For many looking at his life, the journey of DaPharoah69 is one that seems almost impossible. Born Larry Wilson, the thirty-something young man has endured rape, abuse and feelings of worthlessness and emerged not only victorious but ready to take on the world. His books have become bestsellers around the world, giving readers not only a spicy read but thoughtful commentaries on where we are as a society and the problems we all face.
Throughout it all, Wilson has been able to deal with his own personal demons while being a beacon of light and voice for individuals that have long felt ignored or without someone to speak for them. That time is over. With the release of his two-part autobiography (Pharoah and Lord Jennings), the writer from Goulds, Florida that many said would never make it is living a life that was destined for him from the beginning.
In this conversation we talk about his highs, lows and the moments in between that have made him not just a better man but a model for others as well.
First of all, Larry, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and allow us to feature you in our Summer issue of Conversations Magazine. Before we get into your journey as a writer, I want to talk about your role in the public eye. How does it feel to have achieved what you have in such a short period of time?
Before I answer those questions, thank you for giving me the opportunity and the avenue to share my views through my art. Thank you for having me! How do I feel about my achievements? I feel honored, stunned and blessed. Honored because, to write your first book while you're homeless with the world, even members of your family against you because of your sexuality, and to see it open so many doors to inspire others I am just Stunned because I'm not perfect, and I'm a man with many flaws yet so many have been inspired by my life story that I can't be but truly Blessed that God instilled the gift of Words inside of me.
Looking back at your childhood, could you have expected your life would have had as many highs as it has?
I never imagined this in my wildest dreams! I never liked or loved myself as a kid because I was being abused so much that the ability to dream died somewhere in my soul. I thank God for my teacher Miss Mike. When I was 8 years old she gave me a journal and told me to write my life after turning me on to Sara Teasdale poetry. And present day, to live a dream my teachers had for me, even when I didn't believe it myself, makes me truly happy. I feel like this is only the beginning.
Abuse is something that we still have an issue discussing in 2011. At the time when you were being betrayed by those around you how did you manage to find the courage to speak out?
My support system helped me get beyond it. I got tired of the silence eating me inside out. To carry the weight of another's mistakes truly broke me down. I got tired of being a certain way in public because it was what they expected of me, and in the darkness, when I go to bed at night I am crying myself to sleep begging God to kill me before I wake because I was living a Lie. Funny thing was I kept waking up and I was that much stronger. I used to write how I felt in my journals every day. It was the only thing I had to look forward to. When I discovered I could write a book I wanted to share that with people, so I wrote The King of Erotica Book 1. Since that book came out...nine books later people are now reading the journey of how I came to forgiving myself for the abuse, how I survived it and in that I am encouraged to write my next book. Its about my testimony inspiring someone going through abuse or an identity crises and ofering a solution.
In your autobiography you begin by sharing a letter to Janet Jackson in which you admit the abuse and some of the trials you have endured. What is it about Janet that led you to share something so personal?
For me, growing up in the 'Hood, Mom sometimes on and off welfare, as a fatherless inner city kid at the time the only images I saw on TV were of The Two Live Crew. They had half naked women stealing a form of African dance via bubble butts to hypnotize us youngins' into having a perverse train of thought. I was into it, the stuff I was writing in my journals taking a more erotic feel. Then Janet Jackson burst onto MTV, clad in black with 1814 on her hat and chest and I wanted to be a part of that. A woman, her body covered up, singing about prejudice and racism, things that was my reality at the time. In my writing that form of entertainment added the back stories to the characters I was writing in my journal at the time. After being raped by The Pail Man, something in my heart made me write her that letter. Sending it to her was my way of reaching out for help.
Your moniker includes the title "King of Erotica", but your work is about much more than sex. Can you tell me how you came to the decision to use sex and issues of sexuality to bring attention to larger issues facing the world every day?
Being inspired by Janet's Rhythm Nation sealed the deal for me. I wanted to use sex (Two Live Crew) to create stories about characters living the product of their upbringings. We love and we fail, we mess up and we succeed. We hate and we get angry, we gossip and we have our days. So I used those elements and sex to get my message across. Entice them with steamy sex, then unravel their checkered pasts . Its deeper than sex. These characters worship two masters and struggle for redemption. Its about writing characters that you can either relate to or identify with. The King of Erotica is an embodiment of all those elements. The trails of my life and surviving them gives me the credibility and the expertise to write the books that I do. So a piece of my life is in every character in every book I've ever written.
Discussing sexuality is not always easy, as is being comfortable with ones sexual truth. When it comes to identifying yourself, how have you been able to find out what Larry really wants and is versus what others have wanted from you?
I lived for others in the past. Did anything to make them smile. Laugh and dance and give them all my money. If they wanted me to be a Giraffe for the day I was the best Giraffe they'd ever seen. After being betrayed by many of them, I got tired of being their puppet. I got tired of winding up with nothing but a brokenheart. I was going through the darkest time of my life. A teenager sleeping with adults twice my age, and had no one to talk to about it. My daddy wasn't there. I validated myself through sex. I was promiscuous. As I matured in age I got tired of playing the victim. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I prayed to God for guidance and cut my old friends and got new ones. My bestfriend/brother Demetrius Mozell, my brother Artevia, my favorite cousin Aaron Harvey (Bread), Trevor Alfred and my earth John Wilson keep me grounded. Now I can be Larry without the circus act.
Larry, someone who you have looked up to in the literary world is E. Lynn Harris. The world lost him not long ago. Tell our readers how he influenced you and how his death has affected the way you look at your career now.
Meeting E Lynn Harris was a full circle moment. I looked up to him beyond measure, his books being about things I could identify with. I wrote him 4 years ago, when my first book was out and he never responded. I felt so rejected, like ok I am inspired by you and not so much as a Thank You in response. I fed from it to become a better writer. In 2009, when three of my books hit the Barnes and Noble.com Top 100 Bestseller list at the same time, I was excited.
Then I found out I had HIV and I told my Facebook family. E Lynn Harris was the first one to reach out to me, totally shocking me. He offered his shoulder if I needed to cry. He told me he's been following my entire career and told me of the email I once sent him. He knew the names of all my books. He invited me to be a part of his Literary Cafe in May of 2009 and he took a photo with my books. We were very close in a short time. When he died I was devastated. E Lynn was like the father I never had. I still miss him. Very much.
One of the issues you have been front and center on has been HIV/AIDS awareness. This is something personal to you. Do you mind sharing your own experience with HIV and how you are using it to help and educate others?
I know where I contracted the disease from. My ex boyfriend. I was in a three year relationship with him, truly committed. Both of us took HIV tests and they were negative and four months later we took another and we were negative so I gave myself to him with my heart and soul. He was cheating on me with someone else without rubbers and contracted HIV and never told me out of fear of losing me. To find this out a year and 9 months after we broke up, when my third book became a bestseller, destroyed me inside. I actually had AIDS and nearly no immune system. I thought my life was over! After praying to God with the pastor of my church, Pastor Carlos Malone, a month on meds my antibody count dropped from 1.3 million to 2,000, and my T4 cells rose at an alarming rate and in that I saw hope to take charge of my health and survive HIV. Now HIV is undetectable in my blood, and I changed my diet, what I eat and how I carry myself. Now I am in the position to talk to my fans about my experince, so they can see you can survive HIV, and look good doing it. It taught me how to love myself.
We talk alot in this publication and on Conversations the radio show about success and how it is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Seeing what you have been able to do and what is to come, what does success look like for you?
Success, for me, isn't defined by money or the awards I've won. I don't write for money. You can get money anywhere. An award fades with time. I don't take my writing for granted. I'm too afraid of losing the ability to write. I write to express myself, to StimYOUlate then EdYOUcate. I wanted my writing to be about something you can take with you so I tackled taboo subjects to create controversy. I can't please everyone so I write from my heart. I don't care if you like it or not, as long as you get something from it my job is done. Success, for me, is in knowing I can put out any book that I want, from the heart, and know that in some way it's gonna connect with my fans. And that means more to me than money. That's success to me!
Aspiring writers will also want to know any advice you might have for them as they look at beginning their own literary journey. What would you say to them about getting started?
Research. Know what you're getting into before you do. I get tired of getting emails with people saying "Well, I wanna write a book." Okay, WRITE IT! Worry about grammar and spell check after you write it. Making corrections while you write distracts you. Educate yourself on publishing, contracts and copyrights. Write a book that is actually talking about something. Be original. Know the market. Know who your books are competing against. Know your target audience. Have a marketing plan before you inquiry an agent. Without an agent getting published has become 99% harder. If you can't get published DO IT YOURSELF. Invest in a legit publisher, like Xlibris, and do it yourself. It's a hard road. Writing a book that inspires someone is a very serious thing to me. I cherish it. Use online forums to publish examples of your work and get a universal opinion. Build your fan base that way. Network with other writers. They know people who know people that can help you. So to the aspiring writers out there don't give up! You can do it!
Thank you for your time, Larry. For our listeners, all of your books are available through online outlets like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, but they should also be able to order them from their favorite bookstore. How can our readers keep up with you?
Again, thank you Cyrus for having me. I appreciate that. Readers can follow me on Twitter (Dapharoah69), Facebook, Larry Jabreel Wilson, www.dapharoah69,meakproductions.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.