Uncovered: On Rescuing In the Life and Brother to Brother
Welcome to Uncovered, a column dedicated to telling the stories of unique and interesting discoveries found in the archives!
The Nomadic Archivists Project (NAP) is excited to share the experiences of scholars, researchers, artists, archivists, and memory workers who, unintentionally uncovered something marvelous while conducting research in a physical or virtual archive. These rare experiences can be life changing in profound ways. And we want to tell you about them!
In this column, we speak with Lisa C. Moore, publisher of RedBone Press, and her experiences republishing two foundational texts, In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology (2008) and Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (2008).
1. Why did you republish In the Life and Brother to Brother?
One day I received a query from a young black gay man in Seattle who wanted me to publish a book about how gay white men were using his back as a bridge to black experience. I thought, "Surely he knows about This Bridge Called My Back." Turned out he didn't. He also didn't know about In the Life and Brother to Brother. Then I found out that In the Life and Brother to Brother were out of print, and I realized there was a new generation of black gay men who didn't know that black gay men had written about their identities and experiences in the 1980s and early 1990s. You know that old saying, "If you don't know your history you are condemned to repeat it"? Well, there is so much history that we ought not to repeat. I put In the Life and Brother to Brother back in print so that young people could know that we/they have a history, and we can build on it.
2. How did the archive assist you as you built your project?
After making the decision to put In the Life and Brother to Brother back in print, I started the process of contacting the books' contributors to get their permission to reprint their work. One of the starting points for me was the In the Life Archive at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. There I read through Joseph Beam's files and found correspondence between Beam and the contributors, as well as between Beam and his mentors, such as Barbara Smith. I learned how hard it was to create that first anthology of black gay men's writing. With names of people that Beam interacted with, I began searching—via Google, via telephone and email, via bookstore owners, via people involved with black gay men's social support groups from the 1980s and 1990s—for contributors and their estates. In that process I learned that one-third to one-half of the contributors had died, most from AIDS. There was a huge gap in passing down information between black gay men's generations because the people... died. And many of their relatives didn't realize the importance of saving their words. The archive helped me reconstruct two seminal black gay men's anthologies that have a critical impact on not only black LGBTQ lives, but as building blocks of black queer studies.