Monday, September 21, 2009
Fall Reading: Authors Of Color In Modern Gay Lit
As we go from a too-short summer into the transition of autumn, it's a good time to pause and take a look at some of the black gay literary voices which are shaping American literature today. SGL men of color have always been a powerful force in American writing, in every genre and style. The richness of their words and the passion of their stories defines us as a culture. The writings of such giants as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes awakened the world to the struggles of people of color in the mid-to-late 20th century. They found expression through their words, as gay men, people of color, and as artists enriching the American experience.
Writers like Baldwin, Hughes, Robeson and Rustin also set the stage for later gay writers, who revolutionized the gay-lit genre. The first modern black gay author to gain widespread acclaim was Everette Lynn Harris, whose first book, Invisible Life, taught American publishers about the possibilities of gay literature. Harris created plausible, human gay characters, and raised awareness in "Mainstream America" about some of the issues gay men face in their lives and relationships. Following the runaway success of Invisible Life, Harris went on to author eleven more novels, eight of which made the New York Times bestseller list. At the time of his unfortunate death this past summer, Mr. Harris was about to option his first novel with Tracy Edmonds as a Hollywood movie. He is widely considered to be one of the "gateway authors" of modern gay literature.
Another "gateway author" in the company of E. Lynn Harris, is James Earl Hardy, well-known as the man behind the phenomenal B-Boy Blues series of novels. Hardy is an unabashed proponent of the edgy, uncompromising prose style so familiar in gay literature today. With this groundbreaking body of work, Hardy explored in depth the dynamics of relationships among gays of color. His writings continue to enjoy accolades from readers all over the country, who often credit Hardy with giving a voice to their feelings. Gay lit often finds an intersection between sexuality, life, and social commentary. The myriad issues of gay life, social conflict, and the challenges peculiar to gay men of color has given rise to the works of prominent individuals who have helped shape the ongoing discourse on gay life in the 21st century.
Where real-life issues and gay black men meet, you'll often find writers like Keith Boykin, who served in President Clinton's cabinet, and currently comments on items of the day for both MSNBC and CNN. In his current-affairs book, Beyond The Down Low, Boykin took a hard look at closted gay men who live double lives, for fear their sexuality will result in their ostracism from society. During the years Boykin was an active, vocal advocate for the LGBT community, his writings challenged people to re-examine their attitudes towards gays and lesbians with sober, fearless prose. Courage is almost a prerequisite for gay authors, and this is especially true when you're a gay pastor. The division between gays, lesbians and their churches is a long, sad litany of hatred and bigotry perpetrated in the name of God. Reverend Kevin E. Taylor, pastor of the Unity Fellowship Church of New Brunswick (UFCNB), is such a courageous man. With his works, Jaded and Uncluttered, Rev. Taylor comes upon us to let the world know that God does not hate His chikdren, gay or lesbian though they might be. Without apology, Rev. Taylor shows us that we are all welcome under God's roof, statements to the contrary from less enlightened churches and clergy notwithstanding. Taylor teaches us to accept ourselves and our fellows, even in matters at the heart of the gay experience, the way we express love and sexuality.
Gay love and sexuality are the defining attributes of our community, and it is to these concepts that our literature most often speaks. We live, we love, and we share our intense passions in our stories. Bringing our sexuality to life is the province of authors who write gay erotica, one of the most challenging areas of the gay genre. Erotica deals with, as its name implies, the sexual aspect of relationships between people. Sexuality is inextricably linked to gay life, and erotica in gay literature is an important expression of who we, as a community, are. Explorers of gay erotica, such as Taylor Siluwe (Dancing With The Devil, Best Gay Erotica '08), Lee Hayes(Passion Marks, A Deeper Blue, The Messiah, Flesh To Flesh Anthology), and Stanley Bennett Clay (Looker, In Search Of Pretty Young Black Men), each bring out the beauty, wonder, and delight of our love lives in fine form and substance.
Sometimes, social issues find their way into erotic writing, as Nathan James reminds us in The Devil's Details, which combines the unbridled passions of its characters with a strong statement on the absurdity of hatred.
In every way, all of our contemporary gay writers of color describe our world with joy and clarity. Modern American literature is enhanced by the addition of the gay genre, and all who set pen to paper today stand on the shoulders of giants, and strive to reach even higher levels of expression tomorrow. Get to know them as autumn becomes winter, and the time to curl up with a few good books draws nigh.