In 1994 the novel B-Boy Blues shot into the literary world playing Double Dutch with gay and hip-hop culture while introducing a new voice to that generation’s black SGL population. The book was bold in its language and mission to depict black gay love as something to aspire to as opposed to being vilified and doused in stereotypes. As a result it became a mainstream bestseller. The book passed the 100,000 sales mark in 2000.
Lest you think the author, James Earl Hardy, sat on his hands for the last two decades try this on for size: He wrote six sequels, including 2nd Time Around, If Only For One Nite, The Day Eazy-E Died, Love The One You’re With, and A House is Not a Home. His latest book Men of the House is scheduled for a 2017 release.
Now Hardy is bringing classic story to a classic medium – theater, from 8:30 – 10:30 p.m. this Friday as part of the My True Colors Festival a celebration of Social Justice and Cultural Diversity through the arts in Brooklyn.
“For years, others have told me the story would work on stage and encouraged me to do it,” Hardy said of his novel. “I’m glad I finally heeded their advice. There’s something very transcendent about seeing characters you’ve created come to life right before your eyes.”
We talked with Hardy about his work, his legacy and of course writing.
What changes did you have to account for now that is it a play? I.e. taking into account the visuals etc…
The major challenge was turning a 100,000 word novel into a ninety minute stage play without sacrificing the soul and sexiness. That meant subplots and certain characters couldn’t be included. Also, I went back and forth on whether the action should still unfold during the summer of 1993. I decided the novel represented that era well. As the audiences realize, the century, language, styles, fashions, and political/social players may have changed, but the love Mitchell and Raheim share hasn’t.
What is it like for you to collaborate with people on your work to create a new vision?
A little scary, since you’re placing your baby into the hands of others and you don’t know what they will do or where they will it go with it. But so inspiring, since both the director [Stanley Bennett Clay] and the cast have taken the work to places I never imagined it could go and peeling back layers to the characters I never knew existed. No two performances are the same, and I’ve cried at every single one.
There seems to be a perception that the millennial generation has no problem with gays? do you think that is true also of men of color?
Millennials/POC who are heterosexual have more exposure to our lives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are or will be less homophobic/heterosexist. We still live in a culture where heterosexuality is the default, where we can be fired from our jobs just for being who we are, where some 200 plus anti-gay/”religious freedom” laws are being debated/passed, where it’s not safe for some of us to walk down the street, where the massacre of dozens of LGBTQI people in a club is met with indifference, condemnation, even applause.
What is the thing you heard most from readers when your book first came out?
Thank you. Thank you for telling my story, for letting me know I am not alone, for affirming Blackness and gayness, for confirming that I can be proud of and celebrate all of me.
What do you hear now from people who read your book now?
Most are surprised such a book was written over twenty years ago! Some still can’t believe that SGL men like Raheim exist — as if gay and hip hop are or were ever mutually exclusive life stations. Yesterday it was hand-written mailed letters; today, I receive Facebook, email and Twitter messages from teenagers and adults who have discovered the novel — and end up discovering themselves. That’s still the greatest gift.
You still think there is space for our stories in novels?
It’s not a question of is there space; we just have to name it and claim it.
What is your rehearsal schedule like for the play?
At the time you came out there was Lynn and yourself being the biggest authors that I knew of in this space. Do you think there will be another black gay literature renaissance. Or do you think it will be in a different medium?
Two authors a Black gay literary renaissance does not make. Given the success we enjoyed, there should have been dozens of other Black SGL authors receiving the same opportunities and attention. E and I were viewed and treated like aberrations by the industry. So I’m glad to see other Black SGL writers like K. Murry Johnson, Armani Williams, Myles E. Johnson and Victor Yates continuing that tradition.
B-Boy Blues was also activism in a sense talking about safer sex, our black identity. How do you think of the arts and activism and how they intersect?
Our very existence as Black SGL men is a political act; depending on who you talk to, we don’t or aren’t supposed to exist. So whatever we create — literature, film, theater, television, dance, music — interrogates the still prevalent, misguided notions that gay = white and Black = heterosexual.
When I think back upon B-Boy Blues there was a definitely PRO-BLACK mantra. A calling for brothers to love themselves and other brothers. Do you feel we have lived up to the books hopes?
A communion of Black SGL men who live and love outside of a white gay milieu has always existed; that’s one of the reasons I wrote B-Boy, to give voice to those gents. But I never thought I’d see the day when so many of us would be exchanging rings and declaring our love for each other so publicly, so unapologetically. Two Black men standing before God, standing in their truth, standing up for their love, standing up for love? You can’t get more gangsta than that.