BhB author writes to celebrity about prison life and life motivation

BrickHouse Books author Baari Shabazz and actor Hill Harper from USA network’s Covert Affairs share more in common than you might think. Both men are successful writers; Harper wrote the best seller Letters to a Young Brother and Shabazz wrote one of BrickHouse Book’s most successful publications For Colored Guys Who Have Gone Beyond Suicide and Found No Rainbow. And both men speak out about prison life.

Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother offers advice and motivation for the thousands of African American men behind bars and the people who love them. After the book was published, Harper received several letters from inmates, all looking for a connection with a successful role model.

Shabazz, who spent 25 years in prison, wrote For Colored Guys Who Have Gone Beyond Suicide and Found No Rainbow as a male response to the book For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough.  Written with five other writers, the book was a finalist in the Channel 11 Playwrights content and was performed at Baltimore’s Artscape and Morgan State University. Shabazz’s book is currently sold out.

On Thursday, November 14, 2013, the event “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones” featured Harper speaking out. Shabazz attended the event and was able to speak with Harper. He then wrote a letter to Harper to thank him for the experience.

On Wednesday, November 20, 2013 12:35 PM, baari Shabazz wrote:

 Hi Hill.

I am extremely grateful that you were so responsive to my concerns when I spoke at the library. It speaks loudly about your humanity and compassion. I have asked for help many times by writing to big corporations and did not even get a return letter.

On page 4 you wrote about the failure of the rehabilitation process. I too recognized this same flaw. So I began my own efforts of self reform. First, I looked at what my own values were and saw that my values were criminal. I looked at my morals and saw they were not good. I was not satisfied with my assessment. So I thought it would be good to engage other people who had clean healthy values and morals. I ended up writing to 75 pen pals. Then I thought that I should not be limited to American values and morals, but should include a global view. So I began writing to 21 embassies at the United Nations. I remember most that I received press releases from the Nigerian embassy that gave me CORRECT information about things that were happening that were reported falsely in the American media. When I tried to share this kind of information with other prisoners no one believed me. It was then that I decided that this process of changing my mindset had to be personal and just for me until I had some results for my own life.

As I told you, I was semi-illiterate when I was put in adult prisons at 15 years old. At 18 years old, after joining the then Nation of Islam, I began to educate myself. I spent 25 years in prison because I was involved with changing inhumane prison conditions by writing letters to top prison officials at headquarters or filing legal writs in the courts and educating other prisoners to get their GED diplomas. I was labeled a trouble-maker. I went on to become a teacher of Business English in the School of Business and Management and writing all of the documents to start The Writers Club. I spearheaded the efforts to write a male response to the book “For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enough.” My book, which I coauthored with five other writers, “For Colored Guys Who Have Gone Beyond Suicide And Found No Rainbow,” was a finalist in the Channel 11 Playwrights” contest. In addition to being performed (it is a choreopoem) at Baltimore’s Artscape and at Morgan State University, it has gone through 4 printings, sold out, and now hardcopies are only available on Amazon. (I am trying to find funding for another printing.) However, I pushed my publisher towards doing an e-book which became available about 4 or 5 months ago.

After all other problems with my own self reform, I finally asked the prison officials if they would allow a prisoner to write a rehabilitation program. After a little haggling, I wrote a 30-page proposal, “Offender Restoration Project.” I was given permission from headquarters  to teach it, but was stymied at every turn by Directors of Pre-Release Centers who assisted guards to write false infractions of prison rules and had me transferred four times when other prisoners started to take advantage of my reform ideas.

Now today I am using the life planning component of those reform ideas to assist youth, ex-offenders, and people in drug recovery. I also help writers to self publish books and help people to start businesses. I teach religious classes, Arabic, genealogy, and English, also one-on-one instructions. I have three manuscripts I am working on; one is an autobiography. I am also attempting to market my visual art, but I am handicapped by lack of lack of funding. This is one way I could use some help if you know someone who might take an interest in the whole package of my work. I know I need to be able to project a professional image and use social media as well as having a website. I lacked in-depth computer skills; all I have learned is SELF TAUGHT. I owe school loans and this stops me from taking more college courses to complete my B.A. in Business. I need maybe 10 courses or less. I gained 39 credits from past learning credits and was assessed and told I should be able to get more than 200 past life learning credits. Because my present work in the community has never been evaluated, nor my art and manuscripts.

As I mentioned when I talked at the library, I would like to see the work of many positive ex-offenders exposed. My long term goal is to be able to help prison writers to get published.

Well, that is all for this first communication with you. I look to our friendship and future communication. Thanks for hearing with an ear of compassion.


Shabazz is currently waiting for a response but nonetheless has gained an insightful experience.

For more information check out Hill Harper’s Facebook and Baari Shabazz’s work on Amazon.


Shelby Hillers is the Online Assistant Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.


Oral project reveals civil rights stories all around

Harriet Lynn, a professor and actor, recently started an award for senior poets writing about Baltimore. Her mother was the winner of the competition several years ago and Lynn has re-started it in her mother’s name. Lynn is now starting an oral project that invites anyone with a story to participate. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of MLK Jr.’s speech and the March on Washington, the project is part of the oral history that is spreading on a national scale to gather stories.

By visiting this website, you can find out about Lynn’s story project titled “All Together Now” sponsored by the Story Center. Lynn’s story details what happened during the Civil Rights Movement era. The 3 minute digital story is now archived online with other personal short stories about civil and human rights.

Make sure you spread the word. Anyone with an interest or story can be a part of the project.


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Counting BrickHouse Books one writer at a time

By: Shelby Hillers

Thanks to VIDA: Women In Literary Arts, I’ve become alarmingly aware of the gender representation of published writers. Ever since the organization took on the project of counting the rates of publications between women and men, the publishing world has been faced with a harsh truth: men are published more than women. We’re still trying to fix it.

The organization started their project in 2010 and each year they count how many men are published versus how many females in major literary journals and magazines. You can view the results on their website along with charts to really hit you in the gut with the unequal gender representations.

Not every magazine is as bad. Some (like Tin House) became extremely aware of their gender gap and fixed it. Others made amends to fix the gender ratio but claimed it had nothing to do with VIDA’s project. Either way, they’re heading in the appropriate direction of proving that both females and males can be published writers.

The Count project does have some restrictions. When it comes to sex versus gender, The Count can get a little iffy. Writers who identify as a different gender or transgender writers weren’t sure where they stood with the limited options of the project. The representation of genders within the project might not have been so equal. It all comes back to what’s in a name. In a past blog article, it was discussed the significance of a writer’s chosen name. A point made in the article was how gender neutral names are perhaps the safest when it comes to marketing. But then what identity does that give the author?

That problem came up while I counted the genders of published writers for BrickHouse Books. Some name were easy and some weren’t. Of course there’s the help of Google but one writer was particularly hard: M.S Montgomery. After several searches, I emailed Clarinda Harriss and learned who M.S Montgomery is. Montgomery is BrickHouse Books’ only self-designated bisexual poet and identifies as male. I’m not saying a writer’s name needs to shout out their sexuality and gender. But having gender-neutral names to appease public is a double-edged sword. You don’t get trapped into gender-specific norms of the publishing world but you lose a sense of identity in the process.

Still, I wanted to model after the project to have a representation of the gender equality with BrickHouse Books. As shown above, we’re almost equal. There have been 19 females published and 21 males. This might be the first time where counting and making graphs made me happy. While it doesn’t get into the specifics, it still shows equal representation. It’s a huge encouragement to young writers out there that they do stand a chance and to keep trying.



Shelby Hillers is the Online Assistant Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger

How to participate in National Novel Writing Month (while you still can)

By: Shelby Hillers

Feel like you can’t take part in the long writing sessions of National Novel Writing Month? Are you watching your friends write their next Best Seller while you sit by and do nothing? Well here are 11 easy steps to help you be a part of those long nights filled with writing:

How to participate in NaNoWriMo

1.     Open your computer or maybe you’re old school and use a typewriter or pen and paper. Sit down and look like you’re about to get some serious business done.

2.     Crack your neck, back, and hands. Doing that makes you look like you’re in this for the long run—which you are.

3.     Grab some coffee and chug it down. Grimace because it is black coffee but serious writers drink it black these days but now you’re wide awake because that was disgusting coffee but it was worth it.

4.     Stare at your blank page and give it a menacing look. This look should come across as both crazy and slightly serious.

5.     Look around your room. Maybe there’s something that will spark a memory that digs deep into your self-conscious. Write it down. Maybe it was about your childhood pet. Or your best friend. Or that time you made breakfast for your mom. Write it all down with rich detail. Throw in some dialogue. Make your characters come to life with the power of your words.

6.     Take a break because hey, you’re not a robot. You need time to rest up. Walk around your house or wherever you are. Appreciate and notice the small things. You can use those details later on in your story.

7.     Once you’ve walked around a bit, sit back down and write some more. It doesn’t even have to be good. Just write something.

8.     Reread what you wrote. Delete it. Rewrite it. Rewrite it better.

9.     Cry because you’re pretty sure the first version was better anyway.

10.   Write some more. Write about your family. Write about your friends. Write about the places you’ve always wanted to go. Write about love. Write about that time you stayed up all night and saw the sun rise. Write about things that are painful and hard because it’s worth the experience of trying to capture those raw words. Just write.

11.     Hey, look. You’re participating in NaNoWriMo. Congrats. Now go back to writing.

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Shelby Hillers is the Online Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. She is also the Publicity Director for Grub Street, TU’s Literary Magazine. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.

What’s In a Name?

By: Shelby Hillers

It’s no surprise that authors with male names or gender neutral names sell more than authors with female names. What is a surprise is that this is still an on-going trend in the book world. But that’s another article all together. What many writers forget or don’t necessarily know is how much marketing goes behind a book. And one of the key factors of a book selling is the author’s name.

J.K. Rowling wasn’t the first and only female writer to make her pen name more gender neutral. In fact, famous authors like Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre), Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird), and Nora Roberts (when drifting over to detective fiction with book series In Death) all changed their names to more gender neutral/male sounding when publishing their works. The list goes on and shows the trend of female writers creating pen names in order to either sell more books or be accepted into the literary world.

Just how important is a name? As Shakespeare writes:


O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

(Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II)


I’m sure we’re all having flashbacks to high school when we read this, but Shakespeare makes a fair point (as he usually does). The name doesn’t necessarily represent the object. In this case, the author’s name doesn’t represent the writing. So in theory, it should be okay for a female writer to use her real name and sell just as well as a male writer using his real name. It sounds logical but in actuality, it just doesn’t work that way.

And what female writers understand is that their female names don’t appeal to the male readers but they’ve found a loophole. They’ve tricked the male reader into reading a woman’s work, and even better, they’ve gotten the male reader to like it. But if you like the book, does the author’s name really mean anything? The answer should be no, but many readers can’t break that mindset of assessing the writer’s quality by their gender. And it’s not just readers who think this; editors, publishers, and agents are just as guilty of publishing male writers over female writers. That’s a lot of mindsets to change. But I think we can do it.

However, what I’m still trying to decide is whether female writers are still changing their names to prove a point or if we’re just agreeing to popular demand. Are we proving our writer is still as good by changing Joanne Rowling to J.K.Rowling or are we surrendering to the male readership and saying fine, we’ll change for you? I like to think we’re proving a point and assisting these literary works to Best-Sellers lists, but sometimes I fear that if a female writer doesn’t change her name (and isn’t the stereotypical romance novelist), the general public wouldn’t give her the time of day.

So is it smart marketing? Or is it giving in and surrendering our pens?


Shelby Hillers is the Online Assistant Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.