Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
Cover of the first edition.
Grove Atlantic Books|
Penguin Books (original trade paperback publication)
9780140232257 (original trade paperback)
9780802141446 (trade paperback reprint)
|364.1/092 B 21|
|LC Class||HV6439.U7 L774 1993|
|Followed by||T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. (2008)|
Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member is a memoir about gang life written in prison by Sanyika Shakur.
Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member is a nonfiction memoir written by Sanyika Shakur, aka Monster Kody Scott, while he was in prison. The book starts with his initiation into the Eight Tray (named after 83rd St, their territory) Gangster Crips at eleven years old. He endures beatings and is forced to hold his own and fight back against the gang members to prove he is tough enough to join. His first gang action is the same night as initiation and involves a sawed-off shotgun and shooting at a rival gang. He quickly becomes an important member of the Eight-Trays. Following his initiation, Scott works his way up the totem pole of importance. One act that increases his standing is beating a man so badly that the police say whoever did it was a monster; the word becomes his gang name.
Throughout the book Scott alleges he takes part in many gang activities, and the wars between gangs are nonstop. He claims to have killed many people and is shot six times and taken to the ICU. After getting out of the hospital, he is shot again and survives. Soon after this, he is arrested for a robbery and is sentenced to four years in Juvenile.
During his time in jail, Scott has a lot of time to think and reflect on his past. He meets Muhammad, a Muslim church leader. He participates in his sermons and reads all the books Muhammad gives him. He starts to feel conflicted about being a part of the gang life. He is quickly released from, goes right back to being a tough gang member, and returns to prison.
In prison he learns a lot about the C.C.O., better known as the Consolidated Crip Organization. They do not support Crip-on-Crip violence. Later Scott joins the C.C.O. This is how he gets his name Sanyika Shakur. He continues to spend time in prison, reflecting even more on his life. He decides he cannot be a good father to his daughter if he is a part of any gang activity at all. He gets out of jail on a shortened sentence and leaves the Eight Trays forever. He joins the N.A.I.M., the New African Independence Movement, and strives to be a good father and husband. At the end, he claims to be completely out of gang life and working on making a good life for himself.
When asked how Sanyika Shakur got his gang nickname "Monster" he replied, "Well, America produced me," but he basically said that he beat a man so badly that the police said whoever did it was a monster, and the name stuck. He also blamed the community he used to live in as the reason why he joined a gang. He said, "The community as a whole is sick," and continued to blame his environment for turning him into a criminal.
In a book review by Counter Culture, they said, "Shakur does not blame his mother or his school for becoming a young gang banger."  Shakur also attributed his "understanding of life" to "Afro-centric Islam." Larry Taylor wrote,"Older gangsters set the example, cultivate and train the younger boys, children." He said the reason children get into gangs is because of older gang members and that is why Shakur got involved.
Critics suggested that one of the main themes of Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member is that violence does not solve anything. Coleman Jr. stated that Monster is filled with "senseless violence" and "gang warfare." These two similar elements of the book fill the memoir and result in death, injury, and jail sentences. Metcalf mentioned a few themes of the book as "self-improvement, aspiration, education, and empowerment of minorities." Overall the book displays violence and power obviously throughout.
Kakutani, from The New York Times, wrote, "The volume attests to Mr. Shakur's journalistic eye for observation," and has "novelistic skills as a story-teller."  Metcalf mentioned, "The stylistic features of Monster in terms of its narrative structure help the reader to understand the author's social, political, and cultural messages (regarding nonviolence and escaping the gang)." Chill wrote, "Through Shakur's free flowing style," it is easy to read and called it "Ghetto Poetry."
Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member has received multiple positive reviews in the past several years. In one of Josephine Metcalf's passages from her journal, The Journal of American Culture, she says it is "noteworthy for its emphasis on both the frisson of violent gang exploits and the sober salutary reflection of politicized and educated hindsight." 123helpme.com says Monster has new insight and lets the reader experience his "seemingly chaotic world." 123helpme.com also states that Shakur puts forth an "effort to educate" and "offers hope for those many other human beings chained to a life of gangs simply because of where they live." Another positive review came from Michiko Kakutani, writer for The New York Times, in which he wrote that Monster is a "galvanic book" and even titles his article by describing the book as "Illuminating" and "Raw." Kakutani also praised Shakur's "quick, matter-of-fact prose" and wrote that his violent life was "memorably depicted." Chill reviews this book and said it "answers many questions to how someone actually becomes actively involved in a gang" and is "introspective and analytical." Chill also stated, "Some will find it nearly impossible to put down."
Monster also received a few negatives reviews. Metcalf quotes David Brumble, who says he"scrutinizes Monster in terms of classical tribal warrior cultures, [and] . . . believes that Shakur's preprison years are the most generative."
In 1992 at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Morgan Entrekin, publisher of Grove Atlantic Inc., announced that he had acquired world publication rights to Shakur's memoir, setting off a storm of interest in the book as an authentic document of the urban African-American experience. A convention-goer from Sweden was quoted as saying, "We see so much of the violence of the American inner city; now here's a voice that comes from inside that can explain it to us." The rights to publish in at least seven foreign countries were quickly sold.
Sanyika Shakur claims to have made $800,500 USD from writing Monster. Shakur also changed dramatically after publication and went back to criminal life with another sentence to jail in 2007 and many previous criminal activities. He went to jail for violating parole.
- "An Interview with Sanyika Shakur". kersplebedeb.
- "Monster Kody Scott aka Sanyika Shakur- 83 Gangster Crip". Streetgangs. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- "Book Review: MONSTER The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member". Counter Culture. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Taylor, Larry. "Monster: The Autobiography of an LA Gang Member". Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Coleman (1994). "Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member". ETC.: A Review of General Semantics. 51 (2): 238. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Metcalf, Josephine (December 2011). "Monster, Dreams, and Cultural Studies: Exploring Gang Memoir and Political Autobiography". The Journal of American Culture. 34 (4): 391–401. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734x.2011.00788.x. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
- Kakutani, Michiko (23 July 1993). "Book of the Times; Illuminating Gang Life in Los Angeles: It's Raw". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Chill (16 June 1994). "Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member". Call & Post.
- "Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member". Retrieved 27 May 2013.
- Kakutani, Michiko (2008-02-26). "However Mean the Streets, Have an Exit Strategy". New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Kakutani, Michiko (1993-07-23). "Illuminating Gang Life in Los Angeles: It's Raw". New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Horowitz, Mark (December 1993). "In Search of Monster". The Atlantic Monthly. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- "Monster Kody (OG Crip)- Talking About The Book "Monster"". VoiceOfReezun.