Files, Lolita 1964(?)–
Lolita Files 1964(?)–
Novelist and screenwriter
Of the bevy of African-American novelists that rose to popularity in the late 1990s, perhaps none seemed as natural a storyteller as Lolita Files. Her entertaining tales of African-American women finding their ways through life and love landed her consistenly on the feature pages of black-oriented publications and newspaper book-review sections. Her rise to the top of the literary world was startlingly quick—but backed up by solid performances in the follow-ups to her debut novel, Scenes from a Sistah. By 2002 Files was ready to invade the world of Hollywood she had skewered so expertly in her novel Blind Ambition. She had also taken her fiction-writing career in a dramatic new direction.
A native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Files was born around 1964. Though her career took her in other directions for a time, writing “was always there in the back of my mind,” she told the Miami Herald. “I was going to be a writer.” As a child she was drawn equally to the television shows favored by most children and to classics such as Dante’s Inferno. By the time she reached Fort Lauderdale’s Dillard High School, she was a star student in English classes. For a time she struggled with the linguistic intricacies of Shakespeare’s plays, but eventually, she told the Washington Post, “the heavens opened up and I understood the verse. I understood the fluidity of the movement and all of a sudden I realized I wasn’s looking at the footnotes anymore.”
At the University of Florida a writing instructor tried to eject her from an amateurs-only writing class, believeing that she was surely a professional. After graduating from Florida with a broadcast journalism degree, however, Files decided to set her writing aside and to experience something of the wider world before writing about it. Successful from the start, she inhabited the world of middle-class African-American professional life that would later provide the raw material for her first three novels. Files took marketing jobs with pharmaceutical and real estate companies, and by 1991, well before reaching her 30th birthday, she had ascended to a national management position with KinderCare Learning Centers, a day-care chain based in Montgomery, Alabama.
When she turned 30, Files decided the time had come to return to her youthful ambition. She made a foray into screenwriting, and, encouraged by an agent, turned to fiction. Working on a laptop computer in bed, she began writing short stories and sending them to literary agents. One agent on whose desk her stories landed was Nancy Coffey of the firm Jay Garon-Brooke Associates, which represented best-selling author John Grisham—the energetic Files, once she had made up her mind to become a writer, aimed for the top. “Her voice just leapt off the page,” Coffey told the Miami Herald. “It was fresh, uplifting and funny.” Immediately contacted by the agent, Files claimed to have ten stories—twice her actual total. But she solved that problem by getting back into bed with her computer and writing five more stories.
In 1994 and 1995, armed with a $50, 000 advance from Warner Books, Files began writing a novel, a
At a Glance…
Born ca. 1964, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Education: University of Florida, degree in broadcast journalism; also studied creative writing.
Career: Worked in marketing for pharmaceutical and real estate companies, 1980s; named national property manager, KinderCare Learning Centers, 1991; signed contract with Warner Books, 1994; wrote debut novel, Scenes from a Sistah, 1995 (published 1997); Getting to the Good Part published, 1999; signed to Simon & Schuster publishers; Blind Ambition published, 2000; Child of God published, 2001.
Addresses: Publisher —c/o Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
tragic family saga that she had been thinking about for years. That book eventually became her fourth novel, Child of God. But Files struggled. In July of 1995 she took a month-long vacation in Florida to let the book rest for a while—and let off the tension by beginning work on something of a lighter nature, a story filled with embroidered episodes drawn from her own life and those of her friends. By the time a week had elapsed, the book was essentially finished. “It just rolled out of me,” Files told the Miami Herald. “I printed it out and wrote a note to my editor: I don’t know what the heck this is, but here it is.’”
What she had created was her debut novel, Scenes from a Sistah, which was published early in 1997. The book, a page-turner narrative with abundant comedy and several plot surprises, follows the romantic and professional adventures of two Fort Lauderdale girlfriends as they move first to Atlanta and then to New York City. Files’s timing was perfect, for the success of Terry McMillan’s novel Waiting to Exhale had demonstrated the size of the market that existed for fresh-voiced romantic-themed novels that featured professional African-American female characters. Indeed Publishers Weekly, even as it expressed reservations about the book, noted that “Files does a fair impersonation of Terry McMillan”—and that was all that bookstore promotions staff, radio hosts, and magazine feature editors needed to hear.
Charismatic and articulate, Files made the most of her golden opportunity. Scenes from a Sistah was slated as a featured selection by the giant Literary Guild and Doubleday book clubs. “I keep thinking, ‘I’m going to wake up. Any minute, the floor is going to drop, and I’ll find myself shelling peas on a porch in Mississippi,’” Files told the Miami Herald. Her momentum did not flag, however, and she gained a strong following that remained with her for her sophomore release, Getting to the Good Part. That novel, a sequel to Scenes from a Sistah, featured Misty Fine and Reesy Snowden, the lead characters of the earlier novel.
Files broadened her range with her third novel, Blind Ambitions. That book was set in Hollywood—where, many reviewers suggested, Files wished to make inroads of her own. Indeed, by 2002, Files had several film and television projects in the development stages. Blind Ambition retained the format of a group of female central characters and the breezy pace and tone of its predecessors but seemed more closely tied to the headlines of the day as it addressed the issues of African-American representation in American entertainment. The Washington Post opined that “anyone who has read much popular fiction will recognize” the novel’s three leading women, but that “Files makes each woman unique—and credible—by giving her modes of behavior and ways of thinking that are hers alone.”
Files’s fourth novel, as she herself told the Post, “has a different type of layering and mood.” Indeed, it abandoned comedy for a multi-generational Southern tragedy that borrowed its characters’ names from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. In Child of God (2002), set in the fictional community of Downtown, Tennessee, Files addressed themes of incest and abuse. “Files succeeds in sustaining a difficult story line,” noted the Black Issues Book Review —all the more impressive an accomplishment for a writer who worked as fast as Files does. That same fertility of imagination boded well for the career of Lolita Files in the early 21st century.
Scenes from a Sistah, Warner Books, 1997.
Getting to the Good Part, Warner, 1999.
Blind Ambitions, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Child of God, Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Black Issues Book Review, November 2000, p. 20; January-February 2002, p. 57.
Miami Herald, March 19, 1997, p. D1.
Publishers Weekly, January 6, 1997, p. 62; October 26, 1998, p. 41; August 7, 2000, p. 76; July 30, 2001, p. 63.
Washington Post, October 3, 2000, p. C2; September 6, 2001, Prince George’s edition, p. T31.
Contemporary Authors Online, The Gale Group, 2001; reproduced in Biography Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI, The Gale Group, 2002 http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC).
Simon & Schuster Books, http://www.SimonSays.com
—James M. Manheim
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