Carry the Word
Steven Fullwood, archivist at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is a very busy man. In addition to his pioneering work as Project Director of the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive at the Center, he is also a prolific writer, editor, and publisher. Last year, Fullwood co-edited an essential bibliography of Black LGBT writings with Lisa C. Moore, editor of RedBone Press, Carry the Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Writings. Recently, Steven and Lisa slowed down for a few moments to answer a few questions about Carry the Word and their upcoming plans.
Jason Baumann: How did you get the idea for the book?
Lisa C. Moore: The idea was a joint one, between Steven, Reginald Harris (author of the Lammy-nominated collection of poems, Ten Tongues) and I. We’re all on the board of Fire & Ink, Inc., and we thought that a bibliography of black LGBTQ books would be a great way to fundraise for Fire & Ink, an organization devoted to increasing the understanding, visibility and awareness of the works of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender writers of African descent and heritage.
Steven and Reggie are librarians, and know the wisdom and value of bibliographies; I liked the idea of such a singular resource. It’s never been done like this before. There was a bibliography of black lesbian writing edited by J.R. Roberts called Black Lesbians: An Annotated Bibliography published by Naiad Press back in 1981, but not much since. Steven and I agreed to enter into a co-publishing agreement and donate all proceeds to Fire & Ink. We—Steven, Reggie and I—began compiling it just before the first Fire & Ink writers festival in 2002; we constructed a pamphlet titled “Our Black Books,” and we listed all the titles we knew of. It was a little thing printed at Kinko’s. After the conference, we added to the list as we discovered new titles, and as new titles were published. We scoured library lists; Amazon.com; resource lists in the backs of books such as Black Like Us, edited by Devon Carbado, Dwight McBride and Donald Weise (Cleis Press); we perused our own bookshelves (since we’re serious bibliophiles); we asked for recommendations from all manner of folk; we kept in touch with self-published authors. We really do think we’ve obtained a good list with breadth and depth.
Steven G. Fullwood: Yeah, what she said. No, seriously though, Lisa encapsulates the history of this project quite wonderfully. In addition to the Roberts’ bibliography, Robert Reid-Pharr, author of Black Gay Man: Essays, and Once You Go Black: Desire, Choice and Black Masculinity in Post-War America, compiled a bibliography of black gay men’s writing that appeared in Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, recently republished by RedBone Press, which listed a series of books, journals, and periodicals by black gay authors and publishers. And recently I discovered Colorful People and Places, a resource guide for “Third World Lesbians and Gay men…and for White people who share their interests,” edited by Michael J. Smith in 1983, produced by the Quarterly Press of Black and White Men Together, now Men of All Colors Together. Although the publication primarily lists places that are specifically queer, Smith also includes a number of publications produced by organizations or independently, some that I have never heard of before. I invoke both items up because they serve as precedents to Carry the Word, along with Roberts’ bibliography, as well as nod to every black queer magazine or journal that featured interviews with writers, or reviewed books by lesser known writers in the community. I’d also add that Carry the Word “carries” the mission of Fire & Ink in supporting black queer writers and literature in both a substantial and functional way. Bookstores and libraries benefit from having this resource, as well as casual readers who simply want to know what’s out there.
JB: Your inclusion of the interviews brings everything home in a concrete way. How did you structure the book?
LCM: We consciously decided to include interviews and reviews of black LGBTQ books so that the bibliography could appeal to a wider audience than libraries and booksellers checking titles to add to their collections. We wanted the book to appeal to aspiring writers who wanted to know more about the writing process and what a writer’s life is like; we also wanted to appeal to readers who wanted to augment their personal collections, and readers who wanted the vicarious experience of talking to an author at a book signing. The result is, we think, a great resource for every aspect of a book’s possible audience: readers, writers, academics, librarians, collectors, community organizations, and book clubs. Luckily, Steven had already interviewed several writers for his blog and I was a former editor of Lambda Book Report, so I asked for permission from them to reprint interviews and reviews of black LGBTQ books and writers I’d published while I was editor. The resulting combination is what you see here.
SGF: I think it was Reginald Harris’s idea to bring this element into the project, and in doing so, I think the bibliography succeeds in appealing to a broad range of people in a very useful and potentially long-lasting way.
JB: I was delighted by how far you cast your net as to who is included under Black LGBTQ, particularly your inclusion of Latino and Caribbean writers. How did you navigate problems of identity in making the selections?
LCM: Ah… that was and will continue to be a tricky, complicated, intense process. Of course we wrestled with U.S. notions of identity—plenty of people we in the U.S. would consider black in Brazil or many parts of the Caribbean, for example, would not agree with us. In the end we became all-inclusive. We wanted to include books that were written by LGBTQ writers of African descent, which necessarily includes a diaspora, since African people and culture ended up all over the Americas and elsewhere as a result of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and current trends of immigration/emigration. We also included books that have black LGBTQ protagonists, even if they weren’t written by black LGBTQ authors; we believed those books have value to a black LGBTQ audience looking for themselves within the pages. Same argument for books written by black LGBTQ authors that had no LGBTQ content; we decided that it should be known that these books were valuable, too.
SGF: Navigating identity issues are always complicated, and are doubly so because of the tenuous constructions of race and sexuality, past and present, here and abroad. But inclusivity is tremendously helpful as queer black-identified writers (and those who may not identify as either) work through these issues, directly or indirectly, and it’s wonderful for LGBTQ folk who deserve the range of literature available that wrestle with these issues in a 21st Century context. Being queer in the 1920s in Harlem is different from what’s going on in contemporary Harlem, despite similarities around issues such as race, economics, the arts scenes, activism, and gentrification, to name a few. We, meaning the black LGBTQ communities, need and deserve all writing that’s been published that focuses on some aspect of queerness in an African and African-diasporic context, or by writers who identified as such (or not, in some cases.)
JB: What are you up to next?
LCM: Reggie, Steven and I are currently working on the second edition of Carry the Word, to debut at the next Fire & Ink writers festival in October 2009. So we’re adding interviews, and of course adding titles published between 2007 and mid-2009, and any we may have missed in the first edition. I, under the guise of RedBone Press, am reprinting my first title, does your mama know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, for November 2008; also upcoming is Our Names Be Witness by Marvin K. White, and a new title by an author I can’t name because we haven’t signed the contract yet. And, of course, creating the next Fire & Ink writers festival in Austin, Texas. Busy, busy, busy!
SGF: Yep, there’s Carry the Word, and the planning and execution of Fire & Ink: Cotillion, and, well, that should be enough, but of course it isn’t. As publisher of Vintage Entity Press, we have several titles in the works for 2009 including KONG & Other Works, by Pamela Sneed, author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery; Diagnosis, a book of poetry by Raymond Berry; and Anacaona’s Garden, a novella by Afro-Dominican writer, Curu Necos-Bloice.