I’ve decided to start posting a series of interviews with gay men of color about their relationship to writing, reading, and the American South. As you will soon see, everyone comes to the Word from a very unique place. I’m thrilled to have Darnell Moore – a good friend, scholar, and activist – to help me kick off this series.
Darnell’s work has appeared in Theology & Sexuality, Black Theology: An International Journal, Momentum, Seeing the Other; Combahee Survival E-Zine, and Arts & Understanding (forthcoming). He presently serves as Associate Director of the Newark Schools Research Collaborative and Affiliate of the Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers, Newark. In addition, Mayor Cory A. Booker recently appointed Darnell as Chair of the City of Newark’s LGBTQ Advisory Commission. He holds a MA in Counseling (Eastern University) and MA in Theological Studies (Princeton Theological Seminary).
What, if any, is your relationship to the American South? (Feel free to be a little creative with this one if necessary.)
The “South” has always represented, for me, a sense of place: the geographical space where dirt carried the traces of my people’s past…home. Yet, I also think of the South as unhurried (regarding its acceptance of queer/LGBT folk) and unbothered (in terms of its conservatisms…laughs)! However, I am continually challenged to rethink my views of the American “South” (which, like the Global “South”) remains an epicenter of progressive change and opportunity. I am still reluctant to move to the South because of my love for Jersey and New York, but I am beginning to realize that those of us living “down” North have much to learn from our sisters and brothers “up” South.
What was the last book you read that you would suggest to young gay men of color?
I am currently reading In the Life: A Gay Black Anthology edited by Joseph Beam. It is a collection of inspiring writings by several well-known (and not-so-well known writers/activists/poets) that was initially published in 1986. Happily, In the Life was re-released by RedBone Press in 2008. I would encourage all young gay/bi/queer/SGL men of color to purchase and “consume” In the Life: it will encourage and strengthen young brothers. Indeed, I think that many young people will find that their struggles through have been shared by writers like Essex Hemphill, Samuel R. Delany, Melvin Dixon, James Timmey and Oye Apeji Ajanuku among others, whose essays and/or poems appear in the collection. For me, In the Life reminds me that I am part of a wider community… a lineage of warriors…and that I am not alone in the struggle for justice or my walk towards full self and communal love.
What was the first book you read with gay characters and/or themes? Did it have any impact on your life or writing?
The first book that I read (secretly, every chance that I could) was E. Lynn Harris’s Invisible Life. I was in lust and in love with Raymond Tyler, the main character in the book. Interestingly, I encountered Invisible Life during a period in my life when my desires for a male partner had everything to do with his masculine performance and Invisible Life reinforced those desires. I was in search for Raymond and nothing less (laughs). So, yes, Invisible Life definitely had an impact on my understanding of gender performance and sexuality…that is, until life and experiences challenged my thinking (laughs again). In terms of its impact on my writing, I felt more of a need to tell the story of the young gay/bi/queer/SGL men of color that I knew: the non-Raymonds…the working class brothers…the street hustlers…the brother who prefers to perform femininity or transgress gender roles/rules altogether…and/or the brothers who maintained blue collar gigs. I try to tell the stories of those who are often unnamed and less spoken off in the mainstreamed literature of Black gay/bi/queer/SGL folk, whether I am writing an essay, story, or poem.
Why do you keep reading and/or writing?
I read and write as a means of survival…for myself and for my community.
I wrote a poem that I named “A Love Letter”, as an exercise for an E-zine titled Combahee Survival Zine that speaks to my motivation for writing. It reads:
i scribble my judgments/my feelings/my love/my rage/my life: on paper.
i locate my “self” in the dis-located spaces that seek to confine me: on paper
i refuse to be bound, i’m a refugee on a journey constantly scuffling with violent metonyms (it’s hard being a “faggot”) and authoritarian ideals: on paper
if i don’t, then those behind me won’t feel the residual heat of my incensed voice: on paper.
so i write.
This particular section speaks to my desire to use the pen and my brain as weapons against injustices. I can remember my eighth grade language arts instructor, Ms. Webb, scolding me in front of my classmates about the poor quality of my writing; in fact, she told me that I couldn’t write well at all. Ironically, the very skill that she decried has become the tool that I now rely on for survival. And, I will keep writing for this reason…