Tim'm took a moment to interview Steven G. Fullwood, founder of Vintage Entity Press and author of "Funny," a critically acclaimed work of essays and social commentary about being black and gay and all things associated, and beyond.
"Loosely described as 'part memoir, part satire, and completely self-revelatory, 'FUNNY makes its mark in poignant, twisted ways." - VEP Website
Tim'm: Before getting into the meat of the cultural and literary work you do, what does "Brave Soul" represent for you? Consider what it represented for you before you had any clue about the work BSC is forging in the community.
Steven: As you remember, you handed me a rack card advertising the BSC during its formative stages. I looked at the website and was curious about where the collective might be headed. HIV/AIDS outreach, in the creative sense, to quote Colin Robinson and George Ayala, managing editors of Think Again, had generally become bankrupt, basically "use a condom and live," messages, or "this is how you can survive on meds." Before Think Again (http://www.nysbgn.org) , I don't believe much had been done to connect bodies to stories to faces to narratives that engaged HIV risk and homo black male voices in a way that felt organic, thoughtful, relevant. This not to say it outreach before then wasn't effective, but from this writer's viewpoint, it felt abysmal. With that in mind, I was hoping that BSC might be able to continue along that path. More than just report HIV stats, and celebrate/acknowledge those men and woman who do outreach. I am looking to see new ideas that take into account the universe that men and women, however one identifies, encompasses.
Tim'm: Steven, I'm quite familiar with your work. It's strikingly "brave" in the rather bluntly comedic way that you broach a number of provocative topics that many people won't touch. I think of you as the writer who says what other people think about saying. It requires a special sophistication to be truthful about things that we often dance around: our closets, its skeletons, and the dirty laundry they wear. I also remembered when you first contacted me about the work of Brave Soul Collective. Can you speak a bit about your own sense of connectedness to the work we're doing and how it manifests in your work as an author, publisher, archivist, and culture critic?
Steven: As an author and cultural critic, I am always pushing myself to do better work. That means I cannot afford to stay in safe spaces for too long because I get antsy and I know it's not where my truth lies. I grew up trying to protect myself from all things hurting and in the hiding spaces I created, there was an awful fallout. Still feeling the aftershock. One detriment was that hiding impacted my ability to really sympathize and connect to people, much less value their love and support in any meaningful way. My writing is one way to be brave, test things out, see if what I say I believe is something I actually believe. As a publisher, it's my goal to publish writing that is inherently brave by exceptional authors, two of which are Cheryl Boyce Taylor and G. Winston James. VEP is fueled by imagination and love and a fierceness to simply speak life and truth and honor and to challenge those things that frighten and keep us static. It's a labor of love that has helped me realize how vital the written word is, and how it can transform life. As an archivist, the work I do with the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive is to collect, preserve and make available to the public the universe of non-heterosexual history and culture of people of African descent. It has taken a Herculean effort to bring this project to completion and it's because of the communities I serve as an information specialist and my dedication to preserve cultures that have been ignored or dismissed up until recently largely because the people who created it have been ignore and dismissed from public discourse. The fact that non-heterosexual blacks folk and abroad have created in every media, for the last century, despite the various homophobic and racists environments they live in, is brave. My job is to makes sure these artifacts are preserved, so someone can get to these stories, read them, and perhaps share them.
Cheryl Boyce Taylor
Tim'm: It's rather exciting to see a press go from producing chapbooks to working with critically acclaimed authors like G. Winson James and Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Can you talk about your connection to these authors, specifically highlighting what you believe is "brave" about their respective works?
Steven: I interviewed Cheryl for Lambda Book Report in 2003, and was immediately taken in by her warmth and panoramic view. She writes like a lion and purrs like a kitten. There is such an amazing softness and integrity in her work that you feel cradled and yes, healed. But make no mistake, as Cheryl Clarke, author of "Days of Good Looks," once said of Cheryl's work, "she don't tek no mess." I have consulted Cheryl's latest collection, "Convincing the Body," as a reader in need of healing and her work always lifts me. Always. As for Glen, he misses so little that I am often startled by his rather thin, calm frame. This man should be exploding, arms waving, screaming. "The Damaged Good" is collection of poems that reveal Glen's real ability to capture nuance and raw emotion without being sappy or sentimental. Both writers are similar in their approach to writing: they are extremely brave. It is an honor to work Cheryl and Glen. Both writers and their works enrich my life tremendously. I am grateful.
G. Winston James
Tim'm: Can you speak about the state of black literature and what you hope to contribute to the vast body of work already produced as well as forthcoming work?
Steven: The state of black literature? I cannot speak with any authority about the contemporary contributions to the ongoing conversation that is black literature, but I think I can answer the second part of the question. I see VEP as a vehicle for publishing groundbreaking, thought-provoking writers who have been marginalized by larger publishing companies. We work hard with little funds to create amazing products. I also place VEP in the tradition of other small presses that publish extraordinary writers such as RedBone Press (Marvin K. White, Samiya Bashir, Sharon Bridgforth, Ernest Hardy, Ana-Maurina Lara) and the chapbook presses of the 60's and 70's (Third World Press, Broadside Press.)
Tim'm: What is your feeling about the HIV/AIDS epidemic? Do you feel that the literary community has done an adequate job of bringing some of the core issues to visibility? Is that even something you value as a writer and publisher?
Steven: As I mentioned earlier, I do think that HIV/AIDS outreach was creatively bankrupt at one point, but as for our literary accomplishments, I think we've done an excellent job of chronicling our experiences with the devastation of HIV/AIDS, and continue to do so. From the very start we spoke up and wrote it down. Anthologies like Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS, poetry collections by Assotto Saint, Marvin K. White, yourself, among other stellar voices, are literal roadmaps in the black homo imagination re the effects of the epidemic. Writers like Sanford Gaylord and the late LeRoy Whitfield wrote about how the virus affected their livelihoods as black gay men and as artists in gay and mainstream journals and magazines. And there are tons more. People have to know where to look for this stuff.
Tim'm: Brave Soul Collective is an artist collective. Often we've lost sight of our fundamental in the arts-- the politics foregrounding our work. Can you speak a bit about this relationship between the artistic realm and political realm? Do you feel that literary arts face a special challenge of not even being seen as a "real" art, like dance, visual arts, or theatre, for example?
Steven: Well, let me see if I can answer this question succinctly. I don't think that the arts have ever been respected as art for arts sake. When art is commerce then you have another point of view altogether. As for making anyone see anything as important, particularly literary art, there's the perception that art is a frivolous activity practiced by people who can't get real jobs. The challenge lies and will always lie in creating great work. Black LGBT people should work with groups like Fire & Ink, a Writers Festival for People of African Descent, who are dedicated to assisting writers develop their craft and promote a variety of writers. There is affirmation in community.
Tim'm: What is in the future for VEP Press? How do you go about bring more visibility to the press?
Steven: The future? We will publish more books by a variety of writers. In the next two years we hope to drop several books. In 2007 will publish a book of essays and interviews on sexuality by African priest and sexologist Herukhuti, a poetry book by Mingus, a Brooklyn-based poet and shaman, and quite possibly a follow-up to my book, "FUNNY." In 2008 VEP will drop an anthology titled "Man Up, Stories about Black Boys Becoming Boys," and there are other potential books in the works. As far as visibility for the press, it's a good question because we are working with limited funds and time so we rely heavily upon our web presence and word of mouth. I try to be in as many places as my body and time will allow to promote the company, and the authors are both pretty savvy in securing readings, so those audiences are always growing. Of course, I want my authors to get as much exposure and financial reward for their works. My job is find ways to get their work seen, heard, and appreciated. I see it as an honor.
For more on VEP Press, Steven Fullwood, Cheryl Boyce Taylor and G. Winston James please visit the official Vintage Entity Press website by clicking here: http://www.vepress.com/