Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: James Earl Hardy

August 4, 2009 Print version       Other articles by this author

This month's artist feature is an author whose groundbreaking work has paved the way for many of today's black gay writers and continues to entertain legions of readers at the same time.
James Earl Hardy is the author of the best-selling B-Boy Blues series: B-Boy Blues (1994), praised as the first gay hip hop love story and prominently featured in Spike Lee's Get On The Bus; it's sequel, 2nd Time Around (1996); If Only For One Nite (1997); The Day Eazy-E Died (2001); Love The One You're With (2002); and A House Is Not a Home (2005). The sextet chronicles the relationship between a Buppie from Brooklyn and a homeboy-bike messenger from Harlem. Hardy recently contributed a new introductory essay to the reissue of the groundbreaking Black gay anthology, In The Life. His first short story collection, The Freak Filez: An Erotic Anthology, will be released this Christmas. In addition, Hardy is an award-winning entertainment feature writer and music/cultural critic. A 1993 honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, his byline has appeared in The Advocate, Entertainment Weekly, Essence, New York Newsday, Newsweek, OUT, The Source, Upscale, Vibe, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post. He has also penned biographies on filmmaker Spike Lee and the pop music group Boyz II Men, both a part of Chelsea House Publishers' Black Achievement Series.
Born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, he divides his time between Atlanta, Georgia, and Gramercy Park in Manhattan, where he is raising his 15-year-old son.

I had the opportunity to connect with James Earl Hardy earlier this year and from the beginning, he was extremely enthusiastic about being a Brave Soul featured artist. His work has inspired me and I am honored to present to the Brave Soul readers & family our interview with Mr. James Earl Hardy. Enjoy...

"For years I had been waiting for someone else to tell a story like B-Boy Blues and finally realized that if I wanted to read a book like it, I had to write it. And many more of us have heeded that call."

How do you feel about being considered as one of the 'pioneers' of black gay fiction writing?

To borrow a phrase, it feels jood to be seen as a pioneer, especially since I stumbled into the fiction world by accident. It was a road that chose me. That I never intended to be a novelist and created something that folks continue to claim and embrace is very humbling and affirming. The problem? People put you on a pedestal, they have certain expectations, even demands, which you can not realistically fulfill. Which is why I like to keep the focus on Pooquie & Little Bit; they are the true celebrities.

As a writer, how much of your own personal experience do you usually draw from in order to create your novels, characters, & stories?

The series is certainly an extension, a reflection of the world I live in. But it is not my story of meeting a b-boy one summer and falling in love. Many believe it is; in fact, at one point, the rumor going around was that my real Pooquie was none other than Tyson Beckford. That's a rumor I could live with!

Where do things stand on the film adaptation of "B-Boy Blues"?

It's still in development. It's a New York story and can't be filmed anywhere else, and that means certain things have to be in place in order for us to do it justice. No one is more anxious than me; I've been waiting almost 15 years. So it's coming; just be patient.

What changes have you noticed over the past 15 years about the way black gay/SGL issues & life in general are addressed in society & pop culture?

When B-Boy was released in 1994, those who aren't Black and/or gay were shell shocked. Since Blackness and gayness were propagated as two distinct identities in media, the idea that there were people who occupied both spaces -- and that some of them, like Raheim, were just as hard, just as masculine, just as "manly" as heteros -- forced them to acknowledge, but not necessarily challenge, their narrow definitions of who Black/gay people are. Unfortunately, the assumption that gay and Black are mutually exclusive is still very much alive, and is even pushed by Black heteros and caucasian queers -- just look at the KKK-ish reactions of some white gays to the passage of Prop 8 and those Black Christianist homobigots who foolishly argue that 'the Black community' is threatened by same sex marriage [as examples]. Our opinions, our voices, our lives are too often ignored, negated, erased. If anyone knows the intersections and parallels between Black and gay, between 'black civil rights' and 'gay civil rights', we do -- yet we are usually missing from those conversations. It also doesn't help that, when the spotlight is shined on us, the focus is usually through a prism of pathology -- those 'dangerous aggressives', and the so-called discovery and very racist, homophobic and sexually schizophrenic coverage of down low men. The jood thing is that we are creating more vehicles and projects that present and represent us as only we can. I remember in the nineties wondering if I would ever see a series that focused on our lives; fast forward to the 21st century and there's Noah's Arc, The DL Chronicles, Christopher Street, and Drama Queenz. On the film front, we've got The Ski Trip, Dirty Laundry, Brother to Brother, Jumping the Broom, and Finding Me. When I want to really know what's going on in the world, I don't turn on CNN or my local news station -- I check in with Rod 2.0, Pam's House Blend and Living Out Loud with Darian. So, even if the so-called mainstream is slow to realize we are here, we're making it known that we are.

In terms of your work as a writer do you prefer writing fiction or other kinds of writing such as entertainment critic & journalism work?

I don't prefer one over another; how could I? They all bring me joy.

How important is the component of visibility to you personally & professionally when it comes to the lives of the black LGBT community?

Very important. When B-Boy was released, I knew I had to go out on tour so that people could see me, so they would know that the person who wrote the book really existed and was accessible. It made the experience of discovering and reading B-Boy even more real for them. And it confirmed something I knew was true: there were very vibrant Black SGL communities across the country. There wasn't money in the budget for a tour, so folks opened up their homes, fed me, and hosted house parties. It was truly a chittlin' circuit thing! Some of that intimacy has been lost in this communication overload era, but avenues like myspace, facebook and you tube allow us to connect and fellowship on a global scale, where it's undeniable that we are everyone, everything, and everywhere.

This month's Brave Soul topic is forgiveness. Do you have any insight, or advice you'd like to share on the idea of forgiveness?

Too many [Black SGL people] are walking around with wounded souls; we have been abused -- verbally, physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually -- by others, namely our families because they have issues with who we are. Forgiving them for what they've done or said is the only way to heal. Now, just because you forgive them doesn't mean you forget or absolve them of responsibility. But you have to release it so you can release yourself; if you don't, the pain will hold you hostage and prevent you from truly living the life you deserve.

Can you share with the BSC readers what you're currently working on and what we can expect from you next?

My new book, The Freak Filez, will be out this Christmas. It's an erotic collection. And, yes, Pooquie & Little make an appearance. I've also begun work on the memoir of Tiger Tyson; that brutha has lived several lives! And The Day Eazy-E Died is also being adapted into a film; Kirk Shannon Butts will be directing.

As an author who has had his works published, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages to the publishing process? What advice would you give to aspiring writers about what to look out for?

You will come up against editors, agents, publishers, publicists, journalists, so-called critics and others who will be dismissive, racist/homophobic/heterosexist, sexist, and presume to know more about you, your book, and your audience than you do. Remember that the most important part of the process is creating the work, so enjoy it. If you can separate the biz end from the artistic, the frustrations and rejections may smart but won't stick. If I had listened to all the naysayers and doubters, B-Boy wouldn't exist.

How do you feel about the vast number of black gay writers that have emerged and created work since the mid 90's?

I'm excited and proud. For years I had been waiting for someone else to tell a story like B-Boy Blues and finally realized that if I wanted to read a book like it, I had to write it. And many more of us have heeded that call. Every month I receive an announcement about or from a new author. And it doesn't matter if they are with a corporate press, an indie, or doing it themselves: the important thing is that there is another story out there that illuminates and celebrates our lives.

For more on James Earl Hardy, he can be reached on facebook by clicking here: James Earl Hardy on facebook