Caleb Rainey | Out on the Page
I know I usually write a review of a particular book and celebrate its creative power. I have decided to do something slightly different for this holiday season. I want to talk about writer’s lives and I am going to use a particular writer, Emanuel Xavier to demonstrate some general trends for LGBT writers of color.
The life of a queer writer is an undeniably hard one. Add to that being “of color” in a world where white still reigns supreme and the journey toward being able to support yourself economically and socially through your art is treacherous, indeed. It is a fact that we have lost many of our writers and as a result their works are no longer with us. Writers like Assotto Saint, Melvin Dixon, Carol LaFavor, Pat Parker, Arturo Islas, and Essex Hemphill are not well known and their books are out of print despite all being talented artists. And it seems as though history continues repeating itself.
As of right now LGBT bookstores are closing or being perceived as obsolete. LGBT presses have either shuttered their doors or gone exclusively to e-books while straight writers and many white LGBT writers get to enjoy being in print and in e-book form thereby boosting theirs sales and visibility. We have only two organizations in the country that focus on LGBT literature, both of which are based in California and have small budgets. Many LGBT writers of color are with small presses who are unable to support them, so they have to work full-time jobs in order to survive and have no funding for travel and advertising which makes getting the word out about their books almost impossible.
Even in a time where LGBT people are enjoying unprecedented progress, our artists and writers continue to be ignored and shunned. And this is doubly true for LGBT writers and artists of color. Ask yourself how many LGBT writers of color do you know? How many are Black? Chicano? Native American? Asian? Puerto Rican? Arab? Where is their literature and why are our diverse youth growing up in a world where they cannot find themselves reflected in one of the oldest and most enduring art forms? Something must be done to begin pushing back against this invisibility.
Emanuel Xavier is a prime example of an amazingly talented queer writer of color who has been publishing through small, underfunded, independent presses since the 1990s and in turn has gone largely unrecognized and ignored. I had the privilege of meeting Emanuel through the work I do at the San Diego Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation. The organization hosted him to celebrate their one-year anniversary of “promoting, preserving, and teaching works by LGBT artists of color.”
This event coincided with the publication of his fourth volume of poetry, titled “Nefarious,” a book that is incredible in many ways; not the least of which is Xavier’s ability to create poems that delve deeply into his own life and come up with truths that stretch far beyond the bounds of his own personal life and are able to touch us all. I listened to him perform his poetry (and I use perform deliberately because he definitely does not just read it) and was absolutely mesmerized as he spouted off poems about fathers not loving their queer sons, homelessness, hook-ups gone wrong, and the difficulties facing gay Latino/as.
Xavier as an individual and as an artist is extraordinary. He was homeless when young and had to engage in prostitution in order to survive. He also developed and then beat a drug addiction while he was on the streets. Xavier never received formal literary education and does not have a degree. Rather, he learned his craft on the street and it is because of this “outsider” status that his poems—particularly those found in Nefarious—are so gut wrenching and raw.
Xavier’s poetry tells his story and other stories like his, of people the LGBT community often forgets about and people we certainly do not want spotlighted. He pushes poor queer people of color into the center of attention and unapologetically celebrates their lives, longings, and defeats. It is not a question of whether his poetry and novels are good. It’s a question of whether we as a community are going to support Xavier and writers like him as they try to tell us their stories and carve out a space for themselves and others like them in the LGBT community and in the arts world.
It is no surprise that many have not heard of Xavier before. LGBT people of color who dare to be artists and dare to center their lives and experiences are often left out in the cold; but this does not have to be the case. We as a community and as individuals can and must change this trend. We are the only people who can. If a community lets its artists live lives of desperation and allows them to be ignored and die unknown, what does that say about that community? What does that say about that community’s pride and investment in its heritage and culture?
We can and must do better. This holiday season I urge you to begin making a change and go get a copy of “Nefarious” and any of Xavier’s other great work. We can reverse this trend but only if we support our artists financially and socially. So pledge to get his book and make a difference in at least one poet’s life.
Nefarious and the rest of Xavier’s titles are available at the Foundation’s online bookstore at sdliteraryfoundation.org, Amazon, or Blue Stocking Books in San Diego.
—Caleb Rainey recently graduated with his master’s degree in cultural studies. He is a long-time activist, and the founder executive director of the San Diego Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation. Contact him at email@example.com.