There is no shortage of super talented gay writers in the world, but one group that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is gay black writers.
The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s saw the first emergence of gay black writers and artists, including Langston Hughes, Richard Bruce Nugent, Wallace Thurman, and James Weldon Johnson.
The 1980s saw another renaissance of sorts for gay black writers, with voices like Joseph Beam, Melvin Dixon, Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs gaining national attention.
Here are some of our favorite gay black writers from over the years. Add more to the list in the comments section below.
Essex Hemphill’s writing has been published in dozens of journals, anthologies, and magazines including Gay Community News, The Advocate, and Essence, among countless others.
His most popular collection of poems and essays was 1993’s Ceremonies, which addressed issues including the sexual objectification of black men in white culture, relationships between gay black men and heterosexual black men, how HIV/AIDS affected the black community, and the meaning of family.
Hemphill died of AIDS-related complications in 1995. He was 38 years old. A biography about him called Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS written by award-winning gay author Martin Duberman was published last year.
James Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and critic who first rose to prominence in 1953 with his semi-autobiographical debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. He followed that up with his 1956’s Giovanni’s Room, a groundbreaking novel that offered readers a complex representation of homosexuality and same-sex desire rarely depicted in literature before.
According to Baldwin, his publisher initially told him to “burn the book,” fearing that the theme of homosexuality would alienate his readers. Indeed, after it was published, Baldwin received quite a bit of backlash. Today, Giovanni’s Room is considered to be one of the most important gay novels of the 20th century.
Assotto Saint was a Haitian-born American poet, short story writer, essayist, and performance artist. His work has been featured in a variety of anthologies and in 1992 he was awarded the Lambda Literary Award in poetry from his anthology The Road Before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets.
Saint died of AIDS-related complications in 1994. Two years later, his posthumous book called Spells of a Voodoo Doll: The Poems, Fiction, Essays and Plays of Assotto Saint, which blended elements of autobiography with an anthology of his previously published writings, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the Gay Biography or Autobiography category.
Langston Hughes was a poet, short story writer, novelist, columnist and leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Despite his celebrity writer status, he remained tight-lipped about his personal life, though it is widely agreed upon by many academics and biographers that he was gay.
Hughes often wrote in code. His poem “To F.S.” is believed to be about Ferdinand Smith, a sailor from Jamaica whom Hughes maintained a close relationship with for over thirty years, and a collection of unpublished love poems frequently refer to another man as “Beauty.”
Originally from rural North Carolina, much of Randall Kenan’s fiction explores what it means to be black and gay in the southern United States. Among his critically-acclaimed books is the collection of short stories Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 1992, and a 2011 anthology of previously unpublished works by James Baldwin which Kenan compiled and edited.
Kenan is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and the John Dos Passos Prize.
Joseph Beam was a writer and activist whose articles and short stories were featured in numerous gay publications, including Gay Community News, Philadelphia Gay News, The Advocate, and the Windy City Times, among others. In 1984, he was awarded a certificate for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist by the Lesbian and Gay Press Association.
His 1986 book In the Life was the first anthology of writing by gay black men. Although it was initially ignored by critics and academic institutions, today it is widely regarded as a literary and cultural milestone in gay literature.
E. Lynn Harris
E. Lynn Harris was a popular urban novelist who wrote ten consecutive books all of which reached The New York Times Best Seller list, making him one of the most successful gay, African American authors of his generation. In addition to his novels, his 2003 memoir What Becomes of the Brokenhearted became a national bestseller. He died in 2009.
Charles M. Blow
Charles M. Blow’s bestselling memoir Fire Shut Up In My Bones describes growing up as a bisexual youth in a African-American town in Louisiana and the struggles he faced as a young adult coming to terms with his sexuality. The book, which was published in fall 2014, has been lauded by critics and was included on the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books 0f 2014 and Publishers Weekly list of Best Books of 2014.
Is It True What They Say About Black Men?
The Last Chapter: A Look At LGBT Bookstores Around The World
Black Lesbians Sang The Blues And Bucked Convention In The 1920s
It’s a bit depressing tha most of them are death. There’s no good gay black writers alive to promote?
I am not a poetry fan but a read a lot of positive reviews of Prelude to bruise by Saeed Jones (and it wasn’t in gay media)
@jjose712: Some of them are dead not death
@jjose712: There are more. This isn’t a complete list. It’s just a set Queety chose as its favorites. “Here are some of our favorite gay black writers from over the years. Add more to the list in the comments section below.”
James Baldwin is an amazing writer.
Go Tell It On The Mountain and Giovanni’s Room are absolute must reads imo.
What about Sapphire? Countee Cullen?
I appreciate this list. I’ll be looking for some of these titles at the library this afternoon. Thanks!
LOVE E. Lynn Harris. folks, pick up a copy of Invisible Life.
@demented: As usual, I believe Queerty is focusing on gay MEN. There are clearly many women who could be included in the list. The one who comes to mind is Audre Lorde.
Although he is known primarily as a filmmaker, I’d add Marlon Riggs to the list.
@KiraNerysRules: I’m pretty sure there are more.
Here in Spain there are more representation of afroamerican female writers (Jesmyn Ward, Ayana Mathis) than male (gay or straight) writers. At least on recent years
You forgot the best of them all—Samuel R. Delany
Yes, was also going to mention Samuel Delaney. Apart from his fiction, I recently read his “Times Square Red, Times Square Blue,” which was impossible to put down.
I think this article is great for naming black gay authors who paved a way for the people that are out right now. I do however feel that they should have named the 30 black gay authors that are out right now. I feel that people should do their homework and research properly. here are the following Black gay authors that are out and have been out for the past 15 to 20 years:
1)James Early Hardy
3)Kevin E. Taylor
5)M. W. Moore
6)Stanley Bennett Clay
7)M. T. Pope
8)Timothy Michael Carson
9)L. M. Ross
14)Shad O. Walker
20)Beast aka Gavin ML Fletcher
21)Carter J. Banks
24)Reginald K. White
26)J’son M Lee
30)Nathan Seven Scott
These Black gay authors can be found on http://www.amazon.com and you can buy their books in book form or e-reader form.
@Blacqlove: Dude really? It is not that serious…Are you that desperate to prove you have knowledge. you probably haven’t read haveof these peoples books…. GET YOUR LIFE!!!”
@vive: I read that book he came across as letcherous, and creepy.
I see that Queerty says” some of our favorite Black writers.” These are some of my favorite writers period…
There are quite a few black gay male writers to check out, including ones not named in the very short and even longer lists above.
There’s a great new compilation called Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call, edited by Charles Stephens and Steven G. Fullwood, which has essays, memoristic pieces, fiction, poetry, interviews, and more, and just came out last month from Vintage Entity Press.
Two great landmark anthologies of Black gay writing are In the Life, edited by Joseph Beam, and Brother to Brother: New Writing By Black Gay Men: A Black Gay Anthology, edited by Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill, both of which have been reissued by RedBone Press. RedBone, like Vintage Entity Press, is owned and run by Black gay people, so you’re supporting a LGBT business by buying their books.
Also, before he passed away, E. Lynn Harris edited Freedom In This Village: 25 Years of Black Gay Men’s Writing, which was published in 2005. It has a great range of work going back pretty far up through the last decade, and is definitely worth checking out.
@remyfacade: “… It is not that serious…”
Actually it is! Dr. Seuss won’t cut it pass first grade!
@Kangol: Thank you for you additions. “Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call” got pass me!
Samuel Delany is also worth a mention. Hugely influential writer of SciFi and is currently the Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago.
@Kernos: haha sorry didn’t see your comment about Samuel Delany before I added my own.
@Clark35: “I read that book [Samuel Delaney] came across as letcherous, and creepy.”
I personally didn’t find that. However, I can see why you say that. Let me just remark that in my opinion, that aspect doesn’t make the book less fascinating – on the contrary, it makes it an even better book.
I’m reading Randall Kenan now – his non-fiction work, Walking on Water, is about African-Americans, many in quite unlikely places. I like it.
And I consider it my job to make sure people don’t forget the late Steven Corbin, who died in 1995. His works include “Fragments That Remain”, “A Hundred Days From Now,” and “No Easy Place To Be.” He was also an advocate for other writers, and taught at UCLA.
@Clark35: Well, Delany supports NAMBLA, so…
@jwtraveler: Yeah, it’s all very malecentric. Honestly when I think of black queer writers, I think of Sapphire first, partly because she was my first exposure. And there are a lot of female poets and writers who can also qualify.
Comments are closed.