HERU: Why this book and why now, both for you and for the world?
STEVEN: TO BE LEFT WITH THE BODY is the third in a series of books created by and for Black gay men produced by AIDS Project Los Angeles as a creative way to address HIV risk.
That said, the book is both nostalgic and magical for me, a grateful return to the first editing job I ever had. My experience with Colin Robinson, formerly the Executive Director of New York State Black Gay Network, and George Ayala, then the outreach educator/coordinator from APLA, taught me how to collaborate with editors and writers, solicit work from artists and to dedicate myself to the process. Working with Colin, George and the writers in Think Again was a critical step toward opening my own press a year later. I thank George and specifically Pato Hebert, who helmed the project for APLA, for allowing me this space to create and refine my thinking about the endless possibilities in doing HIV outreach to Black gay men. Both men were open to new things and continuously strive to do their work in creative, profound ways. It was a joy to work with Pato on this project because his vision and talents are expansive. Not only did he design the book, he also gave Cheryl and I space to imagine this project without limiting us. All we had to do is hit our deadlines. Check out his work on the countless APLA publications online at apla.org.
CHERYL: Thank you, Heru, for doing this interview. Actually, I got introduced to the publications of AIDS Project Los Angeles with Vol.4, Issue 1 of CORPUS, edited by Alex Juhasz in 2006, in which I published an article on Black Gay Writing. That particular issue explored women’s relationships with HIV+ men.
However, working with you, Steven, on TBLWTB, recalled my work on CONDITIONS from 1981 to 1990. If you remember, CONDITIONS was a feminist journal “of writing for women with an emphasis on writing by lesbians,” begun in Brooklyn in 1977. Together with a multi-racial collective of dykes—Dorothy Allison, Jewelle Gomez, Mariana Romo-Carmona, Elly Bulkin, Jan Clausen, among the many over the course of the time I was an editor—we gathered and edited the writing of scores of women writing for women during the most active and activist period of lesbian-feminist publishing in the 20th century--and so far, the 21st century. Barbara Smith’s groundbreaking article, “Towards a Black Feminist Criticism,” appeared in CONDITIONS: TWO in 1977. This article radicalized criticism of Black women’s writing. So many of us, as critics, lesbian and non-lesbian, owe our orientations to Smith’s article, in which, among many other things, she interpreted Morrison’s SULA as a “lesbian novel.” You both may also remember CONDITIONS: FIVE, THE BLACK WOMEN’S ISSUE in 1979, guest-edited by Barbara Smith and Lorraine Bethel, which was the first publication to feature self-identified Black lesbian writers. So, TBLWTB took me back to those halcyon days of lesbian-feminism.
STEVEN: Yes, Cheryl, CONDITIONS, FIVE was quite important for me as a young Black gay man. It sort of showed me a way and opened a way for APLA’s publications and TBLWTB.
CHERYL: Except we could not distribute CONDITIONS for free!
STEVEN: Oh yes! TBLWTB, for the world, specifically the Black queer community, groundbreaking as it is the first co-gender, co-edited journal produced by APLA, and contains both male and female writers and expands the original premise of the book by also considering the impact that HIV/AIDS has on not just Black gay males, but also the Black queer community en masse; those who carry the virus, conjuring those who have passed, aging, and probably most interesting, an acceptance of life and death wrought in creative, thought-provoking ways. More importantly there is a celebration of the body which is something Black -people have always been mindful of as a legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Being told we were nothing but bodies is a confounding feeling. It hurts you where you live, born into pain because of one’s very body. Learning the history and my own complicity in self-denigration has led me on a quest not only to recover and celebrate my body in my life and writing, but to assess how this disembodiment has impacted the Black community, specifically Black queer bodies. Whose body is this, exactly? Fodder for Republicans? Whipping children for “normal” Black people? A voiceless, disembodied sociological experiment, always subject to, or farmed as white fantasies and terrors? The photo on the cover was taken when I was in Ghana, at Cape Coast at the Elmina Slave Castle. The last look at by some of our ancestors before they were shipped off to God knows where to be enslaved or killed. That abuse is in the blood memory and pain-body of the diasporic African. We need to remember this, so we can heal ourselves, the larger picture of how I believe we should address HIV/AIDS risk.
CHERYL: If I could chime in, Steven and Heru, about the body, the Black body, and the Black body’s pain: I’d like to say that I think the body records history, and this is infinitely crucial for and to the Black body—yours and mine and those of the contributors to TO BE LEFT WITH THE BODY who share the body of their work with us. The lesions, the scars, the wounds (which are historical record) remind us subconsciously and consciously and psychically of the last view of the edge of the Guinea coast and the first view of the West Indies and then the final debarkations in Boston or the Georgia Sea Islands or New York.
Wherever. Inside of all of us in the West, no matter whom we pass or pose as, there is a Black body in all of us—rather like that “Black Mother” Lorde says is in all of us. Sorta like Heru’s “Black mama sauce!” [a poem from Conjuring Black Funk: Notes on Culture, Sexuality and Spirituality, Vol. 1, Vintage Entity Press, 2007.)
STEVEN: Yes, “Black mama sauce.” Visual representations of the bodies in the book compliment the stunning array of poems, essays and short stories that affirm “bodyspeak” before, during and after sex; during and after HIV/AIDS; as the body returns to dust; and the undertaking of the body as a text itself in remembrance pieces.
What does it mean to be left with the body in today’s world? Witness war on the television and in the papers. Ask someone who is often reduced in public discourse to nothing but a body to be controlled, abused and discarded. Queer bodies, Black bodies, bodies of color, working-class bodies, poor and disaffected bodies. To be left with a body in revolt, in joy, in pain, pleasure, writhing, wheezing, erupting, moving toward its end. These are the places I think the book goes, with clear eyes, no pity, no regrets. Witness.
To continue reading go to Blackfunk.org.