In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • New Narratives in Gabrielle Daniels and Ishmael Houston-Jones1
  • David Grundy (bio)

Introduction: New Narrative and Race

Originating as a private joke between Robert Glück and Bruce Boone (Jackson 26), the term 'New Narrative' is as capacious as it is specific: as concerned with coterie poetics as with movement-building, with gossip as with political discourse, with sex as with death. For Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian, New Narrative is more "sensibility" than "genre" (482). For Steve Abbott, meanwhile, New Narrative "ar[ose] out of specific social and political concerns of specific communities" ("Soup Intro" 1). Such communities refer, firstly, to the specific groupings of writers who socialized, shared intimate relationships, referenced each other in their work, and described themselves or were described by others as being practitioners of New Narrative. These writers were predominantly, though not exclusively, gay white men based in San Francisco. But Abbott's definition extended beyond this group. Abbott conceived of New Narrative as a descriptor of what was already happening across as well as within multiple communities politicized by their variously marginalized experiences. New Narrative thus existed as both a writing practice and an organizational imperative: from the ambitious 1981 Left/Write conference organized by Abbott, Boone, and Glück, to the smaller-scale workshops held at Small Press Traffic bookstore, which in turn intersected with workshops held by Gloria Anzaldúa and the activities of the Women Writers Union (WWU).2 Boone's important theoretical work of the period, including the pamphlet [End Page 296] Toward a Gay Theory for the '80s (1981) and the Social Text essay "Gay Language as Political Praxis: The Poetry of Frank O'Hara" (1979), also stressed the need for coalition building between writing and activist communities (Dismembered 22–77, 78–91). Given these events, we might be tempted—while bearing in mind the imprecise uses to which Kimberlé Crenshaw's original coinage has been put—to understand the material networks and aesthetics of New Narrative as intersectional (Crenshaw 139–67).

Nonetheless, Boone's writing, as that of many other white gay male writers, tended to deploy race as a predominantly comparative modality for queerness, overlooking the possibility of a racialized queerness separate to the experience of white gay men (Toward a Gay Theory 6; "Gay Language" 87). With notable exceptions, such as Robin Tremblay-McGaw's essay "New Narrative Remix: 'Not Resembling the Face in the Mirror'" (2017), existing scholarship has so far given us a generally white version of New Narrative, attentive to questions of gender and sexuality but quieter on the contribution, presence, or absence of writers of color. This essay by no means aims to rewrite the entirety of that history. Instead, I focus on two writers, Gabrielle Daniels and Ishmael Houston-Jones, associated with New Narrative circles and featured in Bellamy and Killian's New Narrative anthology, Writers Who Love Too Much, as well as at the recent Communal Presence conference at UC Berkeley (both in 2017) but rarely mentioned in discussions of New Narrative. In so doing, I hope not only to draw attention to Daniels' and Houston-Jones' valuable and understudied work but to begin a conversation about race and New Narrative that others may extend in the future.

This, in turn, might encourage us to look at other contemporaneous returns to narrative, operating from an axis quite different from that deployed by New Narrative's most prominent theorists. In this light, New Narrative would become not simply a term for a particular group of writers in San Francisco (with satellites in Los Angeles and New York) with a shared devotion to French theory, contemporary Marxism, queer sex, and Spicerian coterie poetics, but a hinge for opening up questions of how racial and sexual narrativization functions more generally: how we narrate and are narrativized by and as racialized, sexualized bodies, moving through an "ever-shifting landscape of constraints" (Goldman 315).

This essay is divided in two halves, the first devoted to Daniels and the [End Page 297] second to Houston-Jones. Because these writers are understudied, I take the opportunity to present biographical material alongside readings of poems and texts. My intention is both to provide an overview of...