- A New Dawn, a New DayWelcoming a Golden Age of Black Quare/Queer Male Life Studies
“It’s a new dawn / It’s a new day / It’s a new life / For me / And I’m feeling good!” The lyrics of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, sung by the incomparable Nina Simone, aptly sums up my ebullience and belief that in the second decade of the twenty-first century we have entered a Golden Age of black quare/queer male life writing. Consider the appearance of these fine memoirs by black quare/queer males that have also been national bestsellers: Casey Gerald, There Will Be No Miracles Here (2018); Darnell Moore, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America (2018); Michael Arceneaux, I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyonce (2018); and Charles M. Blow, Fire Shut Up in My Bones (2014), the latter of which is also the basis for an operatic treatment by jazz musician Terence Blanchard and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons that premiered at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2019. Janet Mock could be on this list, too, for Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More (2014). Notably, this list is not confined solely to the United States, but includes works by authors in other areas of the English-speaking African diaspora, such as Nigerian writer Chike Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man (2017), which won the Lambda Literary Award for biography. Also on the list is Black and Gay in the UK: An Anthology (2014), edited by John R. Gordon and Rikki Beadle-Blair. Black quare/queer male life writing is represented in academic presses as well, as in Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music, edited by Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach (2015), and Marlon Bailey’s Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture in Detroit (2013). [End Page 1]
This Golden Age of black quare/queer life writing can be traced back to the efforts of what I call the Generation of 1986 to mark the year of the publication of Joseph Beam’s landmark In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology. As editor, Beam was inspired by Alain Locke’s classic Harlem Renaissance anthology, The New Negro. Whereas the times demanded that Locke’s anthology put its sexuality in the closet, Beam was battering down its walls. In the Life included poetry, essays, drama, art work, and short fiction by publicly gay black men. However, because Beam envisioned the anthology as a remedy to the paucity of black quare/queer life writing, he included a section, “Speaking for Ourselves,” which had interviews with writers Bruce Nugent and Samuel R. Delany, as well as the singer Blackberri. Beam was prescient in the decision to demonstrate that black quare/queer male life was not solely coastal urban sites when he traveled to the South for “Emmett’s Story: Russell County, Alabama.” These interviews can be seen as a “beginning” of a black quare/queer life writing project. When Beam died of AIDS, the poet Essex Hemphill completed the work that Beam had conceived, Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991). And science fiction writer Samuel Delany published the exhilarating memoir The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (1988).
Interestingly, black quare/queer male life stories were the subjects of two pioneering films from members of the Generation of 1986. Marlon Riggs represented his own life story, along with those of other black gay men, in the documentary Tongues Untied (1989). Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston (1991) was a lyrical meditation on the poet Langston Hughes and black gay erotic desire in the Harlem Renaissance. Both films were controversial. Tongues Untied was denounced as obscenity on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and a coalition of white evangelical and African American clergy successfully had the film banned in some markets from a scheduled screening on PBS. Julien revealed that the...