Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Gays in the African American Community

Hope those who celebrate had a Merry Christmas and a Happy Kwanzaa! And I hope everyone is looking forward to a fabulous New Year's Eve and 2016.

On Tuesday January 19th, please join me for our discussion of E. Lynn Harris' controversial I Say a Little Prayer. Harris, who died  unexpectedly in 2009 at age 54, was a publishing phenomenon: by the time of his death he had  had 10 consecutive books on the New York Times best-seller list, and had sold 4 million copies of his novels.

Harris's work was notable for its upwardly mobile African American characters, many of whom were gay or bisexual. I Say a Little Prayer looks at an issue of continuing relevance: the role of gay men and women in  the black church. Chauncey Greer is a believer, a faithful member of his local church, and a mostly out gay man. Although he is accepted by his pastor, when Bishop Upchurch, a conservative televangelist shows up, Chauncey and the other gay congregants decide to take a stand against Upchurch's anti-gay preaching and politics.

Here's what surprised me about this book; although there is definitely some homophobia, and a lot of hypocrisy about sexuality in general, there is a lot more acceptance of gayness than I would have expected. Chauncey's co-workers, sister and pastor all know that he's gay, and don't have a problem with it. His parents aren't thrilled, but they continue to support and love their son. When the church music director organizes a "Day of Absence" for churchgoing gays and gay supporters, over a thousand people participate.

It's this complex portrait of the contemporary black community that made Harris so popular. Rather than the competing stereotypes of African Americans as either sex crazed thugs or  mindlessly emotional holy rollers, Harris' characters embody both spirituality and sensuality. There are plenty of sexy characters in Harris' books, and most of them are sincerely devout churchgoers.I think Harris' world reflects the nuanced reality of African American life in the 21st century far more accurately than many supposedly "mainstream" writers.

Agree? Disagree? Let's talk about it on January 19th! We've still got a couple of copies here at the 2nd floor desk, and it's a quick read. Hope to see you soon!