To understand the impact of Sister Souljah’s novel The Coldest Winter Ever it helps to understand the back story of Sister Souljah herself. One of the main reasons in which The Coldest Winter Ever remains so popular among college undergraduates and young adults is that Sister Souljah has been a very vocal, visible presence in quite a bit of mainstream media that is directly target towards young adults.
Sister Souljah has been an active presence within the hip-hop community for over a decade now. Musically, she appeared on records by the group Public Enemy and has done charity work with such well known artists as Lauryn Hill and Sean Combs. By associating herself with these entertainers she has become a visible presence to a younger community and has drawn interest for that reason.
The novel The Coldest Winter Ever offers a unique take on the kind of hip-hop lifestyle that Sister Souljah has associated herself with. The film deals with a well-to-do family (The Santiaga family) that has established a fortune due to drug-dealing, prostitution and tax-evasion. They live a very wealthy lifestyle in an impoverished neighborhood and seem to take for granted their own luxury.
Their lives are turned upside down when their father is arrested and locked up by the United States government. The family is then forced to split up and many of them descend into a life of misfortune, drug abuse and ultimately death. The main character from which the title of the book is named is the oldest Santiaga daughter Winter.
What makes the novel interesting is that Sister Souljah writes herself into the novel as a character. When the Santiaga family is broken apart after the father is sent to prison, their daughter winter is taken into the home of Sister Souljah who tries to teach her values and messages of self-love and community building.
Souljah’s ultimate message towards winter is that she needs to focus less on the superficial aspects of life and try to do some good for the world. In particular, Souljah discusses the need for better education in poor communities. Her message is clear; while the Santiaga family made their money through criminal, illegitimate means they still could have done something to better the community rather than lavishing themselves with luxuries.
Souljah’s messages in the context of the book offer a sharp contrast to the lives of the Santiaga family. Despite the kind, moralistic advice from Sister Souljah, Winter’s life takes a steady decline and by the end of the novel she is in prison, only to be let out to view the funeral of her mother who died of an illness which resulted in complications from drug use.
The last chapter of the novel is written from the perspective of Winter. Her time in prison due to a non-violent drug-related charge takes on a certain level of poignancy to the real world. The majority of African American females who are imprisoned are done so due to drug related charges.
The Coldest Winter Ever has found a strong niche among a young adult community for a number of reasons. For one, Sister Souljah has experienced and been a part of the interests of many young adults (particularly African Americans). She is able to write in a style and prose which is easily recognizable and relatable to young people.
The message that the Sister Souljah character herself preaches throughout the book is a poignant one that has a lot of relevance to low-class, poverty-stricken African American neighborhoods. As an educated woman, Souljah preaches the values of education, community service and a life free of crime.
Her message is an uplifting one; one that gives hope to members of impoverished communities. That message of good is paralleled with the downfall of the wealthy but criminal Santiaga family and it creates a very powerful counterpoint.
Sister Souljah herself is an educated woman who has made herself both a recognizable figure in the entertainment community and the literary community. Her novels are easily accessible to young adults and college age students who have been able to find strong messages, inspiration and life lessons from her writing.