Toni-T Shakir Delivers the Ultimate Street Tale w/ “Land of No Pity” + Exclusive Q&A
When it comes to putting in time, Toni-T Shakir has seen both sides of the coin; from the time Shakir putting in 15 years of federal prison time, she put in to creating an enthralling tale of love, loss, and street life with “Land of No Pity,” this rising author is a new breed of storyteller. She is one built on truth and a life that is, well, made for a book. Check out our exclusive Q&A with her below.
Q: You mention in your bio that dispelling the misconceptions of media and society was a big part of why you wrote the book – tell us about that.
Toni: “There have been a ton of systemic deception when it comes to what goes on in the urban sector, not only Los Angeles, but throughout America, for the average citizen that doesn’t know or understand how these environments came into existence. The media along with the government gives the subtle notion that poor young blacks and Hispanics are prone to break the law and/or enjoy committing crime. When in reality the majority of human beings, no matter race or creed, would break the law if it meant survival for themselves and their family. For the reasons of mass incarceration, ethnic cleansing, fear, and pure economic gain, programs like the ‘war on drugs and gangs’ were waged by the government. In order to wage these wars, the public’s help is needed to pass certain laws that largely affect a certain group of people, and once these laws are enacted, the same public will be the jurors giving judgment on these cases. So the nightly news magnifies the image of angry, dangerous black and brown people robbing and killing without reason. They crafted the image of the ‘super-predator’ and the motion picture industry perpetuated it with portrayal of big time drug dealers and gang members as monsters and natural-born killers without any decent character traits or moral resonance. That systemic manipulation really became clear to me when I went through my federal case with my husband, Jamal. They painted us as a ring of monsters without morals or conscience. The government allowed informants/rats to paint a picture they (the government) designed to destroy any resemblance to who we really were as people with families, loved ones. Their fiction became reality and by the time the case got to court, the media was eager to allow those lies to become truth and present us as those ‘super-predators’ and monsters. The awful part is our story was not an anomaly, I’ve seen similar situations with countless others I’ve encountered during my time in the federal judicial system. I’m still seeing it now as Jamal continues his struggle with the system. So I feel it was vital for our true circumstances and stories to be presented without glamorized sensationalism, and without an agenda. To show who we really are as individuals and as a collective.”
Q: Your husband Jamal Shakir is currently doing multiple life sentences and is one of the most historic names in L.A. gang culture. How did you guys meet? And did you know about his street life or did that grow over time?
Toni: “Jamal and I met in Las Vegas at a fight, boxing match. At the time, he lived in LA and I lived in the Bay Area so we developed a long-distance relationship. I frequented LA a lot so I was familiar with certain parts of the city. When our schedules permitted, we would fly to either city or meet wherever he was. Jamal was a very private and secretive person, so I didn’t know the full extent of his business. But I wasn’t a square, so I had a notion of what was going on after being with him for a while. Once I moved to LA to be with him, I met many of his then acquaintances and they were definitely not discrete or tactful about their lifestyle.”
Q: The book has some pretty graphic scenes such as Elisa’s rape scene. For those that don’t write, explain the process for us to sit down and write something like that.
Toni: “I wrote that scene with the understanding of what it’s like being a victim of molestation and/or rape, with the perpetrator often being a family member or friend. These devastating experiences have long-term profound effects on the victims, especially when they occur at a young age. It impacts self-worth and perception of the world throughout their lives. Often, there is a shame and taboo to even discuss the subject and that plays a big part in why most victims don’t report it to family or authorities. To write a scene this intense, I had to put a big part of myself into that moment and channel those feelings and raw emotions through Elise. I literally became that vulnerable, isolated young girl. I thought her thoughts and felt her feelings. I visually created the room with the bed, the shower with the running water; her uncle Thomas, how he smelled, talked, touched. And once the picture was clear and the emotions raw, I made my best attempt to bring the reader in as spectator to the unfolding events. With my characters, I wanted to show their origins, the factors that shaped them into the people they became. That was very important to me and that’s one of the main reasons I began the story from their childhood instead them being adults, to show their evolutionary process.”
Q: Since the book was released, what has been your best experience thus far? Whether something someone said about the book or somewhere you saw it mentioned.
Toni: “There have been two experiences that were priceless for me. The first was with my mom. Prior to the book being published, I didn’t let her know that I was working on this particular project, although I had mentioned that I was writing a book. Coincidentally, the book was scheduled to be published around her birthday. I surprised her by having a copy delivered to her. Now keep in mind, my mom is a church-going woman in her sixties, so I tried to explain that I wanted her to have a copy, but I didn’t want her to actually read it because of it’s graphic content. Of course that fell on deaf ears. I guess after going through it, she later called and told me that she was proud of me, and to just hear the excitement and optimism in her voice was a feeling I could never fully explain. My mom migrated from Jamaica to the US as a young woman and had to scrap and bust her butt for everything she achieved. We’ve been through a lot together and after my imprisonment and deportation, I desperately wanted her to know that her efforts on me weren’t wasted. I wanted to do something significant to make her proud of me and she gave me that validation with her support. The second experience was my first official interview. I was contacted by Val Young who hosts a podcast called “Honey’s Closet”. She had come across Land Of No Pity and fell in love with it. She invited me to do an interview on her show. I’m not a very talkative person, so it was definitely out of my comfort zone. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as I got on the show it was as if she energetically holding my hand and masterfully lead me through the interview. The way she expressed her love of the book, her reinforcement and validation of my efforts as a writer, helped to fill me with confidence. I’m so appreciative of her and I’ll never forget the experience. It was like the official slap of awakening that this thing was really happening.”
Q: “Are you planning any other books? And if so, can you provide any details as to what they will be about?”
Toni: “Yes, absolutely. Of course the sequel to Land Of No Pity is in the oven, but we are a publishing company so there will be a lot more projects coming not only from myself, but other authors as well. We’re currently looking for talented writers with authentic quality projects. I will say we have some great talent in the mix already. “Land Of No Pity” is our spearhead project that we felt was perfect to launch our brand. Our objective is to be the number one publisher of ‘Quality Urban Literature’.”
Q: Where can people buy ‘Land Of No Pity’?
Toni: “It can be purchased through our website, www.shakirpublishing.com, or www.landofnopity.com. It’s also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores, as well as Kindle.”
Q: How can people connect with you on social media?
Toni: “Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: @shakirpublishing on FB and Instagram and @shakirpublishin on Twitter.”