Baltimore resident Craig Stewart wrote directed and producer his first stage play, A Day in the Life, to huge acclaim. The stage play is about how he came to terms with being gay and his relationship with a guy who was HIV+ that touched many people, making it a huge success.
After relocating from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Stewart wrote his first book Words Never Spoken, A Memoir, a book which he describes as a “byproduct of his life’s experiences.” The book is generating buzz around the country. Stewart has hosted readings at Black Gay Pride events in Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, and New York.
PrideIndex had the pleasure of speaking with him about why he became a writer, why he wrote his book, and how he hopes to change the way that black gay men see themselves.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): It’s great to be talking with Craig “The Writer” Stewart. Tell us about your book. How did you get started as a writer?
CRAIG STEWART (CS): It’s about living in Atlanta for over thirteen years and coming to terms with being gay and adjusting to the transition of dating women to dating men. It’s really a byproduct of mostly my experiences. It’s some of the relationships that I had and the hurt and disappointments that came from the failed ones. It’s about some of the people that I loved, friends, and some of the people I was in a relationship with who are living with virus or who are dying from AIDS. It’s my parents’ divorce, my sister’s drug addiction, and my brother’s 23 year jail sentence. It’s so many things.
I never imagined writing a book. I came to Atlanta two days after I’d graduated from Hampton University. I moved to Atlanta to write music. I was a journalism major in college, and I knew that I’d wanted to be a more creative writer. I came to terms with being gay and started to experience relationships with men. The first guy that I’d fell in love with was HIV+ and I wrote a stage play called A Day in the Life.
PI: How did friends and family react to your writing about them in your book and airing their dirty laundry?
CS: I spoke with my family about the book because I used their real names. Everyone else in the book had their names changed except Tyler Perry and Brandy’s real names are used in the book because I‘ve had professional relationships. In terms of friends, although I changed their names, I did tell them about it before I put the book out. I did not want them to be blindsided.
As I said before, I lived in Atlanta for thirteen years and wrote a play that had sold out multiple times. So part of the reason that I’d released the book there was because I knew people there knew my work. I knew that I could get traction there because I had previously done a play and because my greeting cards business was based there. The other reason I released the book in Atlanta is because it’s a gay Mecca, and I knew that if it was successful, the word would travel like wildfire to DC, LA and Chicago. Everything that is gay or relevant to gay men comes through Atlanta.
PI: Did your former friends or ex-lovers apologize to you after reading their stories in the book?
CS: No. I have not had that experience, but I know that certain ex’s read the book because their friends have come to me and said certain things. (Laughs) I really did not write the book for an apology. I do not approach it from the stand point of I was hurt from this person or that person. I was not perfect in my past relationships. I’m not suggesting that past relationships ended at the fault of those other people.
PI: What was the purpose of writing the book?
CS: The purpose of writing the book because I’d moved to Los Angeles after living in Atlanta for 13 years.
And like I had said before, I had produced a play called A Day in the Life. I produced it on four separate occasions. The first run of the show we‘d sold out. Tyler Perry actually came to the play. He came back stage and told me the show was amazing. He wanted to help. The second time I’d produced, it flopped. The third time it flopped; then the last time we opened to a sold out night, and we did thirteen shows over ten days. It was successful. After that show had ended in 2007, I was living in Atlanta for the next four years just kind of aimlessly moving about – not really knowing what to do. My greeting card business was doing well; we were in seven stores and we were also online. Then when the economy turned, the business folded, so I was living in Atlanta not really knowing what was going on. And at that time, I slipped into a depression, not really knowing that I had slipped into a depression. It was a more of a functional depression. Some people use drugs and some people use food when they are depressed; I was using sex. One of the things that I wanted to talk about was how I was using sex and I was using it anonymously. I was meeting people on the internet that I did not know, and so I write about that. Those last couple of years I lived in Atlanta I was kind of existing. There was a calling or a whisper; I felt like my spirit was being summoned to move to L.A. I did not know why. I just know that it happened in December of 2010. I got this instinct to move to L.A., but I ignored it until February of 2011. I sold everything; my car was reposed because I had fallen on such a hard time and moved to L.A. with no job, and three months after moving to L.A. I wrote the book. Writing the book was more of a purging. I thought I was just writing about living in Atlanta after 13 years, but as I wrote, I started to write about the experiences that I’d had as a child and how I was running from my sexuality even then I write about all of that in my book Words Never Spoken, A Memoir .
PI: Let’s back track and talk about that. When did you first come out and what was it like for you growing up?
CS: Coming out means many things to different people. For some, it could be when they had their first experience while others may think of it when they start to have that conversation with the people that they love. For me, I came out when I first started having the conversation. My first sexual experience did not happen until I was twenty-two years old, but I always knew the feelings were there because I’d tucked them away as a child. I thought that if I simply ignored the feelings or tucked them away, they would go away. My last girlfriend was when I was in college. I remembered having conversations with her. She fantasized more than I did about being married and having kids. I knew that I could not deceive her by marrying her and having kids knowing that was not where my heart was and that was not my truth. So I ended that relationship. I actually had my coming out with my mom in October 1999 because I had fallen in love, so that’s why I opened up the conversation. This guy wanted to have Thanksgiving dinner with me; my mom was coming down for Thanksgiving, and I thought it was the opportune time to tell her.
I remember sometimes over my life when I was in high school and my mom asked, “Do you like girls,” in a joking kind of way, but I remember lashing out at her. I believe that your mother always knows. She was asking me because she had a girl friend that used to ask her. She would say, “Oh my God; he is so gorgeous. Does he have a girlfriend” I never brought girls home. My mother would ask me periodically ask me about my girlfriend, once in high school and then in college. The last time she asked me was the impetus for me finding a girlfriend. Fast forward to 1999 when I was telling her the story about me being gay. I called her from work because I felt like I could tell her, and if it got too intense, I could simply say I have to go; I’m at work. I remember telling her on the phone and she seemed to be okay, but I recall for about two weeks after that our communication was kind of off; which was kind of unusual because she’d called me every day because this was the farthest I stayed away from home. I could tell that our communication was strained because now she was only calling me when she knew I was at work. She would leave a message. Then when I returned the call in the evening, she was “very busy.” It was always very touch and go she would call back, but she would only have a couple of minutes to talk. I knew something was off and it was her adjusting. Then two weeks later, she called and lashed out. Again, I share the entire story in my book. It took me twenty-two years to become comfortable in the skin I’m in; I could not expect for her to become totally comfortable in two weeks. Even though I suspect that she always knew, but there is something about accepting that reality that hits them in the gut because at that point they can never pretend not to know anymore.
PI: Did you self publish Words Never Spoken, A Memoir? Where have you promoted it?
CS: Yes. I released it in May 2012. You can order it from Amazon or download it to your eReader. To date, I’ve done about thirteen signings in Atlanta. I have appeared at Morehouse College; Atlanta, Memphis and Nashville’s Black Gay Prides and in Brooklyn. In 2014, I am looking forward to reading and signing at more of the pride events across the country.
PI: Have you thought about producing Words Never Spoken, A Memoir as a stage play?
CS: Yes. I have thought about staging Words Never Spoken, A Memoir as a play. I have reached out to the director from my stage play and sent him a copy of the book. However, there aren’t any plans to do that right now because I’d like to take my first play A Day in the Life nationally. I would rather work on getting the sponsors and the funding together.
PI: What are you working on right now? (Other than promoting this book.)
CS: Right now, I am working on a second book. I am also working on developing a television series. I am working to make my business Say It In A Card.com a household name. I’m in production with Suzanne de Passe. We’re pitching a television series to the networks this year, so hopefully that show will be picked up.
PI: How much of the second book is the story of your life?
CS: This book is the biggest lesson that I’ve learned over the course of my life. I do pull from scenarios that have happened in my life that I did not share in the first book. And from those scenarios I impart the lesson that I have learned. Each chapter opens with an original quote. There are ten chapters some of which include dating, love and fear, life, and death.
PI: Do you someday foresee the story of your life being produced as a play or movie?
CS: Yes, Words Never Spoken, A Memoir can be a stage play or as a movie. Many of my readers have emailed me and suggested that I make the book into a movie, but it is really about timing and order.
PI: Name there people who have most influenced your artistic style.
CS: I think about the old saying that there is nothing new under the sun. But I cannot honestly say that I have been inspired by anyone in particular. There may be some similarities between me and others. Again, there is nothing new under the sun. With respect to me, writing this book I thought a lot about E. Lynn Harris, but I don’t see similar styles to my style of writing to his. What is similar is the subject matter, but our styles are completely different. Interestingly enough I have gotten emails from readers who have said that I am not like E. Lynn Harris; my style is fresh and different. I thought a lot about him when I wrote the book because he self published before he got a distribution deal and he released his book in Atlanta initially. I thought about him in the sense that I would take a similar course and get the word out by word of mouth and being patient. I thought about following his pattern to mainstream success. When I got back to Atlanta, I had readings and signings at friend’s houses with food and drinks. That is how it began. Then I set up public signings at art galleries, libraries, and continued to build that way. One of the advantages I had that E. Lynn did not have was social media. There was no social media when Invisible Life was first released, so I use that to my advantage. I have gotten emails from South Africa, the UK, and all across the United States because of social media. In terms of creatively speaking, I love songwriters because that’s where I started. I think about Anita Baker, Babyface, Mariah Carey, but in terms of art and literature, I think about Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, but I do not compare my work to theirs.
PI: What else do you have to say?
CS: This is not just my story it is our story. I’ve realized that from readers coming up to me and who have written me. I wrote it as a purging; it is something that we all can identify with. It’s not just gay men, but for everybody. It’s my coming out story; it is for the dreamer, and anyone who has a dream that’s on the verge of giving up because there is no evidence that things are going to work out in their favor. This book is for the parent who is struggling with their child’s sexuality and the child struggling with his or her sexuality. It’s for the man who is married and knows that he has desires to be with someone of the same sex. It’s all of that. I hope that my story evokes everyone that read it to think differently of themselves, the world, and the life they have. I hope that fifty or so years after I am long gone that this book is very much so alive.
I want this book to change the way that we (gay black men) see ourselves. I want us to see dating and sex differently and to live and to seek our truth. I want us to realize that it’s time to have an honest conversation about sexuality. The black church is the reason we struggle. We hold ourselves hostage and haven’t given ourselves permission to be free. I hope this book would offer a glimpse into ones truth and living a better life.