I return, always, to Melvin Dixon’s call that we need to teach ourselves to survive. Right now, I’m teaching on the relationship between evaluation and canonicity (T.S. Eliot, Alan Golding, Barbara Hernstein Smith). Dixon understood, in a way suggested by John Guillory and Gerald Graff, the relationship between institutions and queer knowledge: what survives, remains in print, circulates within culture, is often tied to those who teach it and thus continue to give it new life.
I have always known that I wanted to teach Dixon’s haunting and lyrical Vanishing Rooms, perhaps one of, if not the, most single important re-telling of gay inter-love since Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.
It is out of print.
I have always known that I wanted to teach James Earl Hardy’s gorgeously funny, sexy, and surprisingly tender B-Boy Blues, one of the most important works of contemporary urban black gay fiction. I want my students to use “jood” and adore Raheim, to understand the shape and texture of queer families, and the beauty of black male booty! (This does not go into the pedagogical rationale!)
It is similarly out of print.
Now, there are certainly enough used copies around that I could order both books for my classes. But, at some point, the economics of used books become unstable, unworkable, and actually bad for authors. JEH gets no royalties, pitifully small as they might be.
More seriously, the sustained work of teaching, persistence over time, teaching the same authors and texts to new generations of students to impress on them black queer legacies gets difficult. To the question, why not simply teach what’s available? I respond that I am interested in genealogies. JEH made possible an entire sub-genre of urban black gay novels, or, as he might prefer urban same gender loving novels. Yes, he did!
Redbone Press has recently re-released In the Life and Brother to Brother, allowing for memory to be sustained through history. A new edition of Lorde’s Sister Outsider is finally available again—I can stop copying my much-read, much-underlined copy. This is all great. But we still don’t have Adrian Stanford’s Black and Queer, Melvin Dixon’s Change of Territory, the poetry, fiction, essays, and cartoons that were part of black queer material culture in journals and magazines in the late 1970s and early 1980s—though these are being lovingly assembled by Steven Fullwood, or were last I knew.
Vast portions of our historical memory are absent—and few are redressed in contemporary black queer theorizing, concerned as it has been with cultural studies methodologies and concerns, public policy, and HIV/AIDS. These are necessary. But I fear that some of our most valuable treasures remain unacknowledged, unused, inaccessible.
What would it take to bring Stanford back into print? What would it take to have Dixon’s vitally important Vanishing Rooms back with us? What would it take to have the entirety of the B-Boy Blues series remain in print? What responsibilities do we have to keep our memories alert, our works in print, even ephemeral musings? (Should portions of Gukira find an offline life?)
No matter our gains, we queer people of color still face erasure. How to negotiate this continues to worry me.