Monday, August 20, 2012

African American Lammy Winners (1992)

Four African-American authors won in five categories during the [Fourth Annual] Lambda Literary Awards (Lammy) ceremony held on May 22 [1992] at the Anaheim (California) Hilton. It was the first time that many black writers had won since the annual awards began in 1989.

Jewelle Gomez--the only double-winner--tied in the Lesbian Fiction category with her vampire novel The Gilda Stories (Firebrand Books). The book also won in the Lesbian Science Fiction/Fantasy category. (Gomez, considered a mainstay at the awards, gave the keynote address at the first Lammys and delivered Audre Lorde's Whitehead Lecture when Lorde, a much celebrated poet/essayist, won the Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in Lesbian and Gay Literature. The award is named for the late Bill Whitehead, who was an editor at Dutton.)

Brother to Brother (Alyson), edited by poet Essex Hephill, who took over the book after Joesph Beam, the original editor, died from AIDS, won the Gay Men's Anthology award.

For Gay Men's Poetry, the award went to editor/poet Assotto Saint's The Road Before Us (Galiens Press), which contains the work of 100 poets.

Melvin Dixon's second novel, Vanishing Rooms (Dutton), about a black gay dancer and his murdered white lover, won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Best Gay Male Fiction. The award comes with a one-thousand-dollar cash prize, and is sponsored by the Ferro-Grumley Foundation, named after the gay writers Robert Ferro and Michael Grumley. (Vanishing Rooms was also among the five nominees for the Gay Men's Fiction award.)

The Lammys ceremony took place on the eve of the American Booksellers Association convention.

Among the 75 judges for this year's awards, several were African American. They included writer Cary Alan Johnson (Philadelphia), poet Alan Miller (Oakland, California), and critic Nedhera Landers (Chicago).

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (June 20, 1992).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

AIDS And Its Casualties

The dead and the dying are clearly casualties of the AIDS epidemic. but so too are those left to care for them, mourn them, or speak for them.

In Reginald T. Jackson's play, Sins of the Brother, which runs until January 30 [1993], at the center of the rainbow, 147 W. 25th Street, in Manhattan, we meet two of these casualties, who also represent a generational gap within the gay community--Butch (Jeffery Haskins), a flamboyant, sassy, forty-something black drag queen from the free-love '70s and Brian (Francis Fabrizio), a young white AIDS activist of the safer-sex '90s.

Both share the same living quarters, a Brooklyn brownstone owned by Butch (Brian rents an upstairs room) and they both share the pain and anger brought on by the health crisis. However, they deal with their problems in a different way. Butch reminisces, while listening to Motown music and gazing at photo albums, about the good old days when "I was in my prime. Talk about a Georgia Peach. I could make a mouth water." Brian, on the other hand, while facing his AIDS-induced fear of sex, lashes out at Brian, who he sees as a member of a generation who are not victims of AIDS, but the culprits. "I haven't had sex with anyone because what's the point? What can we do? What's left? Everything is supposed to kill you. Frankly, I'm pissed off at you, at all of you, for denying me my chance."

Sins of the Brother is another controversial play from the Rainbow Repertory Theatre, a group which specializes in staging productions that explore issues of concern to the gay people of color communities.

Not only does Sins of the Brother have a drag queen as one of the central characters (this is certain to have many in the audience squirming in their seats because drag queens are regarded as embarrassments to the gay community), it also deals with another touchy issue, personal responsibility in a time of plague. When HIV-negative Brian, inspired by a newspaper article about some gays in San Francisco knowingly infecting themselves with HIV, mixes a beaker of tainted blood into his food, he tells a dumbfounded Butch: "While everyone else dies off, what am I supposed to do? Watch? Run things all by myself? The people who died will be martyrs and I just want to be a part of it. I don't want to be left out anymore." Is this a cowardly or lazy way to avoid taking responsibility for one's life, one's health? What are the consequences of such an act on the already
fragile health care system?

These are the kinds of issues that will have audiences, gay and straight, leaving the theatre  asking themselves and each other thought-provoking and harrowing, but necessary, questions.

This previously unpublished article was submitted to the New York Amsterdam News on January 12,1993.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

African American Lammy Winners (1994)

Two African-American books won a Lambda Literary Award (Lammy) at the banquet held recently [1994] at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

The awards banquet, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based publication, Lambda Book report, coincided with the American Booksellers Association's convention.

Altogether there were six African-American books nominated in five categories.

Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS, an anthology published by other Countries Press and edited by B. Michael Hunter, shared the Lesbian and Gay Small Press award with the novel Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (Firebrand).

The late Audre Lorde's Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance won in the Lesbian Poetry category.

The other black books nominated were: Fragments That Remain by Steven Corbin (Gay Men's Fiction), Experimental Love Poetry by Cheryl Clarke (Lesbian Poetry), Tranquil Lake of Love by Carl Cook (Gay Men's Poetry), and Forty-Three Septembers by Jewelle Gomez (Lesbian Biography/Autobiography).

Randall Kenan, last year's recipient of a Lammy (Gay Men's Fiction) for his short-story collection, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, won Quality Paperback Book Club's $5,000 New Voices Award for Notable New Fiction.  QPB called the book "a masterpiece from a writer who seems destined to produce many more.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (July 30, 1994).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stealth Lesbianism

In 1989 I went to work at the Black American newspaper (later renamed the New American) as a proofreader, then later as a proofreader/copy editor. (I worked there until May 1991).

The owner of the paper, Carl Offord (now deceased), once wrote a front page story that had a homophobic headline that is indelibly printed on my mind--"The White Lady and the Faggot." It was an attack on Diana Ross, who had given a concert in Central Park that year (1983) and then-mayor Ed Koch, who had kissed her hand (or her cheek). I'm sorry I didn't save that issue because it is a classic example of blatant homophobia in the black press. The article suggested that Koch, rumored to be a gay man, might give Ross AIDS.

Anyway, I'm the one responsible for getting writer/filmmaker Michelle Parkerson's article, an appreciation of the beauty of black women, published in the paper. I edited out all the references to her girlfriend and the word "lesbian" because of the paper's homophobia. I gave the manuscript to the art director, who had it typed and pasted up.

When Mrs. Offord, the office manager, saw it in the paper, she was upset that we hadn't cleared it with her. Obviously, even though it was toned down, the article's homoeroticism still shone through. I told her that she hadn't been in the office that day, so we weren't able to get her consent. "That doesn't make any difference," she replied. I immediately pointed out that Parkerson was a very good writer;despite her anger, she agreed.

I wanted the Parkerson piece in because (1) it was better written than a lot of the stuff they were publishing and (2) I wanted to see how successful I'd be in slipping in an article with subliminally gay content. Parkerson became a Trojan horse.

It would have been a lot harder to do what we did at the New York Amsterdam News because it is a larger operation, occupying a whole building and with more eyes to oversee things. The Black American was in a single suite of offices and had a smaller staff.

I later sent Parkerson a copy of her article via her Washington, D.C. address.