There are certain times in our lives when we remember where we were when we experienced a life changing event. We all remember where we were when we got the news about September 11th, when we learned that Barack Obama had been elected to the highest office in the land, and when we found out that the American public politically devolved by electing Onald Oump--because we’re not typing his name. All of this is to say that those of us who have ever read James Earl Hardy’s B Boy Blues remember exactly where we were when we read what the late great E. Lynn Harris described as “ The first gay hip hop love story.” The novel was and still is a cult classic among SGL men of color and has been a finalist for the Lambda Literary’s Best LGBT Small Press Title, was prominently featured on Spike Lee’s ‘Get On The Bus’ and has sold well over 100,000 copies. You can’t sit with us if you’ve lived this long without reading Hardy’s masterpiece. You simply can’t.
Hardy has paved the way for many of today’s SGL writers of color, and stands next to E. Lynn Harris as a SGL cultural icon and cornerstone of Black SGL literature. If you’re curious as to how he feels about it, he says “To borrow a phrase from Raheim, aka Pooquie: ‘It feels better than jood!’” “Jood”, indeed, as his first work spawned the sequels ‘2nd Time Around’, ‘If Only For One Nite’, ‘The Day Eazy-E Died’, ‘Love The One You’re With’, ‘A House is Not a Home’, ‘Is It Still Jood to Ya?’ (from Visible Lives), and Amazon’s top 100 LGBTQ bestseller of 2019, ‘Men of the House‘. While this year marks the twenty fifth anniversary of B Boy Blues’ 1994 release, a younger Hardy didn’t think it’d be as influential as it was (and still is). “Not at all. In fact, I never thought there would be a B-Boy Blues series.” the author states. “I was just happy to see B-Boy on a bookshelf; I didn't think it would take off like it did.“ He recalls that the prevailing attitude in the publishing industry at the time was not only that black people didn’t read, but that black gay people didn’t read either. “ Yet here we are, seven sequels later.” he says.
James Earl Hardy has been instrumental in providing a large segment of readers (us), with the representation we were oh, so thirsty for. “It matters when you see yourself”, he says, “ because it’s confirmation that you matter.” The historical blindness to, and erasure of, black queerness is as real as it has always been as we remain the color that some folk just don’t care to see. We’re damn near invisible to the greater black community as it stands, so we’re double impacted, and those who sit where we sit don’t get to see themselves in anything that isn’t a mirror. “‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I belong?’ are questions we all ask ourselves, and when you occupy more than one life station like Black SGL people do but you are erased from history and in media, those questions are harder to answer.
To that end, the series challenges the mythical "gay community" and "Black community". Neither entity really exists — at least not in the form many believe they do — and Black SGL people are the proof. Both tags treat "Black" and "gay" as monoliths — which means our full identities as Black SGL people are marginalized, since we are too often expected to pledge our allegiance to only one. In the series, caucasian queers do not own the patent on gayness and Black heteros do not own the patent on Blackness. When your whiteness or heterosexuality are centered everywhere you go, reading a book where you are peripheral to the narrative can be a culture shock.”
Many of us can attest to reading a book and really, really relating to a character. Those of us who can’t aren’t reading enough. Despite the fact that fictional characters have their lives determined by the authors who write them, they’re often imagined as having the same free agency that the reader has. Those of us who read know what its like to daydream about the characters we read about having their own destinies--but that’s why we like them so much. Readers have been following Raheim and Mitchel around for quite some time and both have undergone a tremendous amount of development to the extent that they’ve become more than relatable, especially to the guy who created them.
When asked which of the two best represented him, Hardy states that, “ I've felt like Mitchell and Raheim at different periods; it just depended on what was going on in my life. But the older I've gotten, the more I identify with Raheim from back in the day. He had a fearlessness that I admire. He just gave no fucks. [laughs] That really does come when you reach a certain age.” According to Hardy, Raheim is more “together” than we might have assumed. “He's still trying to navigate unchartered territory as a boi from the hood who is in love with another man, and now as one of the men of this household. His missteps are just that; we all make them. It helps that he has a man by his side who will stand by and for him, and a son that embraces who he is.”
Hardy has put pen to paper countless times in the past 25 years, and a lot has happened within that time. We’ve gone from don’t ask, don’t tell, to marriage equality. The progression of SGL equality has been slow, but steady. However, Hardy has always been before his time as 1996’s 2nd Time Around featured the wedding of Babyface and B.D. “Many people, including some Black SGL folk, balked; just the idea was strange to them. "That will never happen," they claimed. But seeing this and other issues explored through our eyes illustrates how gay doesn't equal white, despite what the media propagates.”
Hardy has touched on almost every social issue imaginable through his writing. In his latest, “Men of the House”, Errol, the story’s main character, had some pretty touchy conversations with his grandmother about the relationship between Raheim and Mitch. A lot of us have either heard, participated in, or been the subject of conversations where our love and existence is questioned and deemed as not being “right”. One might think that homophobia would be on its last legs in the year of our Lord, 2019, but it continues to thrive. Hardy, when speaking on the way Errol handled his grandmother’s homophobia, says that he’s proud of how Errol handled. “ It was very personal for him but he didn’t rely on emotion, he pulled out the facts and common sense.”
“He also has the patience of a saint”, Hardy says. “…the verbal violence she spewed about his fathers isn't something I would entertain. You, a heterosexual, can believe whatever you choose. Just man or woman up and own your bigotry; don't blame it on God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, the One Most High or whatever deity you claim to worship. Your hatred or contempt is not just a difference of opinion, and my existence is not up for debate.”
The same can be said when it comes to the white community at large. Many, if not all of us have seen their reactions to causes that focus around the plight of African American men as they…as WE..remain persona non grata in the eyes of every police department in the country. “…as with white folks and racism, stop tolerating, even coddling the stupidity and arrogance of heterosexuals regarding their homophobia / heterosexism.” Hardy elaborates by reminding all of us that our families don’t have the right to abuse us, that it takes more than merely being associated with us to be counted as an ally. “ Hold folks accountable for what they say and do; "sorry" is just a word, it doesn't make things better or right. How do they plan to interrogate how they've been socialized to view and mistreat SGL people? You don't need their approval or permission to be; it all comes down to r-e-s-p-e-c-t.”
“Men Of The House” places Errol at center stage as the story’s main characters, and those who’ve been keeping up with the series can see that he’s now a fully functioning young man. He represents something that we don’t often see, or even read about, which is a black boy with two dads. This isn't necessarily a coincidence as Hardy appears to have been very intentional with this. “Books about Black male teens are still rare, especially those that don't focus on basketball, drugs, and violence. And Black fatherhood is still depicted through a heterosexual prism, despite the history of Black SGL men fathering our own and stepping into the dad role when our hetero brethren have gone MIA. So I'm glad Errol wanted to tell his side of the story; they've [Mitchell, Raheim and Errol] been a family for ten years and he's had a front row seat to all the ups and downs of their relationship.”
Hardy’s literary presence is, and always has been important to the SGL community of color, and we’re glad that he’s just as aware of that as we are. While talking about the subject, Hardy tells us that he’s cried over the death of Nigel Shelby. The Alabaman teen who has been described as being full of life, took his life after being bullied because he was gay. “Looking in his eyes, I see me. It breaks my heart that he couldn't hold on and saw taking his life as the way out of the pain, that he couldn't see that his light was a gift to the world, that he was here for a reason and his life mattered. While younger people have access to so much more information and affirming images, the cruelty and hatefulness hasn't ceased. So when I receive an email or DM from a teenager who has discovered Mitchell and Raheim and they thank me for changing, even saving their lives ... I exhale. It's such a blessing, another reminder that I am doing what I was placed here to do.”
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why his upcoming Chicago tour, with which our friends at Rainbow Room Publishing is heavily involved with is so important. “ It’s been sixteen years since I’ve been to Chicago”, he says. “But if feels like I’ve never left”. Hardy will be appearing in The James Earl Hardy Chicago Book tour from Friday, May 17th through Sunday, May 19th and will share his latest novel “ Men of the House”. Additionally he’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of “B-Boy Blues”, which will aid Rainbow Room Publishing’s objective to promote literacy, increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy and advancing human rights.
Hardy has come a long way from his Brooklyn upbringing, where he grew up mere blocks away from where Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” was filmed. “I come from a generation where kids could actually play outside, and there really were neighborhood fixtures like a Mother Sister and Da Mayor.” While B-Boy Blues was the first took to change many of our lives, James Baldwin’s ‘Just Above My Head’ was the first book to make Hardy go, “wow”. “I couldn't believe that such a story existed, and that it was written by a Black gay man. The seeds for Mitchell and Raheim were planted after falling in love with the love story of Arthur and Crunch.”
Hardy has given the community a lot to be inspired by. With seven series sequels, a respectable ranking on the African American Literature Book Club’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century and a stage play that’s been hosted (and sold out) in New York, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Oakland Hardy has given us even more to aspire to. As far as what’s next for him, he says he’s looking forward to celebrating B-Boy Blues’ 25th anniversary, which will occur this November. But that’s not all. “The play will be returning and the audio version will finally make it’s debut” he says. “The film version of “B-Boy…” is in the works and I can clearly see a serial adaptation of “Men of the House”. And, I hope Errol wants an encore; I'd love to find out what happens next, how he's moving through the world as an adult and how his relationships with his fathers, sister, grandparents, girlfriend and BFFs have changed.”
You can catch up with Hardy this month in Chicago as he’ll be hosting a reading and book signing at the Joel Hall Dancers & Center on Friday, May 17th at 7:00, at the Ubuntu Center on Saturday, May 18th at 5:30, and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on Sunday May19th at 1:00. Hardy will also be appearing in New York at the Langston Hughes House on June 11th at 7:00. Additionally, you can always spend a little time with some of his amazing work by purchasing “Men of the House: A B-Boy Blues Novel” here, “Can You Feel What I’m Saying?: An Erotic Anthology here and recieve personally autographed copy with a $25.00 donation-- which can be made at PayPal (PooquieandLilBit@aol.com ) and Cash App ($JamesEarlHardy). You can reach Mr. Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org) and follow him on twitter @JamesEarlHardy and james.e.hardy.9 on Facebook & Instagram, respectively.