An Enloe High School English teacher told Jackie Davis she would be a writer.
It was her journal. Davis’ entries were always longer, more detailed – and real. Because of that, Davis recalls, Agnes Penny always saved her journal for homework reading.
Davis, now 46, couldn’t fathom her teacher’s prediction then. “It just helped me clear my mind,” she told me.
But sure enough, in 2010, Davis published her first book.
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She writes as Jackie D for Life Changing Books, and this year she added a third book to the publisher’s portfolio of African-American literature.
Davis falls into the urban fiction category with “Love Heist,” “Married to a Balla” and its sequel, “Life After a Balla.”
“It’s all real-life experiences,” said Davis, who moved to Raleigh from Washington, D.C., when she was 13. “There’s a whole globe of readers out there: some who prefer urban literature and some who don’t; and some who read it and love it, but don’t want anybody to know they read and enjoy it.”
Urban, or street, fiction tells the stories of black – and sometimes Latino – characters navigating grimy city streets immersed in racism, drugs, fame, violence and sex. The genre was born decades ago but saw revival in the 1990s. Just think Eric Jerome Dickey, Mary Monroe, Carl Weber, Zane, Noire and Sister Souljah. Rappers Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent also penned books in the genre.
Davis recalls one reader’s admission: “I was embarrassed when I started reading the book, but when I realized how good it was, I didn’t care who saw me reading it.”
In fact, Davis said, her readers range from 18 to 65.
I heard about Davis through Dorothy Thompson, a mutual friend. Thompson said she bought the books as a show of support – and then couldn’t put them down.
“They’re the kind of books old-fashioned folks might now want to read,” Thompson said, her tone suggesting a secret as scandalous as the “Scarlet Letter.” “Once I started one, let’s just say … it’s the kind of stuff you want to find out what happens.”
Thompson, thinking aloud, added, “I sure would like to know if this is really what young folks go through these days. If so, I’m glad I’m past that.”
Davis said her books can help readers who usually know someone going through a similar situation. “There’s always a message – a better life, how someone overcame, or turned their life around. There’s always a happy ending,” she said.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” Davis added. “That’s what we say about our books.”
The “we” includes Davis’ “friend of 40 years,” Tonya Ridley.
Ridley is a Raleigh native who also writes urban fiction and encouraged Davis to write.
Davis’ writing career began when she was laid off in 2008. “I sat down at the computer, and that’s how it started.”
The first book, she said, was written freely. The second came with an outline – and a twist. It’s based on a real-life story of a former co-worker who was abused by her husband, yet too financially unstable to leave. Davis decided to explore domestic violence when money isn’t an obstacle. The drama continues in the sequel.
Davis, who said she writes as soon as she gets off work from her job as a membership coordinator with the N.C. Medical Society, plans to begin college in the spring. She wants to be a social worker.
She’ll also soon begin to write a novel of short stories focused on the lives of women; something in a different genre, she says.
She finds support from her son, Emanuel “Poobie” Chatman, a junior student athlete at N.C. Central University. He listens to and then reads her stories, and she listens to and helps him resolve any obstacles that roll his way.
“We inspire each other,” Davis said.
And because I’ve always told myself, “I’ve a got a good book in here,”… Jackie D, you inspire me.