Tag Archives: Alyson Books

Essex Hemphill: Brother From Another Planet

The first time I heard Essex Hemphill‘s name was in the documentary Black Is… Black Ain’t by Marlon Riggs. His poetry was interwoven into the documentary beautifully. Hemphill began writing at age 14 and studied English at the University of the District of Columbia.

Not only was Hemphill a poet but also an activist for equality and gay rights. In 1980 Hemphill outed himself during “a poetry reading at the Founders Library at Howard University. From the mid-1980s until his death, Hemphill became perhaps the most well-known Black gay male writer in the United States since James Baldwin,” according to Dr. Wilfred D. Samuels, General Editor of A Gift of Story/Encyclopedia of African-American Literature.

Watch When My Brother Fell Performed by a D.C. Native

Hemphill “first gained national attention when his work appeared in the anthology In the Life (1986), a seminal collection of writings by black gay men. In 1989, his poems were featured in the award-winning documentaries Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston.” In 1990 Hemphill finished compiling Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, started by Joseph Beam. Beam died to AIDS-related complications in 1988. Brother to Brother won a Lambda Literary Award. Hemphill later published Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (Plume/New American Library), which was awarded the National Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award in 1993.

Hemphill’s poetry is in the new anthology, Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDSPoetry Anthologies), edited David Groff and Philip Clark (Alyson Books). Their have been readings from the anthology in San Francisco, D.C., and New York. Other poets anthologized in Persistent Voices are: Melvin Dixon, Chasen Gaver, Jim Everhard, Tim Dlugos, Reinaldo Arenas, Tory Dent, James Merrill, Paul Monette, and Joe Brainard.

“Persistent Voices is more than a catalogue of strong poetry by poets who were equally strong (in many ways),” Bryan Borland, an Amazon reviewer wrote. “Persistent Voices reminds us of the importance of poetry, of its place in society and of how it creates a degree of immortality. It teaches us, again, of how, with pen and paper, the truly persistent voices of these men and woman continue to be heard, to change lives, and to touch souls.”

Hemphill’s poetry is immortal. His poems have appeared in Essence, Black Scholar, Callaloo, Obsidian, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Advocate, and numerous other journals. His poems Dear Muthafuckin Dreams, Where Seed Falls, and American Wedding are in the anthology. In American Wedding Hemphill says:

They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

A powerful statement.

Watch Justin Vivian Bond Performing American Wedding

At an event titled Take Care of Your Blessings curated by Black Gay & Lesbian Archive Project, rare and unpublished manuscripts of Hemphill’s were featured. “Hemphill left three projects uncompleted: Standing in the Gap, a novel in which a mother challenges a preacher’s condemnation of her gay son who is suffering from AIDS; Bedside Companions, a collection of short stories by black gay men; and The Evidence of Being, narratives of older black gay men, which he had been working on since the early 90s in order to satisfy his curiosity about cultural and social history before the term “gay” entered popular usage.” Hemphill died in 1995 to AIDS-related complications.

One of my favorite Hemphill poems is The Father, Son and Unholy Ghosts. Read The Father, Son and Unholy Ghosts below and watch two YouTube performances of Hemphill’s work.

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Resources for Black Gay and Lesbian Writers

The Damaged Good, G. Winston James
The Damaged Good, G. Winston James
  • Redbone Press (LGBT Black publishing house based in Washington, D.C)
  • Cleis Press (Largest LGBT small indie press)
  • Strebor (Author Zane’s imprint with Simon & Schuster)
  • Alyson Books (Largest LGBT commercial press)
  • Vintage Entity Press (Small chapbook press with an impressive collection of Black gay and lesbian authors)
  • Tugson Press (Very small Black and Gay publisher found by Leo Shelton)

PUBLISHERS RECOMMENDED BY LAMBDA LITERARY FOUNDATION

MAGAZINES

  • Pulse (based out of New York, through GMAD, a black urban magazine)
  • Bleu (based out of New York, a black urban magazine)
  • Swerv (based out of DC, a black urban magazine)
  • SGL Weekly (a one man team based out of LA, a black urban magazine)
  • Curve (a mainstream lesbian magazine with celebrity interviews, news, politics, pop culture, style, travel, social issues and entertainment)
  • Callaloo (a non-gay-specific literary and cultural journal of the African Diaspora based at Texas A&M)
  • David (mainstream Atlanta-based print magazine)
  • Gay Chicago Magazine (an online-based mainstream magazine)
  • Mary: A Literary Quarterly (a literary magazine published quarterly that showcases queer/gay writings of artistic merit started by Black-nerd cutie William Johnson)
  • HotSpots Magazine (Florida’s largest gay publication covering news and events in South Florida)
  • Ambiente Magazine (The first & only LGBT publication offered in English, Spanish & Portuguese, produced bi-monthly, offered free of charge, and distributed digitally around the globe to thousands of our readers)

NEWSPAPERS

  • Windy City Times (a Chicago-based print newspaper)

WRITER’S RETREAT

  • Cave Canem (non gay-specific but gay friendly Black poetry retreat  at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and workshops in NYC)

LITERARY CONFERENCES

  • Fire and Ink (Devoted to increasing the understanding, visibility and awareness of the works of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender writers of African descent and heritage normally held in October)
  • Atlanta Queer Literary Festival (an all-encompassing literary festival held in June)
  • Saints and Sinners (an all-encompassing New Orleans literary festival)

WEBSITES

Check out the companion piece to this article All Things Black, Art-sy and Gay: Resources for Black LGBT Artists featuring film festivals, bookstores, networking organizations, and additional websites.

**Will update every month**

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snapshots of an unpublished life

tuesday

9:30am

my cell phone rings. it’s birthday boy. i look at his name. i reach to press the talk button and stop myself. i’m not answering his calls. i’ll call him tomorrow. birthday boy said we’d hang out saturday when we talked on wednesday. we talked on thursday and friday. saturday-nothing. sunday-nothing. he called monday twice. i didn’t answer. i think two days of silent treatment is enough to generate a new brain cell for birthday boy to remember victor hates being stood up.

10am

i sent my editor the seventh draft of my query letter yesterday. i got an im from him saying he didn’t get it. i forwarded him the email and sent the query letter in fragments through im.

10:05am

read dlisted

New York Apartment

11am

on a depression scale i feel very dickinson almost peeking to hemingway

12:30pm

i print out chapter 15. i made a note to myself to revise chapter 15. chapter 15 was chapter 2 in the first draft of my book. it’s one of my favorites. it talks about the oppression of gays through two historical characters

2pm

i finish working on chapter 15 and move to 20. chapter 20 is not a favorite chapter of mine.

4pm

my editor hasn’t responded yet.

4:30pm

chpater 20 is becoming a favorite chapter.

5pm

i finished 20 and move to 23.

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The Unpublished Writer’s Query Waiting Game

Dhalgren

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My hands are starting to hurt. I don’t know if it’s from sitting behind a computer all day or the way my office desk is setup. The pain makes me forget to check my email. I have probably checked my email at least fifty times today. I queried Alyson Books on June 30. Alyson is one of the leading LGBT publishers. I know it’s too early to expect a response but I expect a response. Alyson probably gets over a hundred queries every month. I am focusing my enegry on getting published. When I wake up in the morning, I think about getting published. Before I go to bed at night, I write and think about getting published.

It’s been a little over three years since I wrote the first sentence of my first novel. I started writing it not knowing anything about writing. My editor got a hold of the first draft. He didn’t get past the first paragraph. I was witing like a romantic. Long, romantic senetences that meant nothing. To understand writing, I devuldged myself in reading.

I read The Lovely Bones.

I read Middlesex. One of my favorites book.

I read Dhalgren. Dhalgren changed the way I saw litearture and writing.

I read Hogg. At the airport nonetheless. I covered the cover so no one could see. Such terrible acts yet such beauty in language.

I read The Crimson White and the Petal. This book made me fall in love with language.

I started writing all day long. Three years later I sent it off to ten literary agents and two publishers. I am working on a new proposal to send to a smaller publisher in D.C.

I wasn’t prepared for the waiting.

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