gar does DC: OutWrite 2018

Excited! I’m attending my first #OutWriteDC conference this year…and I’ll be kept quite busy!

I will co-facilitate a panel with legendary poet Philip Robinson entitled The Road Before Us: Black Queer Lit in the Post-Obama Era. Joining us on the panel will be La Toya Hankins, Larry Benjamin, and Cheryl Head.

Please join us! Our panel happens at 6pm on Saturday, August 4 at The DC Center for the LGBT Community: 2000 14th Street NW, #105. I can’t wait for our conversation!

Additionally, I will read from my novel Sin Against the Race also on Saturday, August 4 at 1pm in the Downstairs Reading Room.

I have a long history with OutWrite. OutWrite ’90 in San Francisco was the first queer writers’ conference in the US. And I was there. I saw Allen Ginsberg bounce on his feet excitedly as he read poetry and Judy Grahn talk about our histories. Her book, the legendary Another Mother Tongue, was among the first queer books I bought after coming out.

I attended two OutWrites in San Francisco, and then it moved back east. I went to one of those in Boston in 1998.

My thanks to Dave Ring, OutWriteDC organizer, for allowing me to join the party. In addition to attending this legendary event, I’ll get to see DC for the first time. Please come join us for the many lively, provocative, and fun events!

The One-Two Punch Against Democracy

The one-two punch.

The first punch came when Mitch McConnell refused to consider President Obama’s final Supreme Court choice, Judge Merrick Garland. In spite of everything, McConnell held his ground and won. Judge Garland did not receive so much as a hearing.

The second punch came on November 8, 2016, a day that will live in infamy. Trump got elected. I don’t buy the bit about folks flocking to Trump as a protest vote, to shake up the system. No. Trump got elected because a lot of people who likely would have voted against him didn’t vote. In some states, particularly in Wisconsin, many who wanted to vote couldn’t because of restrictive voter registration laws.

And now we see the results. The Supreme Court upheld Trumps’s anti-Muslim travel ban, even after lower court after lower court ruled against it. Additionally, the Court also ruled in favor of fake abortion clinics set up by anti-abortion zealots. These storefronts posing as medical offices try to talk shame women out of having abortions. They have no medical staff and are not medically certified. Their operation has nothing to do with medicine or healthcare. It has everything to do with manipulation and anti-woman animus.

In a day or two, the Supreme Court will likely deal a major blow against unions. They will rule that unions cannot collect “fair share” payments from people who are covered by a union contract, but are not union members. “Fair share” works on the principle that everyone who works under a union contract benefits from collective bargaining, therefore they should pay their fair share to the union. “Fair share” payments are often less than union dues. If the Court decides against “fair share,” unions will lose a great deal of money, weakening them further.

The right has relentlessly gone after unions for the last 50-60 years with dire consequences for workers. Look at wage inequity. It’s out of control. Furthermore, look at public sector jobs. The right has vilified them nearly out of existence. Indeed, the Trump administration has recently put forth a plan that would in effect eliminate the public sector entirely. If Congress enacts his radical ideas, the measures will likely face judicial challenges. Guess what will happen.

McConnell’s unprecedented behavior precipitated the first punch. But the second punch was a self-inflicted wound. And that’s why I’m livid. We don’t have to live in this world. We live in it because folks do not take their power seriously. Why do Republicans move heaven and earth to dissuade folks from voting? Why do they gerrymander everything from congressional districts to the Supreme Court? Because they know that they’ll lose if they don’t.

Republicans represent the interests of too few people: people with shit loads of money. So they (punch one–POW!) convince folks without shit loads of money that they should vote against their interests by lying to them. And (punch two–POW!) they rig the election system to make it hard for non-Republicans (particularly people of color) to vote. Furthermore, they set up congressional and state legislative districts in such a way that Democratic votes do not carry as much weight.

Their actions are criminal. But the biggest crime is that we allow Republicans to get away with it. While Democrats worry about procedure and being “nice,” Republicans are remaking the world in their image. And it’s a butt-ugly world.

The Music of Sin Against the Race: A Spotify Playlist

I created a Spotify playlist of the music associated with my novel Sin Against the Race. As I’ve written previously, and as those who have read the novel can attest, I reference a lot of music. It became, in effect, a character in the book. Tunes I listened to while writing and editing ended up becoming a part of the story. Most of the music in the book takes place in Sammy Turner’s corner grocery store, the neighborhood hangout for the book’s LGBTQ denizens. Indeed, Sammy is a semi-retired jazz musician. Thus, most of the music is jazz, though there are some variations on the theme.

In most cases, I reference songs by title in the book and these appear on the list. In a few cases, I just mention an artist by name–for the playlist, I added a representative tune. I found nearly everything. However, there are some unfortunate omissions, tunes not available on Spotify. These include “Alleybird” by Anton Schwartz and “Watching You Watching Me” by Mary Stallings. But you’ll still be able to get a feel for the music that went through my head as I wrote the novel by listening to this extensive playlist.

Warning: a few tracks (Miles Davis) go long!

 

 

Black Gay Bookstagram for Pride Month

This month, I’m curating a series of photos of books by and about black gay men on Instagram. We have a long, rich history of telling our stories. Sadly, much of it remains hidden just beneath the surface. Even today, one learns about these jewels by word of mouth.

Sometimes, folks ask me if I’ll continue writing stories involving black queer folks. My answer: yes. I won’t rest until black queers of all genders and orientations are part of the tapestry we call America, until our stories stand next to other literary giants. Because our stories are an integral part of America’s story.

I started this Bookstagram campaign with a classic: In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology. Edited by Joseph Beam and published by Alyson Publications in 1986, it quickly became the standard bearer for black queer righteousness. From the back cover:

Editor Joseph Beam, who died of AIDS-related causes on December 27, 1988, began collecting this material after years of frustration with gay literature that had no message for–and little mention of–Black gay men.

Joseph Beam

We lost many literary heroes to AIDS. How many from the anthology fell to that disease? (Answer: Too Many.) But today, we continue to pay homage to their voices by shouting and screaming with our own righteousness.

To paraphrase the classic line from Joe Beam, we continue to come home with our head held up high.

In the Life holds a special place in my heart. I came out 30 years ago, just a few years after this book dropped. Filled with wonder about my newly acknowledged identity, I traveled to A Different Light Bookstore in Silver Lake. I found the anthology and quickly purchased it. Coincidentally, my friend Carolyn also gave me a copy after she learned of my coming out. The book helped me to find my voice. And it proved to me that no, I’m not alone. Its importance to my own, personal history made it the obvious choice for me to start my Bookstagram series with.

Follow me on Instagram as I Bookstagram classics from yesterday and today all month.

Happy Pride! 🏳️‍🌈

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm by Hans M. Hirschi

Cover design by Natasha Snow

My friend Hans M. Hirschi’s 12th novel will drop on May 21, 2018: Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm. Here is a synopsis:

Martin is eighty-four years old, a Korean War veteran, living quietly in a retirement home in upstate New York. His days are ruled by the routine of the staff. In his thoughts and dreams, Martin often returns to the Seoul of his youth, and the lost true love of his life.

Two close friends urge him to travel back to search for that love. What awaits Martin in Korea, more than six decades after he left the country on a troop transport back to the U.S.?

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story of friendship, love, and family, in all its many shapes, across time, generations and cultures.

It is already receiving interest in the writing community:

I can reassure those who know Mr. Hirschi as the Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings. He’s done it again.
This book, perhaps the most romantic of the books I’ve read so far by this author, in my opinion, is about a love story that has survived incredible odds and lasted almost a whole lifetime.

Although the story of elderly men or women trying to find a lost love is not new, I enjoyed Martin’s process of discovery and his coming into his own. I love the comradery and the way the three men helped each other, with Eugene playing the fairy godmother and facilitating the trip, Kevin providing the technical and hands-on know-how, and Martin confronting his fears to become the hero he was meant to be. This is a novel about friendship, about history, about love, and about hope. We should never lose our hope and dreams.

A gorgeous cover, for a truly romantic book that goes beyond the standard love story and includes an ensemble of characters you’ll feel sorry to say goodbye to.
Olga Núñez Miret
Author & Reviewer

Author photo by Alina Oswald

Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world extensively and published a couple of non- fictional titles on learning and management.

The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing, writing feel-good stories you’ll remember.

Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a red thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.

Hans lives with his husband, son, and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden.

Click on the banner below for more info, including a book video.

Banner by Natasha Snow

 

Tiffany Austin Birthday Concert: A Review

Tiffany Austin and her band at the Sound Room, Oakland.

I’ve heard Bay Area-based singer Tiffany Austin several times. She frequently returns to her alma mater, Berkeley Law, to perform at the commencement day after party. My work often keeps me from hanging out and listening to her and her band perform.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of hearing her perform in a more natural setting, at the Sound Room in Uptown Oakland. A nice intimate venue, I heard Tiffany perform without interruptions or work distractions. As always, she had a top-notch band accompanying her: Adam Shulman on piano, David Ewell on bass, and Leon Joyce, Jr. on drums. Tiffany had just celebrated a birthday a few days before, and like most musicians, she celebrated by doing what she loves best, getting on stage. What a wonderful present for the audience.

Tiffany Austin.

One word characterizes Tiffany’s singing and stage persona: ease. She appeared naturally comfortable with the audience, interacting as if in a room with friends. Then she seamlessly slips into performance mode, demonstrating intimacy with the songs she performs, interpreting them with care, and with great control of her voice.

She started with Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music is the Magic.” It crossed my mind that she sounded a bit like Ella Fitzgerald. She also reminded me of the late, great Minnie Riperton on some of the high notes. The next tune confirmed her Ella state of mind, as she launched into “Night in Tunisia,” basing her interpretation to Ella’s famous version. The scatting was hot, on point.

Tiffany gave generous space to her band, often leaning on the piano and listening to them do their thing. Each brought their own considerable gifts to the show. Mr. Joyce in particularly presented one hot solo after another on the drums. (I couldn’t resist playing “knee tabla” along with him.)

Her Law School performances typically stick to standards, so it was a real treat to hear one of her original compositions. Born from a new relationship that came on the heels of one that ended badly, she sang the appropriately titled “Lost” with freeness in her soul. The lyrics provocatively and joyfully celebrated her ability to fall in love again.

Tai-ge Min.

Another surprise came in the form of a very talented protege who she brought on stage. Tai-ge Min studies singing and drums. At age 14, she demonstrated talent at both, singing another Ella transcription, this time for “In A Mellow Tone.” Then later in the show, she played drums on “Body and Soul.” I particularly admired Tai’s scatting, not an easy art form. But like all good scat-singers, she made it look easy.

Tiffany and her band performed a generous set that covered much territory. It made for a very pleasant late Sunday afternoon. Unbroken, her latest album comes out June 1 and then she goes on tour to support it. Stops include Birdland in New York and SF Jazz. Her star is rising, as well it should. I’m happy to have had a chance to see her in so intimate a space as the Sound Room.

April 4, 1968

It happened six days after my 3rd birthday, so I don’t have memories of the day. But I can picture my mother screaming. I can picture my grandmother also upset. I can picture my father trying to console them, while tears ran down his own face. I can picture my older brothers, in their teens, stunned and confused, hurting. I can picture them worried that a repeat of the Watts Riots would happen again, when armed vehicles went down their residential street, when a bullet lodged into my grandmother’s house, when the local stores could not carry food for several days because the area had turned into a no-man’s land. I can picture them all staring at the little black and white TV, the one with the fake wood paneled exterior on the four legs, the one with the oval-shaped picture tube, in disbelief, dismay, distress. I can picture them all living in a haze for the next few days, weeks, months, years.

I can picture these things because I, too, have experienced similar moments, when the world turned upside. Most recently, with the election of the foul one whose name I try to avoid using, the one who put out a perfunctory video praising Dr. King, but who works day and night to undo everything Dr. King stood for. I screamed the night he was elected, my mother’s scream, my grandmother’s scream. I shed the tears my father shed. That’s how I know how they reacted 50 years ago today. Because we live on the same path. Its windings are known to me.

April 3, 1968. (Charles Kelly/AP)

Backyard

My standard workout routine runs Sunday through Friday. On weekdays, I get up quite early, usually by 4:30. After shaking away grogginess, I dress in a t-shirt and shorts—sometimes long pants in the winter—then go around the house in the backyard to the rear entrance to the garage. This leads to the basement, a low-ceiling expanse where the washer, dryer, and my workout equipment are located. I have a Bowflex and an elliptical machine.

After I finish my routine, I take the same route back to the main part of the house. During most of the year, when I finish working out, dawn has not occurred yet. Blackness still covers my part of the world. For a long time, this has given me pause. A series of what-if scenarios play uncomfortably through my mind as I emerge from the garage and walk the pathway around the house to the backdoor.

Opposite the back of the house lies a low fence between our property and our neighbor’s on the next street over. One can easily look into her backyard, see the sliding glass door into her house.

What if there’s a police action next door, officers roaming my neighbor’s yard after a break-in or perhaps searching for a runaway suspect?

Some my think my concerns silly. I live in a “good” neighborhood. Police actions are rare, though not unheard of. Once, while working at home, I heard a helicopter circling close overhead. Checking around different websites revealed that the police were searching for a suspect about four blocks from our house. I stayed inside.

Sadly, it doesn’t matter what type of neighborhood one lives in when one is black. Anything can happen. The latest police shooting in Sacramento give tragic justification for my concerns.

Stephon Clark was shot multiple times, with several bullets hitting him in the back according to autopsy reports. He was in his grandmother’s backyard, a place as familiar to him as my backyard is to me. He should have been safe, but was not. Details continue to emerge, and the initial police account does not jibe with the facts. They claim to have felt threatened by Mr. Clark. But how threatening could he be if he had his back to them?

The first report about this latest black man shooting stated that Mr. Clark had a cellphone in his hand, which the police mistook for a gun. I don’t own a gun. I despise them. But I do have my metallic water bottle with me when I work out. I carry it downstairs and have it with me when I emerge.

My water bottle, my backyard.

So now during those moments I feel a pause come over me, an apprehension fed by “what ifs” as I walk through my own backyard, I wonder if my water bottle puts me at greater risk. Does it look like a weapon from a distance, like a gun?

The tragedy of Mr. Clark’s shooting has played out as so many have in the recent past. Details remain sketchy. Video contradict police accounts. In the absence of facts, the victim becomes the subject of suspicion and derision: if he had done this or that, then the police wouldn’t have shot him. That the victim rarely has a gun on his or her person becomes an inconvenient afterthought.

Another “afterthought,” rarely discussed in depth, what happens to the victim’s family? Mr. Clark has two sons, ages 1 and 3. They are now fatherless. Former NBA player Matt Barnes and the Rev. Shane Harris of the National Action Network announced a new scholarship fund to help Mr. Clark’s sons get to college. The fund will also help others who lost a parent to police violence.

No one should feel unsafe walking in their own backyard. We should not have to make such declarations, anymore than we should have to say that black lives matter. But clearly we must. For clearly, too many fail to take the message to heart.

It’s springtime now. The mornings will grow lighter. When I finish my workout, I will emerge from the garage into a backyard bathed in the glow of a new dawn. My appearance, and that of my silvery water bottle, will not hide in the shadows. Perhaps we should put more lighting in that part of the yard for when the days grow short again.

Why should we have to worry about such things?

Reading at Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

This weekend I’m attending, for the first time, the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. In its 15th year, this gathering of LGBTQ writers has become one of the premier events of the queer literary world. Today, I presented on a panel discussing Queer Fiction as Social Commentary with authors Matthew Griffin, Nick White, and Felice Picano, and moderated by Barry McCrea. We had a lively discussion. I learned a lot from this engaging panel of superb authors. I was particularly happy to meet Felice, a legend in the queer lit world.

In the afternoon, I participated in the reading series with Kathleen Archambeau, Peter Gajdics, Mary Griggs, Mercedes Lewis, Jeffrey Round, and Vanda.

What a wonderful experience it has been meeting and getting to know so many amazing writers. I thank my publicist Michele Karlsberg for connecting me with this wonderful event and to Festival organizer Paul J. Willis for scheduling me as a panelist and reader on my very first visit. I look forward to Sunday’s events and will be sorry to see the weekend end. But I’ll be back!

Here is video of my reading. I read excerpts from Sin Against the Race. Enjoy!