BLACK, GIFTED AND GAY is written by LGBT media pioneer Leyla Farah, with assistance from prolific LGBT celebrity reporter Sarah Toce. It features profiles on Tracy Chapman, Lee Daniels, Angel Davis, Maurice Jamal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Patrik-Ian Polk, RuPaul and other African American gay personalities. “The book is an exploration of what it means to be a part of both LGBT culture and African-American culture at the same,” says Farah. Here Farah shared with us the back story behind the book.
PRIDEINDEX: Why do you believe it is important for the African American LGBT community to recognize its heroes and icons?
LEYLA FARAH: I think any community that is deprived of positive role models suffers. Positive icons create positive change, and it benefits everyone when those icons are highlighted and celebrated. Our community is no different. The fact that there’s never been a book like this, and that it’s so difficult to easily find a collection of LGBT African-American icons, simply highlights the need.
PI: When did you first decide to write BLACK, GIFTED AND GAY? And how long did it take complete it?
LF: I’ve been working on the book off and on for the past 3 years. It all started because I was looking for a book featuring positive, proud role models for someone in my life who was struggling with her own coming out process as an African-American lesbian. I thought it would make the perfect gift for her, and when I couldn’t find it I decided to write it. It’s the kind of thing that should exist in the world. I hope it finds its way to the people who need it.
PI: Was there in any significance in releasing BLACK, GIFTED AND GAY in June during Gay Pride month rather than in February Black history month?
LF: None whatsoever. I released it when I was finally able to complete the (very long) process of putting it together. It just happened to be ready in time for Pride month this year. I hope to be able to gear up for speaking engagements, book signings, etc in time for Black History Month next year.
PI: Briefly tell us about the criterion used to select the gay icons to include in the book?
LF: I wanted to highlight contemporary role models – people who were out and proud and successful. I really made an effort to ensure there were roughly an equal number of men and women, but beyond that I didn’t limit myself. I asked people I knew for suggestions, and I kept a running list as I came across people who inspired me.
PI: Why did you decide to include living icons only rather than to honor a few gay legends posthumously?
LF: Because it hadn’t been done yet. Pioneers like Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and so many others deserve so many more accolades than they’ve received, but I couldn’t find any evidence that our living icons were being recognized in the context of the African-American LGBT experience at all. I thought it was important to do, so I did it.
PI: What did you enjoy most about writing BLACK, GIFTED AND GAY?
LF: Discovering new icons. My original list included some well-known names of course, but along the way others were suggested to me that I never would have found on my own. To me, that just underscores how important a book like this is. If someone like me – someone with a fairly good grasp of both LGBT and African-American history and culture – didn’t have a complete mental list of LGBT African-American icons, we need to actively educate ourselves as a community.
PI: Tell us about your professional background and the circumstances that lead to your decision to become a writer?
LF: I started my career at PlanetOut as part of the editorial team and I’ve worked in communications ever since. I’ve always considered myself a writer, and I’m a voracious reader, so creating this book came naturally to me. I can’t really envision it taking shape any other way.
PI: Describe your writing style.
LF: I believe writing should be as simple as possible, but not any simpler. Whenever I write, my goal is to communicate an idea as plainly, and as completely, as possible. I hope I’ve done that with this book.
PI: Name at least 3 writers who have most influenced your artistic style?
LF: Such a great question, and so hard to answer! Honestly, I would say that my style is influenced most by e.e. cummings, Dr. Seuss, and Maya Angelou. e.e. cummings showed us that language has shape. Dr. Seuss showed us that language has joy. And May Angelou continues to show us that language has power. I strive to achieve all of those goals – to varying degrees – whenever I write.
PI: Do you believe that LGBT and African American writers have an obligation to the LGBT and African American community? Why or why not?
LF: I believe writers have an obligation to tell the truth as they see it – even when creating fiction. LGBT and African-American writers bring their own experiences, and therefore their own sense of truth to their work. I would hope that translates into more written work that speaks authentically to both communities.
PI: What other projects are you currently working on?
LF: It’s always been my hope to extend Black, Gifted and Gay into a series (e.g., Young, Gifted & Gay; Disabled, Gifted & Gay; Gray, Gifted & Gay; etc.). I’m connecting with publishers now to, hopefully, make that a reality.
PI: What advice would you offer aspiring writers?
LF: Tell the truth, as you see it, and know that in doing so you’re helping others find theirs.