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  • Taking Care of Our BlessingsLooking Forward in Black Queer Writing Studies
  • Eric Darnell Pritchard (bio)


In readings, signings, and letters to dear friends, comrades, and collaborators, firebrand poet Essex Hemphill told us “take care of your blessings,” and I believe him.1 In an interview, he further develops his oft-repeated phrase, saying it is a reminder to “just be aware of what your particular things are and nurture them and use them toward a positive way of living.”2 On the occasion of this thirty-year retrospective of Black Queer Studies, I am meditating on the blessings of this ever-flourishing field and its work in the classroom, on the page, in the world, and above all, in our hearts. Black Queer Studies is soul food, and the time for such (self) reflection is always right now. That is, the forever prompt of how we make and remake not only a field—but a life—with and through the worldmaking instrument of Black Queer Studies is always on time.

I recognize these instruments as the first of the blessings that give us our Black queer feminist life as we create the world we all deserve. These first blessings—those ancestor, elder, and kindred activists, artists, scholars, educators—all Black queer feminist alchemists who made the documentation, preservation, celebration, and sharing of Black queer life, culture, and politics their life’s work, has nurtured and sustained the work and the people with the alchemy of love, fortitude, courage, and care that has made everything possible. The theories, concepts, archives, pedagogies, and other tools of Black queer worldmaking within and beyond, before and after, are the manifestation of what we have come to call “Black Queer Studies” in [End Page 5] all the variations on this rich theme in the work so many make, cherish, and take joy. From literature, history, and visual and performance art, to community organizing, community education, and spiritual and metaphysical healing activism, Black Queer Studies has amassed a glorious and challenging corpus.

My approach and contribution to this corpus has been as a scholar interested in the literacy and rhetorical traditions of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and nonbinary people, and its intersections with education, fashion, beauty, popular culture, and activism. Pursuant to this interest, I wrote a book, Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy, which explored Black queer meanings of literacy as theorized through the life stories of sixty Black LGBTQ people of various ages living across all regions of the United States. Two key takeaways from these interviews, which I examine in greater detail in the book, is (1) the many insights about Black queer literacies one can gain through attentiveness to reception with regards to the cultural texts and contexts of works on Black queer history, literature, visual and performance art, and activism, and (2) how historical erasure of Black LGBTQ life, culture, politics and contributions from world history formed an occasion of which many of my research participants were aware and felt the ancestral and communal call to employ literacies and rhetorics to intervene.

In terms of reception, my research participants would provide insight into the meanings of Black LGBTQ literature to their lives that I had not considered or in some cases introduce me to texts I had never even heard about. Every interview was a gift for a number of reasons, but especially because I was having the opportunity to discern Black queer meanings of literacy and Black queer literary culture through the experiences of a wide range of people who were making their lives, loves, and legacies in relation to and apart from these works. Similarly, with regards to historical erasure, as I note in Fashioning Lives and elsewhere,3 my research participants’ literacy lives illuminated the centrality of Black LGBTQ writing and writers to achieving what Toni Morrison called “rootedness”4 in the Black, feminist, and queer literacy and rhetorical tradition, despite historical erasures that could have rendered that rootedness an impossibility.

It was seeing my research participants locating Black queer ancestors like Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, and so many others; having Black queer literature...


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