In honor of May being a kickoff of sorts in terms of Black [Gay] Pride celebrations that take place over the summer months, we've decided to feature Michael-Christopher, who has been an active voice in the black lesbian and gay community for over a decade as an author, illustrator, lecturer and artistic advisor to several HIV-prevention campaigns throughout the United States.
During the late 1990's and early 2000, he brought to life the characters Hank, Andre and Kurtis in the "Living the Life" graphic novel series and two subsequent novels. Michael has appeared in VIBE, Honey, The Advocate, Sapience, Metro Weekly and the New York and Washington Blade publications.
Currently residing outside of Washington, DC, Michael divides his time co-publishing the Black Pride Resource Guide and volunteering for DC Black Pride.
His most recent novel, "From Top to Bottom" is his tenth publication under his own publishing imprint, MC Books, making Michael one of the longest running self published writers in his genre. Michael-Christopher is not only a brilliant author, but he's also a very close Brave Soul family member. I first met Michael in 2004 when I did one of my first stints singing background with Tim'm. That's right people, in addition to being an author, Michael is also a crooner (SHHHHH...) During time, I got a chance to learn alot more about Michael and his numerous artistic talents. Since then, he's continued to support BSC in our efforts to help spread awareness about HIV/AIDS and those issues most affecting the lives of the LGBT community. Michael has attended past Brave Soul Saturday discussion gatherings where he provided insight about the motivation behind his writing, and his artistry. We recently sat down with Michael to gain more insight about his life as an artist. For us, May is all about PRIDE...so with that said, we are proud to present to you all....Mr. Michael-Christopher.
"Although I don't always directly address HIV in my fiction work (and I plan to) I hope that the lessons and themes of my stories will empower people, giving them a greater sense of self-worth, which, I believe, is the cornerstone to stopping the transmission of the HIV virus. I don't write merely to titillate or to be sensational. I'm trying to give readers something to apply to their own lives and to make them ask, "What would I do if that were me? How would I handle that situation?"
Your most recent book is your tenth publication under your own publishing imprint, MC Books. What has the process of self-publishing been like for you?
Self-publishing has been a great experience for me. If I had not taken this journey, I would have missed out on meeting a lot of wonderful people and probably would not have learned what I know about business, marketing and promotion. It's also taught me a lot about this community and how hard it can be to reach them. In many aspects, we are still living underground so promoting a project takes a lot of creativity.
You've been involved in LGBT work for nearly 17 years. What accomplishments, changes, and/or developments have you witnessed overall since your start in the community? What kinds of changes do you hope to see in the future within our community as a whole?
I have seen the Black gay community evolve into a tighter, more cohesive unit in the past few years. We are much more connected, more visible and more united than ever before. We still have a long way to go and need to remember to keep reaching down to pull the next generations into the fold. I would like to see people create different spaces and outlets other than clubs and bars. I think that has become the easy thing to do, but at the same time I don't think it's the most healthy venue physically or mentally.
You're a man of many talents---graphic designer, cartoonist, author, singer...etc...Is there one particular art form you enjoy more than the others?
For most of my life people knew me as "that kid who can draw," so I almost feel like I've hit a plateau there. I've only been writing novels for about seven years, so it's still very new and exciting to me. It's very challenging, but I'm very proud to have been able to write several novels. I love the process, even though it can take awhile to complete. Design is still enjoyable, but that usually depends on the client. Designing for myself is very difficult for me. I don't even have my own business card because I can't pin down a design! (Shh! No one knows I've sang!)
I've been in "The Life" now for over twenty years and many of us nearly forty-year-olds can recall a time when sexual positioning was not the main focus when dating. For a minute, during the 80's, the country didn't seem to trip on gays, but later on in the 90's when hip-hop was evolving to what it is today and the "DL" was exposed, masculinity in the gay community became more than paramount. The Black gay community went back into "shame mode" and suddenly everyone was closeted again, grown men were donning thug drag like they were in high school and no one who was the least bit passable seemed to want to admit to being penetrated. I found this shift in comfort levels to be fascinating and unfortunate. I saw and experienced how this phenomenon was keeping gay Black men from cultivating relationships, and in this era where gay marriage has been an issue, what sense does it make to fight for something we may never be able to take advantage of? Men need to open up and look at penetration for what it is instead of what they fear it will turn them into. There's still way too much associated with getting screwed.
In terms of your writing, how are your plots and characters developed? Is there usually a method you have for bringing your stories to life or is it different for you each time?
My process is usually the same. I take an idea, and then develop the story while simultaneously creating and developing the characters. I outline to keep myself on track and motivated. Many authors are dead set against outlining because they feel it's less organic, but I allow for change. After all, I'm running the show! I never get writer's block because I always know how my story will end and I write towards it.
Since you've done work with many different segments of the LGBT community ranging from Pride circuit events, clubs & parties to things like writing for publications & book reviews, do you have an opinion about what the perception is with regard to artists in the LGBT community?
It definitely varies. Everyone has their audience and finding them is the key. I don't do many club or party appearances because folks don't go to the club looking to buy a book. Some prides and LGBT retreats attract a lot of literary fans because they may have an event centered on writing. But overall, few LGBT artists are seen in the same light as mainstream artists. Popularity is still winning over quality work and there is some very good work coming out of this community. But I'm working to change all that!
That depends on their position,--LOL! Most people have really embraced the book because they enjoyed the story and it's characters. I've had some people tell me, "That's my story." The best response was someone telling me that because of my book, he and his partner are now totally versatile. I've even been told that relationships have ended because of my novel, but I hope that they experienced growth from it and see the possibilities for the future.
How has the HIV/AIDS epidemic affected and/or influenced your work as an artist and as a member of the black gay community?
My experience with having an HIV-Positive partner for 3 years and losing him to AIDS in 1997 greatly influences everything I do as an artist and community member. HIV/AIDS has been shaping this community psychologically for more than 20 years now. We've been traumatized, in denial, living in fear, internalizing, self-hating and isolating ever since. Unfortunately, we, as a community, are also still becoming infected. In response, I have been working with numerous agencies around the country creating more effective HIV-prevention materials that are tailored to specific cities for the past six years.
What do you hope your audience will gain from reading your work?
This piggy-backs on the prior question. Although I don't always directly address HIV in my fiction work (and I plan to) I hope that the lessons and themes of my stories will empower people, giving them a greater sense of self-worth, which, I believe, is the cornerstone to stopping the transmission of the HIV virus. I don't write merely to titillate or to be sensational. I'm trying to give readers something to apply to their own lives and to make them ask, "how do I fit into that equation? What would I do if that were me? How would I handle that situation?"
Since homophobia is our topic for May, please finish the following sentence with the first thing that comes to mind. "Homophobia____________
"Homophobia in the Black community is the new Ku Klux Klan."
What does the rest of 2007 hold for Michael-Christopher and MC Books?
I will be back on tour with "From Top to Bottom," hitting some new Pride cities such as Dallas, Columbia, SC, and Baltimore, and of course New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. My complete schedule will be up soon on www.fromtoptobottom.info.
Other than that, I'll be working on my next novel, some screenplays, hopefully a new comic (!), quite possibly some fine art projects, continuing with my HIV-prevention work, publishing Black Pride Resource Guide and a new soon to be announced publication!