Uncovered: On Brad Johnson + Tiona Nekkia McClodden
By Steven G. Fullwood
Born in 1952, Bradley Johnson, a 6’2” African American gay male poet whose work appeared in several groundbreaking volumes of work. In March 2011, I went to meet Brad in his Philadelphia home to pack his archive (along with publisher and archivist Lisa C. Moore) to be shipped to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. Brad couldn’t breathe on his own and was on a ventilator. I often found myself staring at the plastic in his nose while we talked about his papers, the bulk of it physical evidence of his prolific writing life. Sores dotted his arms, face and the back of his neck. When I hugged Brad goodbye, touching his spine reminded me of his skeleton, that we all have skeletons and that we rarely think about what they do: they support us and give shape to our bodies and our actions. He told me that his doctor told him he had about 6 months to a year to live. Brad died May 1, 2011 of AIDS complications.
In today’s Uncovered column, filmmaker and visual artist, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, talks about encountering Brad’s writing and subsequently his rich archive at the Schomburg Center.
When did you first learn about Brad Johnson and his archive?
I learned about Brad Johnson when I read his piece On Subjugation in Other Countries: Black Gay Voices (1988) in April 2016 after finding it buried behind other journals in my favorite publication spot here in Philadelphia. I read it a week or so after while on the train and it blew me away. I immediately was taken by the fury embedded in the text and tried to look him up with no result.
After a few more searches online over a few months an interview came up by you (Steven) that mentioned a Brad Johnson archive and I knew it was the Brad I was looking for. I came to see you (at the Schomburg Center), got the finding aid and that was that. A year later, I went to see Brad’s archive. It was then that I realized his work was already in my personal library as a part of Joseph Beam’s anthology In the Life and Essex Hemphill’s anthology (Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men) but I had completely overlooked his writing.
How has Johnson's work impacted your own artistic and archival practice?
I think Johnson’s work gave me confidence and made me brave at a time that I needed it the most. His language is lush, stunning and uncensored and able to explicate so much that is illegible for me when it comes to a range of desire from sexual to ideas around success. I was also moved by the fact that someone who was rather prolific in his writing would feel as though he had failed. This made me really re-evaluate ideas around success at a moment where I was on the edge of a major career breakthrough.
Archivally, I have tried to invest in better upkeep of my things in hopes they find a place to land when I'm ready to offer them up. I feel that being able to see his writing process and his writing progress over time in his archive gave me insight on editorial choices and desires within his own work and I started to go back to my own archive to actually pull from what I've started to bring to fruition now. This is a single-handed influence of his. Most of the work I'm presenting this year is work that I started many years ago.
Learn more about Tiona’s work here: https://www.tionam.com/