
But as you count the highs, count the lows too, and whatever you do,
forever remain true.
What choice do you have? It's in you by nature.
Your only fault is... Being a player.
Teri Woods, “True to the Game”

True to the Game takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. You feel the pain and rage Gena experiences when she is beaten by her jealous ex-boyfriend Jamal. You also feel the emptiness when she loses her childhood best friend Sahirah to a drive-by shooting.

After reading True to the Game for the second time, I focused more on the strength and wisdom of Quadir and the motherly love of Gena’s grandmother, Gah Git. The poems Gena wrote for Quadir expressed a deep love that a young woman would have for her first true love. The drug dealing rivalries, a kidnapping, and loss of love lead to the unforgettable conclusion to the story. Not to give the story away to those of you that have not read the book, Gena emerges from these events as an older and sadder but also wiser woman.

True to the Game is one of the original self-published Street Literature novels that marked the strong return of this genre since the Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines days. Woods, a native of Philadelphia, submitted her story to various publishing houses for print. Unfortunately over a period of six years, more than 20 different publishers rejected her. When these major publishing houses refused to embrace True to the Game she wasn’t discouraged.  Instead of giving up, Teri Woods printed, bound, self-published and sold her first book True to the Game on the streets.

As she mentions in her letter to her readers in the collector’s edition of True to the Game, the original handmade version of the book had a white cover with a gold gun on the cover. She sold copies of this book in front of the Mart 125 in Harlem, New York in the cold, rain and heat. Readers purchased the book for twenty dollars and loved it, even though it fell apart once it was opened because it was afterall handmade. With the success of the handmade books, Woods started her own publishing and production company, Meow Meow Productions. Years later, she successfully launched her first novel, True to the Game, making it available for bookstores across the country. 

I enjoyed re-reading True to the Game because it took me back to a time in my life when I first discovered the resurgence of the Street Literature genre. It was also refreshing to see writers like Woods pick up where Slim and Goines had left off thus filling the void. Other authors such as Vikki Stringer, Shannon Holmes, Nikki Turner, Sister Souljah, Kassamba Williams and K’Wan have done that and have influenced a new generation of writers.

During this time when African-American authors struggle to get their books published by major publishing houses, Woods story should serve an example:  perseverance through difficult challenges pays off.  I believe the next challenge for Street Literature will be 'keeping the genre 100’ by rejecting the pressure by publishers to write for commercial reasons – fast profit.

These are exciting times for the genre and I’m just lucky to have a good seat to see what’s going to take place next. 

Website:     Teri Woods -
Website:     Urban Fiction/Street Lit/Hip Hop Fiction Resources for Librarians:
                   Annotated List of Titles.


  1. You took me WAY back. Thank you for making me remember why I love Urban Fiction. I will read True to the Game - again.

  2. Wow!
    Your memories and synopsis of the story made me want to run to find this book. I haven't had much time to read for enjoyment due to my busy life but I am going to find the time to read this book. Thanks for sharing and making me realize I have been missing my passion for reading.
    Cute Diversion