Now that my novel, The Ape is Dead!, is out in the larger world, I feel challenged to define it, when asked. It’s tagged in a variety of categories—fiction, romance, adult, new adult, young adult even!, contemporary, literary, ethnic, black. It all seems trivial to me as I simply think it a ‘good read’ for all ages, granted, young adult and above. The ethnic or more specifically black tag presents different kinds of challenges for me, personally, because of the dubious implication of being referred to as a black writer, which is really not just a simple fact. I’m reminded of Langston Hughes’ essay titled the “Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” by which Hughes accuses a Negro poet, who insists on being referred to as a “poet” rather than a “Negro poet,” of attempting to “run away spiritually from his race.” Hughes claims that this is what stands in the way of great black art, “the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization.” While I do agree with Hughes in principle, I do wonder if he intentionally misses the young poet’s irony for the sake of the argument…?
I’m trying to figure out what it may mean that my protagonist, who speaks for himself in first person, is Black—an historical African American, who as Hughes further insists at the end of his essay ‘expresses his individual dark-skinned self “without fear or shame”.’ Though, one way I see that my protagonist in relation to myself as a black writer may be somewhat different from those of historically popular black writers, such as Hughes, and then Ellison and his Invisible Man comes to mind, and then Wright, Baldwin, and Morrison come to mind, is that my story much more freely and openly explores sexual desire in ways that are simply natural and normal, given the contexts that produce that desire—and, if I dare say, my ideas about sex are more genuine, logical and ‘healthy’. That said, I might also dare to say, that all the writers mentioned, (except maybe Hughes), have serious issues when it comes to sex! Generally, when sex appears in their works, it’s sexual deviance that most concerns these writers. Moreover, when I think of today’s popular writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, as one prominent example, they sometimes tend not to mention sex at all, which seems unfathomable to me! And very safe! I mean, how can you depict the African American man and ignore his highly prized sexuality in this culture? That is, what he symbolizes as the preeminent sexual being in U.S. society? I suggest that it’s safer to ignore because today you have to answer not only to the traditional white racists and the ignorant who do not question them, but also to empowered African American women (that is, if your black male protagonist is not exclusive to them, the “good black man”) –who all have their varying reasons for attempting to control a black man’s sexuality as he continues to be a threat in a country that while professing to be ‘tolerant’, and some might even say downright lurid, when it comes to sexuality remains puritanical and orthodox underneath it all. And while all varieties of sexual liaison here may be celebrated or appreciated, or at the very least accepted, a black man with a white woman, specifically, continues to be disparaged by all, and I think it’s key to understanding what USA-ers really men when they speak of tolerance and acceptance and freedom, the hypocrisy of it all! Anyway, that’s one of the issues that my book explores, and perhaps my “blackness” (fully experienced and further investigated) allows me to make a unique statement in regard to this.