Photos courtesy of J.R. Dewesse
Dallas resident Michael Brown aka J.R. Dewesse teaches high school and college level English. Dewesse has published two books, TO BE LOVED and THE KISS OF LIFE. Dewesse originally wrote LOVED in 2004 and the KISS began in 2009 but he never finished it. Then one day he shared his “little story” with two of the most important people in his life, his best friend and partner, who urged him to complete it. KISS speaks to themes of religion, sexual identity, and the down low. We chatted with Dewesse about why he became writer, his experiences growing up in the South, and what made him choose between reading an E. Lynn Harris novel over the works over William Shakespeare.
PRIDEINDEX: Tell me about yourself, your background, and why did you become a writer?
JR DEWESSE: I am from Vicksburg, Mississippi; I grew up in a small town – very religious, anti gay. I went to Jackson State University; I graduated with a background in English. I ran track while in college. It was there was the battle between against being gay. Life on the down low was pretty much my life, and I went to church Sunday through Thursday to try to pray it away…
In my sophomore year in college, I was exposed to a book by the late E. Lynn Harris called Invisible Life, and up until that moment, I felt like I was the only person in the world struggling with my sexuality. After having read that book, I realized that I wasn’t. I read all of the books that were available at that point, and it was so cathartic and such an escape that I started to writing myself. I was an English major, so writing kind of made sense. As far as where my book came from, I started writing it in 2004. I wrote 24 pages and never intended for it to become a full book. About two years later, I rediscovered it and showed it to my partner and my best friend. I said to them look at what I found, and they read it and told me that I had to finish it. And that’s how the writer was born…so to speak.
PI: And you mentioned–(JR interrupts)
JR: Beyond that, I am an excellent teacher. I have a Masters in English… I teach freshmen and sophomores at the college level and at the high school level. So that’s my writing background.
PI: Did you say that you’re from Detroit, Mississippi?
JR: No, I said Vicksburg.
PI: Oh shit, I am hearing things… OMG there’s a town called Detroit in Mississippi.
JR: (LAUGHS) It’s all right.
PI: Well, you know there are thousands of small towns in Mississippi that one who’ve never visited would not know of.
PI: I too attended an HBCU [Historically Black College and University]. My mom’s parents are from Mississippi, and they later migrated to Arkansas. All black folks have some of that proud Southern black cornbread loving Southern hospitality in us.
JR: I think all of us (African Americans) do – whether or not we know it.
PI: Talk about your book and what themes you cover.
JR: The book, as I said, talks some of the things that I was going through with being gay the religious conflict and the things you see, especially in the first book. I was going through at the moment about the religious conflict and trying to come to terms with being gay the things you see. In the first book, it’s the story about two guys that go through the experience from two different places. One of them is a preacher’s son and the other is his slightly effeminate guy that he falls for in junior high unexpectatedly. The story follows them through that journey of discovering who they are. They both grew up in the church and [navigate] through that struggle [of] feeling like you’re by yourself; it is apparent that they are in love with each other, but that struggle that conflict keeps them apart throughout the novel. I play with not just the religious aspects but the social [as well]. One of my characters gets married while still being in love with another guy. I also cover themes of HIV in women, the whole DL thing and social struggles, and the desire to conform and how it can ruin one’s life.
PI: So it sounds like the book is just based on only your own experiences?
JR: Well no, I wanted to give people on the outside a view into the topics and the experiences in general. But what I get from people who have read the book is that it feels like my book covers all of their stories. And that’s why I chose to have characters like the preacher’s son who was “straight” and a gay guy who is effeminate, so it gives you two basic perspectives of their lives and their struggles from childhood up until adulthood. The reaction that I have gotten from straight people is “Wow, I never knew that being gay was really like that.” So it is not necessarily just my story; it is kind of like all of the people that I have ever come in contact with somewhere; in there is their story.
PI: You have only two books, TO BE LOVED and THE KISS OF LIFE.
JR: Right. THE KISS OF LIFE is the after math after you make a decision and have to deal with the truth at some point. I wanted The Kiss of Life to answer what you do after you put all of the pieces back together. It’s like after you’ve made a decision, you have a child, a wife, and the choices that you’ve made are laid out in front of you for the whole world to see, so you ask yourself what now? It is a redemption story so to speak. The first book is sort of like a tragedy. I guess it is more of a redemptive book I almost called it The Aftermath.
PI: Are you planning to write a third book?
JR: I am almost done writing it now. I am 238 pages through it. The third book is kind of hard for me to talk about because it is so far out there. It is part of the trilogy but it is kind of centered around the song “The Next Lifetime” by Eryka Badu… because in my first book one of my main characters experiences extreme loss, and I am kind of insinuating that sometimes you may really think that someone is really for you but they leave you for someone else. The third book starts with slavery and I play with the theme of love in really difficult circumstances.
PI: Where have you promoted the book so far?
JR: I promoted the book at Nashville’s Black Gay Pride, Atlanta Black Book Expo, and Dallas Black Pride.
I’ve done a lot of online and private parties. I’ve done several interviews they’re all on my two websites jrdewesse.com and jrdewesse.weebly.com.
PI: Do you have plans to come here to Chicago and promote your book?
JR: I am open to traveling to many cities; it has been really hard to get in contact with people and book something.
PI: You’re more than welcome to join us at the Esteem Awards here in Chicago; it takes place on July 6.
JR: I would love to come to Chicago or take part in any pride that I can; I know that exposure is everything…My whole aim as a writer is to talk about and have a dialogue that people are not really having. We talk about the HIV, we talk about the down low, but I come from an angle of what role does society play in all of this. We like to blame down low men, we like to blame demonize black gay men – either you are too feminine or you are self loathing. People do not realize that society plays a role. What my books kind of allows you do is, especially if you are among the straight population, is to examine them like they have never done before. I get real personal and I have heard folks say that it needs to be a movie because folks say they feel like they were right there. I feel like it also gives the straight audience and an experience of the gay experience from two different angles…I have not read many books that look at lifestyle from this angle. Even though I love E. Lynn Harris books to death, it was like he was doing this uplifting where everybody had a good job and everything was great and it was a great love affair. It’s almost like assimilation where as for me it’s more of like starting a dialog. It is ridiculous because I hate to hear people bashing down low dudes, and I hate how some people go to church, and even though they live the down low lifestyle, they pray the gay way; it is disheartening! I just want people to just think and have that kind of dialog.
PI: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
JR: I like teaching. Teaching is time consuming and I like reading. I very much believe that you work hard and play even harder. I always try to do something fun whether it’s going out to bowl, going to happy hour, or maybe even going to the club. Anything that’s going to be fun or help me to de-stress.
PI: If your writing style were to be a car, what kind of car would it be?
JR: Wow, what a question! It would have to be a car that has balance. I believe in balance
PI: What do you by balance?
JR: It’s sporty and luxurious – much attention to detail has been paid. Maybe it’s a Cadillac CTS. (Pauses) I’ve never thought that I would call it (my writing style) a Cadillac? WOW! (Laughs) I don’t like that answer, but I guess that’s cool.
PI: If you were to walk into a store and there were only two books on the shelf, one is by William Shakespeare and the other was by E. Lynn Harris and you only had enough to buy only one book, which book would you buy? And why?
JR: You are bad; those are two of my favorite writers of all time. Why would you do that to me? Hum let me see. (Long Pauses).
PI: (In A LOUD VOICE) Choose damn it! You only have enough money to purchase only one book! There’s no layaway and we’re not going to hold the other book for you.
JR: (Laughs) I would choose E. Lynn Harris because his story more closely resonates with my life although I love William Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare’s artistry and how he speaks about humanity I would choose E. Lynn Harris because there’s something about reading about stuff that directly relates to you. If I had not read Shakespeare before, I would have chosen him, but I have read all of his tragedies, comedies, and all of his sonnets. If there was a new E. Lynn Harris book in that store, I know that I would read E. Lynn Harris’ book first.
For more information visit jrdewesse.weebly.com.