Life and Work
Omar Rashad Tyree was born and raised by his mother Renee McLaurin-Alston in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother attended Temple University’s School of Pharmacy on academic scholarship and later graduated from Temple in 1973 as only one of four African Americans in her class (Henderson). As strong minded and determined as his mother, Tyree decided at the age of 19 that he wanted to make a “living writing books.” He realized that he had a gift to understand literature and the ability to create his own works after completing his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh where he was studying pharmacy. With his mind on writing, Tyree transferred to and graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. When asked by his friends back in Philadelphia what he would write about, he would simply reply, “Us man. The neighborhood. The things that go on. Things I think about. Things we talk about. Everything!” (“Reflections”).
At Howard, Tyree was the first student in the university’s history to have his own newspaper column, “Food for Thought,” which ran in the school’s nationally known paper, The Hilltop (“Omar Rashad Tyree”). This, however, was not the first time that he had been recognized for his writing abilities. For the short time that he attended the University of Pittsburgh, he wrote a journal which was called, “Diary of a Freshman,” published in a pamphlet by minority students.
Promoting literacy and stressing the importance of reading in the African American male community is an issue that Tyree feels strongly about. Using his alter ego and pseudonym, The Urban Griot, he writes books that are “for the brothers who read, write, and think” (The Urban Griot). He also maintains a website, www.theurbangriot.com, which includes his works as well as those of other aspiring and established Black male writers of today.
Tyree has worked as a reporter and/or chief editor for many newspapers and magazines, including but not limited to The Capital Spotlight, a weekly publication in D.C., News Dimensions, and Washington View Magazine. Having had experience with printing and typesetting from these newspaper jobs, he put together a publishing company, Mars Productions. He published his first book, Colored, On White Campus, in 1992 with the help of family, friends, and personal loans. This book was so successful that Tyree was able to independently publish his second and most successful novel, Flyy Girl, in 1993.
Despite his success as an author, writing is not all Tyree does. He travels and speaks at lecturing events all around the nation to “disseminate information to the African American community and to expand his popularity among readers” (AALBC.com). He currently lives in New Castle, DE with his wife Karintha and two sons Ameer and Canoy. Tyree gives advice to young writers as well as a reason for his success when he says: “I was not to be denied, and refused to wait around for someone to validate my writing skills. Education is indeed power and my education told me that hard work, dedication, execution, and persistence behind the man will eventually make the man! Six novels later, I’m still doing it. . . Work your plan, and plan your work” (“Reflections”).
Omar Tyree’s books are more than just entertainment. The subjects and themes that he explores in his books are especially relevant to his African American readers. In an interview he says, “I feel that it is essential to give people something more, I should not only entertain and inform, but leave them with something to think about”(Omar Tyree: Best selling author…). This is one thing that separates Tyree from many other Black male authors of today; he writes realistically about life in Black urban communities. Having grown up in Philadelphia, he is able to draw on his first hand knowledge of life in the city, and this helps make him a creditable writer. He is often criticized for being too direct and didactic because he writes about things that people are experiencing but are often too afraid to talk about. Yet he can be praised for creating a comfortable atmosphere to make people aware of issues and developments and at the same time providing advice as well as resolutions to problems that many African Americans experience.
Tyree has published fourteen novels over the span of his fifteen year writing career. Flyy Girl is a narrative of a young girl, Tracy Ellison, which gives an accurate portrayal of teenagers and the dangerous lifestyle based on sex, money, and drugs, which many engaged in during the 1980s. A Do Right Man is Tyree’s pacifier to Black woman about not being able to find a good Black man and also his reaction to the negative picture that is too often painted of all Black men. His characterization of Bobby Dallas, a successful yet sensitive radio host, who constantly has to deal with love, life, and business, is meant to inspire men and let women know that there are men out there if they just look beyond the surface. Single Mom serves as an open forum to discuss the increasing number of Black households headed by single woman, and the disappearance of the intact family in African American communities. Just Say No explores the life of fame and fortune and how it can lead to an early demise.
Tyree can be classified as a popular/realistic fiction writer. Using urban language and settings, he creates characters that allow him to discuss current events, but at the same time tell a believable story to which his readers can relate. Leslie is one of Tyree’s recent novels that he classifies as a horror story. Tyree has taken a step out of the ordinary by being one of the first Black male writers to write in the emerging literary genre: urban horror. A horror story it is, because it is so close to what really goes on in the inner city environments where many of his novels are set. Tyree’s word choice (which is most notable in Leslie) brings out the horror of urban life with outspoken Ayanna when she says,
To be honest about it, though B, you never was a nigga, you just a brown American. But you came to N’walins to be around niggas, so don’t even front. That’s why you like me. I know you like me. ‘Cause I’m raw like that with no seasoning. But see, Y and L know what being a nigga is all about. They know what I’m talking about. We know. (12)
However, Leslie’s story is about so much more than what words on a page can express. This novel brings to life how the horror of poverty and violence can break people down until they cease to exist. Tyree writes, “but the truth was that their parents would never be able to explain who she was, and why she did what she did, without facing the lies of America themselves, those painful lies of color…his-story, and how his-story continued to affect their stories while he and his children play the role of the innocent, until the ghetto decided to snap, just like she did” (385). Leslie, at first glance, is an innocent school girl trying to make something out of her poverty stricken life, but as the story progresses and she uses sex, voodoo, vanity, and power to manipulate and kill others, she becomes the thing that she fought so hard not to become, a product of the ghetto.
Using the gift of writing to connect with African-Americans as a whole, Tyree also has a separate mission which is “to get Black men like himself reading and buying books like his” (Johnson). To accomplish this personal mission, Tyree has created a whole new line of books under a new name, The Urban Griot. Under his pseudonym, he tells everyone, “I’m here to investigate what the brothers are feeling … For men, the hard life of the streets is a constant conversation…So I’m coming with fast-moving, plot-driven stories that males can take to naturally” (The Urban Griot). One of his most notable books on this line is Cold Blooded: A Hardcore Novel. The novel tells the story of a strong and admirable hit-man Molasses, or Moe as he is commonly referred to, who gets caught up in compromising situations and eventually ends up hurting the wrong woman. The novel explores the consequences of the actions of men that live lives of crime and deception in the “streets.” Men can relate more to these themes because for many of them it is their reality. In all of his works, whether he writing as Omar Tyree or The Urban Griot, his only focus is to “affect the cultural intelligence of American readers” (Omar Tyree: Best selling author…).
Publications and Awards
By the Author
- Colored, On White Campus: The Education of a Racial World. Wilmington: Mars, 1992.
- BattleZone: The Struggle to Survive the American Institution. Wilmington: Mars, 1994.
- [The Urban Griot]. Capital City: The Chronicles of a D.C. Underworld. Wilmington: Mars, 1994.
- Flyy Girl. Wilmington: Mars, 1993. New York: Simon, 1996.
- A Do Right Man. New York: Simon, 1997; New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1998.
- Single Mom. New York: Simon, 1998.
- Sweet St. Louis. New York: Simon, 1999.
- For the Love of Money. New York: Simon, 2000; Thorndike, ME: Thorndike,
- Just Say No! New York: Simon, 2001.
- [The Urban Griot]. The Underground. 2nd ed. of Capital City: The Chronicles of a D.C. Underworld. Charlotte: Mars, 2001.
- Leslie. New York: Simon, 2002.
- Diary of a Groupie. New York: Simon, 2003
- [The Urban Griot]. One Crazy-Ass Night. Charlotte: Mars, 2003.
- [The Urban Griot]. College Boy. New York: Pocket, 2003.
- [The Urban Griot]. Cold Blooded: A Hardcore Novel. New York: Simon, 2004.
- Boss Lady. New York: Simon, 2005.
- What They Want. New York: Simon, 2006.
- [The Urban Griot]. “That Nigga’s Crazy!” Proverbs for the People. Ed. Tracy Price- Thompson, TaRessa Stovall, and Jewell Parker Rhodes. New York: Kensington, 2003.
- “Meet the New Invisible Man: The Young Black Male Nobody Knows.”Washington Post. 18 July 1993: C5.
- “ From White to Black Campus.” Testimony: Young African Americans On Self- Discovery and Black Identity. Ed. Natasha Tarpley. Boston: Beacon, 1995. 129-32.
- “Reflections on Success.” Black Collegian Online (2001). 17 Feb. 2005.
<http://www.black-collegian.com>. Path: Monthly Issues; 30th Anniversary.
- “When the Grass is No Longer Green….” The New Crisis 107.5 (Sept.-Oct. 2000):
Recordings / Spoken Word
- [The Urban Griot]. Rising Up! Nu Millennium, 2003; Hot Lava, 2004.
- NAACP Image Award for For the Love of Money, 2001
Criticism and Interviews
About the Author
- Rev. of A Do Right Man. Kirkus Reviews (Oct. 1997): 1481-82.
- Rev. of A Do Right Man. Publishers Weekly 244.41(Oct. 1997): 74.
- Rev. of A Do Right Man. Library Journal 122.19 (Nov.1997): 78.
- Rev. of Cold Blooded: A Hardcore Novel. Kirkus Reviews (June 2004). N. pag.
- Contemporary Authors. 2002. Gale Literary Databases. 12 Mar. 2004.
- Rev. of Diary of a Groupie. Publishers Weekly 250.19 (May 2003): 43.
- Rev. of Flyy Girl. Kirkus Reviews (Aug. 1996): 1090-91.
- Rev. of Flyy Girl. Publishers Weekly 243.35(Aug. 1996): 76.
- Rev. of Flyy Girl. Library Journal 121.15 (Sept. 1996): 98
- Rev. of For the Love of Money. Library Journal 125.13 (Aug. 2000): 163.
- Henderson, Carol E. “Omar Tyree”. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Ed. Lisa
Abney and Suzanne Disheroon-Green. Vol. 292. n.p. Gale, n.d. 314-319.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography. 2003. Gale Literary Databases. 19 Jan.
- Johnson, Brett. “Omar Tyree: Raw and Uncut.” Black Issues Book Review 4:4
(Jul.-Aug. 2002): 40-43.
- Rev. of Just Say No! Library Journal 127.8 (May 2002): 150.
- Rev. of Just Say No! Publishers Weekly 248.32 (Aug. 2001): 62.
- Rev. of Leslie. Publishers Weekly 249.30 (Jul. 2002): 53-54.
- Rev. of Leslie. Library Journal 127.20 (Dec. 2002): 196
- “Omar Rashad Tyree.” Omar Tyree. 12 Mar. 2004. <http://www.omartyree.com.
- Rev. of Single Mom. Publishers Weekly 245.33(Aug. 1998): 46.
- Rev. of Single Mom. Library Journal 123.15(Sept. 1998): 114-15
- The Urban Griot. 12 Mar. 2004. <http://www.theurbangriot.com>.
- “Omar Tyree: Best selling author…” AMAG, Inc. Sept-Oct. 2002: 20-21.
- Interview with Lee E. Meadows. “Book Beat.” WPON Radio. 12 Mar. 2004.
- Interview. Ebony Nov. 2002: 18-20.
- Interview. On the Same Page. Sept. 1999. 20 January 2005.
- “Omar Tyree with The Gree-Oh.” The Urban Griot. 20 Jan. 2005. <http://www.theurbangriot.com/link interview.htm>.