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James Earl Hardy, 1995

The Start of Something BIG!: Talking with James Earl Hardy

By Owen Keehnen

In the autumn of 1994, Alyson Publications released B-Boy Blues, the debut novel by established 28-year-old journalist James Earl Hardy. Billed as "The first hip-hop love story" and "The first novel to examine b-boy culture," B-Boy Blues exploded onto the small press scene and became an immediate bestseller. The widely divergent reviews of it highlighted and prompted discussions of racism in the white gay community and homophobia in the heterosexual Black community.

B-Boy Blues is the love story of a young black journalist, Mitchell Crawford, and a muscular B-boy bike messenger, Raheim Rivers. The two quickly discover that despite their different life-experiences, backgrounds, obstacles, and conditions, they're meant to be together. Filled with snappy dialogue, memorable characters, phenomenal sex scenes, and emotionally moving moments, B-Boy Blues is both a grand romance in an almost classical style and a frank depiction of life from divergent sides of the African-American experience. [Since the time of this interview, Hardy has published four additional titles in the B-Boy Blues series: 2nd Time Around (1996), If Only for One Nite (1997), The Day Eazy-E Died (2001), and Love the One You're With (2002). A sixth title in the series, A House Is Not a Home, is scheduled for publication in June 2005.]

Keehnen: B-Boy Blues is the best selling small press book that I can remember. Did you expect it to be such a phenomenal success?

Hardy: Well, I knew it would be popular, but I had no idea it would have the effect that it has had.

Keehnen: The story of Mitchell and Raheim is a great coming together love story. Is that what you sat down to write? Was your original intent to write a love story?

Hardy: Originally, I just wanted to write a story I would want to read, which basically meant exploring the world of gay and bisexual men of African descent, which entails where we work, our family life, friends, and of course, love.

Keehnen: Two dozen publishers rejected B-Boy Blues before its eventual acceptance at Alyson. Do you attribute the rejections to the Afrocentric content, the gay content, the graphic sex, or just publishing BS?

Hardy: I believe it was all of those things. I'm sure there were editors who were disturbed by the too black and too strong tone. There were some editors disturbed by the pro gay tone. Some were taken aback by seeing two black men being intimate, expressing their love or lust for each other. Some editors probably just thought black people don't read and white people won't be interested in a story like this . . . and since there's never been a story like this told before why should I take the chance and lose my company's shirt? I'm also sure many of those same editors are slapping themselves now.

Keehnen: So is success the best revenge?

Hardy: Yeah, and it's very sweet. If anything else, B-Boy Blues proves there's an identifiable black gay and bisexual audience for a story like this . . . and that people who aren't black and aren't gay also want to read a story like this, where black men aren't portrayed as emotionally deficient, prone to violence, and for the most part pathological. With B-Boy Blues I presented the world as I see it and live it everyday.

Keehnen: Do you think the book's success has opened some doors for other black gay authors?

Hardy: It might make them take a second look at a story that's similar. Unfortunately, this type of thing has happened before. Some people have been saying, "Thanks to James Earl Hardy's B-Boy Blues things will be different for black gay writers"--but to do that is falling into the trap of saying, "all it takes is one person." The same sort of thing happened when Larry Duplechan's Blackbird, the first black coming out story, was released.

Keehnen: What's the best way to make sure that same sort of situation doesn't happen here?

Hardy: B-Boy Blues can't be seen as a project that can be cloned or carbon copied, and editors also need to realize that white gay men are not the only ones out there in the reading audience. If we are really about diversity, then the scope has to be expanded.

Keehnen: Because B-Boy Blues is the first person narrative of a black journalist, do people automatically assume that you are Mitchell Crawford and that this is your life story?

Hardy: Yes, they do. I guess it's only natural, but B-Boy Blues is not James Earl Hardy's autobiography. There are certain things that happened to Mitchell and some of the other characters that have happened to me. In fact, every character in B-Boy Blues is not so much someone I knew as a composite of people. I'm flattered, but the story is not mine. I've never experienced anything like the relationship between Mitchell and Raheim.

Keehnen: Do any of your friends recognize themselves in the character composites?

Hardy: Characters sometimes start out like them, but then they sort of take their own direction. Usually when friends and acquaintances recognize themselves, they only see the good in those characters, they don't see the quirks and all the negatives.

Keehnen: Visually and vocally your characters are so clear on the page. Do you see them or hear them first?

Hardy: I usually see them first.

Keehnen: Your dialogue is fantastic. Is it as effortless to write as it appears?

Hardy: Yes. For me that was probably the easiest thing about writing B-Boy Blues. It has a lot to do with my journalist background. It was very strange too because in some ways it seemed a lot of the dialogue was stored in the back of my mind, and when I was writing it almost came out automatically.

Keehnen: Although B-Boy Blues is a fun novel, it confronts and names a number of different issues--abuse, job discrimination, racism, homophobia within the black church, African-American self hatred, etc. Was any issue more important for you to include than the others?

Hardy: No, not really. One of the things I've often been criticized for with B-Boy Blues is that for a funny novel it's too political. My answer has always been, "That's life." When I was writing the book, I never questioned the topics as I explored them because all those topics are things people face every day.

Keehnen: So it wasn't really a conscious inclusion so much as it went with the characters.

Hardy: Yeah. It just naturally fell into place, especially given the type of character Mitchell Crawford is, very Afrocentric and proud of being gay.

Keehnen: Which also means he would be very politically aware. . . .

Hardy: Exactly. Life is politics; you can't separate the politics from the lives of those characters because the effect on them is constant. The novel would not have its soul if it had not delved into those issues.

Keehnen: A buddy of mine said he saw a debate on this going on over the Internet, so you must have really struck a chord. What do you think that was?

Hardy: I believe it's because many people black, white, gay, straight, and otherwise are having their belief systems challenged about who black gay men are, who black men are, and who the lesbian and gay community is. One thing B-Boy Blue does is, instead of Mitchell and his friends existing in a white gay world, they are the center of their own world, their own universe. For some people it's too much to handle. It challenges them to think of us in a different way. I've been blamed for spreading propaganda and being a reverse racist, whatever that means. I suppose I expected that, and the reason is because these issues are being discussed from our perspective. It's crazy but you hardly ever see our image in gay and lesbian publications, and when you do it's often marginalized or eroticized.

Keehnen: You've been getting a lot of mainstream/straight attention for the book, including an A- in Entertainment Weekly. I'm curious. Have you noticed a lot of difference between reviews from gay and straight periodicals?

Hardy: Straight media treat B-Boy Blues as something special, an oddity. It's taken on the surface as a love story. The straight media also had a field day with the idea of a b-boy being gay. The gay media have been very defensive and reactionary to a large extent. It's blown my mind how condescending, catty, patronizing, and downright racist some of these reviewers have been, to the point where B-Boy Blues has even been dismissed as an African-American fairy tale.

Keehnen: I've read some of the ongoing letters to the editor in The Lambda Book Report about the B-BOY BLUES debate. Tell me a little about that fracas.

Hardy: Apparently it was another case of a so-called critic not so much reviewing the book as stating his reaction to the material. Among other things, he basically said B-Boy Blues is unapologetically about, by, and for black gay men. M. S. Hunter said it best in his follow-up letter to my letter, when he said that even though I might have written the book with black gay men in mind, that doesn't mean only black gay men can enjoy it.

Keehnen: What would you want someone's reaction to be upon finishing the novel?

Hardy: Be proud of who you are, especially if you are black and gay. Also don't fall into the trap many characters do in the novel by stereotyping one another. We all stereotype people based on the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they live, the way they love, the way they worship. . . . The media is saturated with it, and it's impossible not to have it affect you, but it's another thing to act on it.

Keehnen: Your novel has some incredible sex scenes. Were they easy or difficult to write in comparison to the other parts?

Hardy: The sex was easy to write because it was based not on experience but on the fantastic.

Keehnen: I'll say.

Hardy: You know, I wanted people to get hot reading those sex scenes. The two sex scenes between Raheim and Mitchell had to work because sex is the thing that brings these two characters together.

Keehnen: Something else that cements the novel is the music. It should almost come with a CD set.

Hardy: The music is very important to the book. I wanted the narrative to flow like a song. I took that cue from Larry Duplechan. It gives the novel a very tasty flavor. When you can recognize a song lyric and the context of what's going on, it enhances it. It's like being in a movie and having a song come on during a particular scene. It brings it more to life. Also my secret dream is to sing. I grew up singing in the church and let me tell you one thing, if I had a pop career I would definitely be singing love songs to a man and not a woman.

Keehnen: B-Boy Blues could be your springboard. Now prior to this novel, you were a journalist. What was different for you about the fiction writing process?

Hardy: It was very scary. For the first time I was writing something where I didn't need to interview anybody or do any research. Quite frankly, I'm a big believer in the old adage "A book writes itself." It just came out of me. I actually locked myself up in this room for three months and did it. I knew that if I didn't do it that way, it wouldn't get done.

Keehnen: Congratulations. I also hear there is film interest.

Hardy: Yes, there has been. I've been talking to some people over the past couple of months.

Keehnen: How involved do you want to be in production?

Hardy: I would want to write or co-write the screenplay. I would want to be a creative consultant and maybe even a co-producer. I think in some ways that's the only way you can be sure the integrity of the project remains intact.

Keehnen: Do you have a fantasy cast?

Hardy: Of course I do. Jada Pinkett or Rosie Perez as Michelle the secretary. Allen Payne from Jason's Lyric as DC, Jenifer Lewis who played Tina Turner's mother in What's Love Got To Do With It as Aunt Ruth. Maybe Alfre Woodard as Mitchell's mother. Malik Yoba of New York Undercover as Raheim. He has that big, brawny and bald look. Or maybe Tyson Beckford, the first black male supermodel, as Raheim. Mitchell. I don't know.

Keehnen: Speaking of dream casts, would you care to explain that "thanks" to Wesley Snipes in your opening acknowledgements?

Hardy: Wesley and I met just before he was about to explode in Jungle Fever and New Jack City. I interviewed him for Emerge magazine. It was supposed to be a forty-five minute interview and it turned out to be two and a half hours. He was a very humble and together brother who really impressed me. In the talk we had after the interview, he encouraged me in my career. He was very inspirational. He's a role model of sorts.

Keehnen: Are you planning a sequel to B-Boy Blues?

Hardy: Yes. There's even been some interest from some of the same publishers that rejected the book.

Keehnen: You also recently completed a book on filmmaker Spike Lee. Do you think you've gained some insight into his position by suddenly being thrust into the spotlight not only as an artist, but also almost as a spokesperson? [Spike Lee: Filmmaker, coauthored with Nathan Irvin Huggins, appeared in 1995.]

Hardy: Yeah. People expect me to be the voice of black gay America, but I can't be; I'm only one person. It's scary to think you can take the pulse of an entire group of people by talking to one person. It's very uncomfortable. I don't have any problem giving my experience or viewpoint on certain things, but I don't want them to take what I say as The Rule.

Keehnen: Do you have a favorite Spike Lee movie?

Hardy: Do the Right Thing. Most notably because I grew up a block from where he filmed it. It was very eerie. It was like he had filmed my childhood. He represented the community I grew up in as it operated on a daily basis.

Keehnen: You're also working on a history of gospel music?

Hardy: Yes. It will look at the history, its roots from the motherland to America. What the book really is going to do is show how gospel music has influenced popular music. This is not only a chance to put gospel music forth as a true American art form, but also as the soul and backbone of popular music. I'm also working on a Boyz II Men bio for Chelsea House, which should be out in January 1996. [Boyz II Men appeared in Chelsea House's African American Achievers series in 1996.]

Keehnen: Sounds like you might be in that writing room for a while. Do you have a career goal with your writing?

Hardy: Not particularly. To be honest I've done most of the things I've wanted to do in my career. I'm a freelance and feature writer, a music critic, and a novelist. I would like to sort of have a column of some sort.

Keehnen: Do you have a personal hero or heroine?

Hardy: I would have to say my grandmother, Irene Ruth Hardy, who died ten years ago. She was the one who gave me this drive to do and be anything I wanted. I know she's looking out for me. Everything I've accomplished so far is in part due to her instilling those values in me.

Keehnen: Would you care to close with a "must read" book?

Hardy: Sure. James Baldwin's Just Above My Head. It's one of his most under-appreciated titles, but for me that is it.

Keehnen: Thanks, James, and continued success to you.

Hardy: Thanks, Owen.

About Owen Keehnen
Owen Keehnen has worked as a journalist, book reviewer, and interviewer for a number of years. Currently, the Chicago based author is completing a trilogy of interview books on gay XXX stars, finishing a horror novel, and supporting himself as a massage therapist. He is also launching a website which celebrates independent horror films,
Related Pages

African-American Literature: Gay Male

American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

African Americans

Music: Popular

Baldwin, James



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