We all remember where we were when we heard that song for the first time, or when we saw that music video or read that book that changed our lives. For many Black gay and same gender loving men, coming across a piece of literature that centered our stories honestly and authentically was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, and when we found it, we often had to steal away in the dark of night to not risk outing ourselves. In a fictitious world created by authors who saw our queerness as an asset and not a liability, James Earl Hardy and his magnum opus “B-Boy Blues,” which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year is one of those authors.
Released in 1994, Hardy provided the blueprint for a gay hip-hop love story at the height of the music genre’s growing popularity and cultural influence by masterfully infiltrating the hyper-masculine and homophobic standard associated with hip-hop’s gatekeepers. From the courage of his pen, he has given a generation of readers a gift that many of us couldn’t find the voice to articulate that which we needed, yet he summed it up in the tagline on the front cover: “A seriously sexy, fiercely funny, Black-on-Black love story.”
Before Noah and Wade, there was Mitchell and Raheim. Yes, representation matters. Hardy understood that during an era when the Black LGBTQ community was bereft of stories that reflected our humanity, and for this, CNP is giving Hardy his flowers while he can still smell them.
Native Son, a New York City-based organization created to inspire and empower Black gay men and founded by journalist Emil Wilbekin, also recognized Hardy’s achievements and cultural influence on August 27 during The Griot Honors: A Tribute To James Earl Hardy—Celebrating 25 Years Of B-Boy Blues And Black Gay Storytelling. The virtual event which streamed live on Facebook and YouTube featured actors Dyllon Burnside (POSE), J. August Richards (Council of Dads), a panel discussion with authors Darnell Moore (No Ashes In The Fire), Robert Jones Jr. (The Prophets), writer and MFA candidate Marrion Johnson and was moderated by social justice advocate and media personality Lonnell Williams (3LWTV).
Hardy was also present to provide insight into his process of writing “B-Boy Blues,” the public’s reaction following the book’s release, and how his debut novel became a series of books that shifted the culture.
“If you want to see something on a bookshelf that reminds you of yourself and the brothas you know, then you’re gonna have to write it,” said Hardy to Wilbekin.
“I often tell people that “B-Boy Blues” is the first novel I wrote, but it wasn’t the first novel that I wrote conscious[ly]. I really do believe that the ancestors were working with me and on me through that journey because I would write a chapter and it would be like...well where did that come from?” said Hardy.
“I didn’t have an outline that I was writing from. I didn’t even have notes about who the characters were, what their names were, or where they were from. It just flowed so naturally out of me. It was like I was in a trance,” he added.
To date, “B Boy-Blues” has sold over 200,000 copies and has spawned a series of books in the continuation of the original story that readers fell in love with 25 years ago. The book’s theme centering Black gay love, while less controversial today, caused its share of pearl-clutching in 1994.
“I knew from the jump that because of the type of story it was telling that it most likely would not be embraced immediately,” said Hardy. I think that the controversy about who it was about, the type of story it told, the way that story was told, and particularly a character like Raheim, all those elements...it was like a bomb going off.”
Hardy tells Native Son that he wasn’t surprised by the initial reaction to his novel because it challenges “white supremacy, hetero-supremacy, and even some issues that we as Black SGL men have with each other.”
“I expected Caucasian queer folks to be put out [by “B-Boy Blues”] because they were not centered. At that moment in time just about every single novel written by a Black gay or bisexual identified gay man, the [Black gay] character was the fly in the buttermilk,” said Hardy.
“He did not exist in a Black centered world, whether that be at work or home, and certainly not with his man, because he was always conveniently attached to a Caucasian who was naturally racist but he always forgave him for being racist. I was like, what is that about?”
“A Game-Changing Novel For Black Gay/SGL Men
“B-Boy Blues” and the subsequent novels written by Hardy would prove to be a game-changer for the literary industry and for its impact on Black gay and same gender loving men, many of whom went on to become respected authors in their own right. Robert Jones Jr., the author of the highly anticipated debut novel “The Prophets,” is one of those writers influenced by Hardy.
“It completely changed my idea of what Black gay male relationships could be. I didn’t know anybody like Raheim, but I knew many people like Mitchell. It completely opened my mind to the fact that there’s not just one type of Black gay male,” said Jones.
“It was so representative of the life that I was almost enjoying or living in secret,” said Moore. “I often say that so much of the life I was living at the time was at night in the dark, and this book brought to life so much of what I was encountering,” he added.
Queer writer Marrion Johnson, who read B-Boy Blues for the first time recently during an internship with Lambda Literary, said “the characters felt palpable on the page.”
“I read it and immediately I said, these are my friends. This is us. This is my community,” said Johnson.
“The thing that I love most about “B-Boy Blues,” kinda like when you’re looking at Black gay narratives on TV or in movies, it’s always one Black guy and one non-Black guy in a relationship together,” said Jones. “James Earl Hardy made sure that we had two Black ass men in love and that was the story that gave everybody else permission to say, ‘oh two Black men can be together.’ “B-Boy Blues” was a necessary intervention not just for me but for the whole world.”
Watch: The Griot Honors: A Tribute To James Earl Hardy—Celebrating 25 Years Of B-Boy Blues And Black Gay Storytelling in the clip below.