Casey Ger­ald

Poets and Writers - - The Genre Of Resistance -

There Will Be No Mir­a­cles Here (River­head, Oc­to­ber), a for­mally in­ven­tive and lyri­cal mem­oir about boy­hood, black­ness, mas­culin­ity, faith, priv­i­lege, and the search for self that in­ves­ti­gates the idea of the Amer­i­can dream, and how the myth of as­cen­sion—in­clud­ing the au­thor’s own—is what can ul­ti­mately undo us. Agent: Lynn Nes­bit of Jan­klow & Nes­bit. Ed­i­tor: Re­becca Sale­tan.

Not long after I fin­ished my man­u­script, I saw an old con­ver­sa­tion between the po­ets Lu­cille Clifton and So­nia Sanchez. Some­body asked Ms. Clifton why she wrote a cer­tain poem, and she replied: “This was a poem that wanted to be writ­ten, and I was avail­able.” I had not yet talked about the book I’d just fin­ished, but that is more or less what I wanted to say about it. Even more point­edly: I was kid­napped by this book and held hostage un­til the ran­som was paid.

I be­gan the work sim­ply be­cause I knew some­thing was wrong with me. I had achieved, by my late twen­ties, about ev­ery­thing a kid is sup­posed to achieve in Amer­ica, but I was real cracked up— not quite hav­ing a ner­vous break­down yet not too far off, and aw­ful sad ei­ther way. I had, it seemed, lived my way into a dead end, so I de­cided to write my way out—to trace those cracks with words.

What came out on the page was just as strange as I felt, which alarmed some peo­ple at first. I sent a few early chap­ters to a writer friend, who wrote back, “When can you hop on the phone?” which is al­ways a bad sign. So my friend called to stage an in­ter­ven­tion. His mes­sage was: “Lis­ten, you’ve been hired to write an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. It’s a straight­for­ward ex­er­cise—it’s got a be­gin­ning, mid­dle, and end, and it’s grounded in the facts of your life. There’s a great tra­di­tion of au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, by the way—led by peo­ple on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety who write to as­sert their ex­is­tence. Go buy some of those books and learn from them. You’re go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion.”

I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated my friend’s ad­vice be­cause it helped me de­cide early on that I was not go­ing to write the kind of book he de­scribed, no mat­ter the risk. I did not need to write a book to know I ex­isted. And even though I’d grown up, and had lived grown, as a poor black queer damn-near-or­phan, I had not, in my mind, lived on the mar­gins of any­thing. I think of what Ken­drick La­mar says on Sec­tion.80: “I’m not on the out­side look­ing in. I’m not on the in­side look­ing out. I’m in the dead fuck­ing cen­ter, look­ing around.” So that was the per­spec­tive of the book I wanted to write. I wanted to write it not to as­sert my ex­is­tence but to as­sert that the way we’re taught to live in this coun­try is killing us. Wanted to imag­ine what it would look like to truly live—to be whole, to be free, to be a bet­ter per­son, a bet­ter friend, a bet­ter lover, to know God for real, not some sense­less rit­ual and fear.

There were no mod­els that I could look to in or­der to learn how to turn all that into a book. So the most im­por­tant thing my ed­i­tor did was, in the early days when things were shaky, she said, “It’s got to be weird be­fore it gets good. Keep go­ing.” So I just went with what was com­ing out on the page. And I got so much com­fort and sup­port from other artists, many of them dead, from writ­ers like Ken­neth Patchen and Clarice Lis­pec­tor and An­nie Dil­lard, and mu­si­cians. Could I make a book that felt like lis­ten­ing to Chan­nel Or­ange or Good Kid, M.A.A.D City or Lau­ryn Hill’s Unplugged—and movies like Paris, Texas and Trainspot­ting and Moon­light—and projects like Arthur Jafa’s Love Is the Mes­sage, the Mes­sage Is Death and Ja’Tovia Gary’s An Ec­static Ex­pe­ri­ence? I wrote by hand and edited pages ev­ery day, some­times twice a day, to make the thing as vis­ceral as pos­si­ble, to try to end up with a book that felt like watch­ing the mo­ment in Alvin Ai­ley’s Rev­e­la­tions when the three male dancers leap—hurl them­selves, spin­ning, re­ally—across the stage three times in a row, in per­fect for­ma­tion, and you’re not sure whether they will crash and die or you will die watch­ing be­cause it’s just that beau­ti­ful. I don’t know that I suc­ceeded, but I tried.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.