Evidence of Being: Urban Black Gay Men's Literature and Culture, 1978-1995

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This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of black gay men's literary and cultural production and activism emerging at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, focusing in particular on cultural formations in Washington, DC, and New York City. Through an exploration of the work of black gay male writers and activists from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, I argue that recognizing the centrality of trauma and violence in black communities means accounting for its debilitating effects, alongside its productivity in areas such as cultural and aesthetic production, identity-formation, community building, and political mobilization. Though black gay men's identities were heavily under siege during this historical moment, I show how they used literary and cultural forms such as poetry, performance, novels, magazines, anthologies, and journals to imagine richer subjective and social lives.

This project makes three key interventions in the existing scholarship in African American studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Queer Studies, and Trauma Studies 1) this project recovers a marginalized period in U.S. histories of race and sexuality, in particular the renaissance of black gay literary and cultural production and activism from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s 2) the project examines how black gay men have used literary and cultural production to assert more complex narratives of racial, gender, and sexual selfhood 3) it explores how historical trauma has functioned as both a violently coercive, as well as a culturally and politically productive force in black gay lives.

The project focuses on cultural movement activities in two cities, Washington, DC, and New York City, to offer a more broad, comparative perspective on urban black gay subcultural life.  The first section on Washington, DC, explores the work of DC-based writer and activist Essex Hemphill, and the black LGBT-themed magazine, Blacklight.  The second section on New York City looks at black gay writer's group, Other Countries Collective, and writer and scholar Melvin Dixon's novel, Vanishing Rooms.  I include individual black gay voices in my study, positioning these voices alongside larger structural transformations taking place in cities during this moment. I also foreground the efforts of self and social transformation that emerged through black gay collectivities.