Tag Archives: New York City

A Conversation with Emanuel Xavier

939f830c09c60ad8956ed0.L._V192444789_SX200_I first met Emanuel Xavier at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans. Listening to him read was (and still is) a powerful experience. He takes control of his audience, whispering and shouting his truths into its ear like no one else quite can. And those are some powerful and universal truths indeed, be they in prose form (Christ Like) or poetry (as in his most recent release, Nefarious). He recently took some time from his busy schedule of readings and general NYC life to answer a few questions for Out in Print.

Out in Print: What poet or poem was most responsible for your interest in poetry?

Emanuel Xavier: Assotto Saint. He was a gay Haitian poet that died in his thirties to AIDS in 1994. I was working at a gay bookstore in New York City and came across his poetry books. I seriously thought I might be HIV positive at the time and his words inspired me to want to leave something behind. I had an interesting journey and did not want my story to be forgotten or written by somebody else. It turned out I was perfectly healthy but now I had a poetry collection and a voice that needed to be heard. I never even met him or had the chance to thank him but he gave me permission as a queer writer of color to unapologetically pursue my dreams. I had no formal education as a writer and my only literary connection was working at this bookstore but I was determined. More people should know about his work and contributions to our community. Writers like me wouldn’t be here without him.

OiP: Your work is so confessional and personal – is that freeing for you, or does it limit you in some respects?

EX: Both. I have found great freedom in my writing but it has also kept me from perhaps settling down. It has helped me deal with my own personal demons and confront issues that are important to me. However, as far as dating goes, guys are either concerned that they may end up in one of these poems or too concerned with sharing their stories hoping they will. It would be to my benefit to write in metaphors or about things like a pair of scissors.

OiP: Although I know it’s like asking if you have a favorite child, what poems in Nefarious stand out for you as particularly representative of 9781608640942__90288.1378848589.1280.1280what you do?

EX: “The Thing About My Pussy” was great fun because of the double entendre and the humor. Other poems in the book are more representative as far as dealing with sex, religion, politics and delving into my past which those familiar with my work know me for but this one was a lot of fun to write.

OiP: Your readings are always amazing. What do you enjoy most about live performances of your work?

EX: Writing is a solitary act. Not all writers make great readers or like being in front of an audience. It’s not a requirement. Some think it’s perverse to get such pleasure out of a public setting. However, I enjoy being up on stage. My introduction was winning the very first slam poetry competition I ever entered at the Nuyorican Poets Café. I knew then that I had a natural gift for bringing my words to life. It shaped most of my earlier work and I can still get an audience’s attention. I still get nervous much like anybody else but it only means that you actually care.

OiPHow do you feed yourself creatively? What fuels that fire?

EX: I try to read as much as possible when I’m not watching movies or too much television. Sometimes you just have to live and experience life. You never know what will inspire you. I’ve had writer’s block and it’s not fun.

OiP: You’re definitely NYC born and bred – what are the best and worst things about living there? Would you ever live any other place?

EX: Like any other hotspot, it’s that much more of a challenge to find someone to settle down with. Career-wise, it’s full of opportunity if you know where to find it. I genuinely love New York. I’ve lived here all of my life. I’d like to think I could experience living elsewhere at some point. I think perhaps San Francisco could be an ideal setting somewhere down the road.

OiP: I love hearing about writers’ processes. Do you work on paper? Computer? Morning? Evening? Music or total silence?

imgresEX: Sometimes it just needs to be on paper first before I go to my laptop. Other times, it’s right on the computer. Time of day is irrelevant if you are feeling inspired. If I need a push, I’ll listen to some music for motivation. Mostly I prefer to write in silence. Words and thoughts formulate better for me if I’m focused.

OiP: What’s your dream project?

EX: A movie based on the novel Christ Like. There’s been interest but it would have to be done right. By the time that actually happens, it would probably be a period piece.

OiP: What’s next for you? What work do you have in the pipeline?

EX: I see more poetry in my future but I have been approached about writing a memoir. I’m considering my options.

OiP: What else would you say about Nefarious 

EX: I haven’t had the great opportunities that come with an academic background or the support of a major publishing house. There are still so many challenges to being a queer AND minority writer. That and the unlikely trajectory from Pier Queen to this new poetry collection make me appreciate the fact that I still have a career after all these years. All I’ve ever known is the fight to survive. It’s been a bittersweet journey but, if it’s inspired anyone along the way, then it’s all been worth it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Running for Trap Doors – Joanna Hoffman (Sibling Rivalry Press)

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The best authors writing from New York City have an underlying feel for the pulse and beat of that city. They know its quirks, its frailties (yes, it has them), and its avenues as well as its alleys. The very best of these authors can translate that into a universality people of all urban areas can feel and know. Joanna Hoffman’s recent release, Running for Trap Doors, has that universality while still retaining the peculiar tang of the Big Apple. 

Hoffman’s work has a weary, resigned pride in its middle-class excesses or lack of them. Its pride also evidences itself in the way she portrays her family, but its tempered with either anger or a detached, observational quality all the more powerful for its absence of emotion, as in her father’s reaction to her birthday lunch at a Chinese restaurant in “1989, Age Seven,” her characterization of her grandmother as crazy old lady in “Godface,” or her mother in “Golden”:

My mother told us/we had to fast on Yom Kippur/to cleanse our sins,/then ate a package of saltines/right in front of us/I’m sick, she snapped. It doesn’t count.

Hoffman’s narrators simply don’t fit in with either their own conception of themselves or society at large. They are uncomfortable in social situations (“Rush Hour Mob,” “Touch”), afraid of expressing their emotions (“What I’ve Been Scared to Tell You,” “Emoticon/English Dictionary”), and consumed by the consumer society as in “Why I Had to Leave the Party Early”:

I don’t fit in here. These girls can smell the TV dinner/on me, the metro card/and the borrowed shoes. These girls smile/like checks ripped from the book…I have Target breath. I bought my fingers/at McDonalds. I sold my sex drive/for pot. I sold my cocaine/for laundry detergent./ You’re a poet? Do you get health insurance?/Last night, I ate a bowl/of late fees. They tasted like home.

I love those last few lines because they are not only about consumption as in eating, but also as consumer of goods, and it all relates back to how the narrator feels about her family. It encapsulates the majority of Hoffman’s work brilliantly. It’s one of the strongest pieces here as is the Dylanesque repetition of “Drunk Girl,” the surrender of “The Gift,” the adolescent angst of “High School Electives,” and the defiant “Pride”:

This is for every wedding I watched from/the sidelines; every fairy tale with stipulations;/every it’s a choice, it’s a phase, you’re disgusting;/every swollen choke of shame I learned to/coat my throat with; every gay kid who/believed nothing would ever make this better/because home meant break the parts of you that/don’t fit into the plaster of who you’re supposed to be./We already are exactly who/we are supposed to be.

But these are only a few facets of an extremely varied voice that resounds across many subjects and areas. Hoffman’s work is powerful and filled with meaning. Highly recommended.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Anything for a Dollar – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

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As Todd Gregory also admits in his introduction to this volume of erotica about men paid for sex, I have been paid for my body as well. These days, however, the only way I could make any substantial money is if I charged by the pound. Still, there was a time when I was younger, cuter, and braver and my rent needed to be paid. I’m not ashamed of it. As I first heard from Modern English, it’s all part of “life’s rich tapestry.” And that tapestry has many threads, as evidenced by the variety of stories in  Anything for a Dollar.

The collection starts off strong with Max Thomas’s atmospheric, “In the Studio,” about a college student who starts off modeling to make a bit of cash (sounds familiar to me) but soon becomes engaged in both the situation and the sex. A longish story, it’s the perfect introduction as it really encapsulates what the book is about. But then we veer off into some rather unexpected territory.

Aaron Travis’s “The Adventure of the Rugged Youth” is a neat piece of Sherlock Holmes fanfic that wouldn’t have been out of place in Lethe Press’s recent A Study in Lavender as Holmes encounters a boy paid to seduce and kill Holmes in his sleep. Yet another reason not to let tricks stay over. Jay Starre takes to South America with his stripper story, “Private Dance in Rio,” one of two Starre entries here. More domestic but far stranger is Jeffrey Ricker’s “The Last Good-Bye,” which features a psychic sexual surrogate helping a man work through his grief for his late partner in a rather startling way.

Jeff Mann enters the fray with his hot tale of  a country boy’s paid lust for a blond businessman named Bjorn in “Penthouse,” which also (true to Mann’s form) contains some irresistable descriptions of several New Orelans feasts. Oh, and people get tied up as well. Davem Verne takes back to the subject of modeling with his story of Eurotrash posers, “Paris Euros Giles,”  but Rob Rosen prevents things from becoming too Eurocentric with “Revenge of the 97-Pound Weakling,” his delightful tale of a gymrat contest judge. Nathan Sims has a more supernatural take on the subject in “Haven’s Rest,” which sees a boy helping rid a backwoods ex-gay ministry of a particularly evil spirit.

Haley Walsh’s “Marked” takes me closer to familiar territory as he focuses in on the carnival life with a story of a tattooed man and an itinerant stud he calls Pink Boy, but as visitors to New York City know, the urban environment has its own charms. One of those is the subway, but Luke Oliver takes that rather prosaic setting and turns it into something…well, super with a capital “S” on its chest in “The Conductor.” William Holden gives us a historical perspective in “Debtors’ Prison,” and the inimitable Dale Chase rouses us once more with a tale of a Western rent boy with “A Few Dollars More.” We’ve all seen ugly hustlers and wondered how they were able to make a buck, and Lawrence Schimel enlightens us with his “Pity Fuck.” And then there’s Todd Gregory’s title story to wrap things up.

A word about availability. This title isn’t out until October 1st. Being a reviewer, I often receive advance copies of books. I try as much as possible to review them close to their release dates, but I was so anxious to dive into this collection that I paid no attention to the date and, thus, am reviewing it a bit early. But either of the above links will allow you to pre-order this terrific compendium of erotica, so feel free to do so.

It’s delayed gratification of the best kind.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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These Things Happen – Richard Kramer (Unbridled Books)

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Multiple points of view are tough to pull off. Many people find them distracting, and anything that takes the reader out of the narrative detracts from the immersion required for involving fiction. Done well, however, multiple points of view can provide beautiful insights into characters or a fresh look at the situation at hand. Thankfully, Richard Kramer handles them with assurance and aplomb in his first novel, These Things Happen.

Fifteen-year-old straight boy Wesley has moved in temporarily with his father, Kenny, and Kenny’s boyfriend, George in a cramped space above George’s restaurant, Ecco. Kenny, a lauded gay activist, isn’t as accessible as Wesley needs him to be. Wesley’s best friend, Theo, has just been elected class president and comes out to the whole school during his acceptance speech. This revelation leads to a gay-bashing in which both Theo and Wesley are injured. That incident changes not only the family dynamic between Wesley, Kenny, and George, but also that of Wesley’s mother, Lola, and her husband, Ben.

By my count, there are twelve shifts in point of view. Most characters have more than one opportunity to have their say, with the odd exception of an ER receptionist who dated George once. Aside from the latter, which doesn’t add much for me, all these shifts make sense in terms of the plot turns and come just when you might expect them to. Given Kenny’s inherent absence from home due to the extraordinary demands on his time, George becomes de facto head of the house and the biggest influence on Wesley. Kramer returns to George’s and Wesley’s point of view most often, which is fortunate, because these are marvelous characters.

George is a former stage actor who never moved away from New York City’s Theatre District, where his restaurant is. He has absolutely no experience with children and has never desired any. When Wesley moves in, however, George serves as a positive example for Wesley in that he can not present a false face and can be no one other than who he is. As such, he has the biggest impact on Wesley’s life. Wesley is crying out for direction, as are most fifteen-year-olds, and of the ones he’s presented with, George’s seems the only true path because George is the only one who actually lives his own truth. Watching them talk together is an intricate dance of truth/not-truth, bluster/vulnerability, and bullshit/bullshit. Their relationship is as complex as it is simple to understand, and Kramer does a wonderful job of painting this portrait in black, white, and grey.

Kramer’s dialogue shines, but that’s only expected since he has a great deal of experience writing for television (Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and others). However, he also has a gift for internal monologue. My only complaint — and it’s a very small one — is that he needs to learn how to mix the two up a bit so we don’t have long stretches of unrelieved dialogue or unrelieved monologue. That said, the final scene between Wesley (who has been told by his mother it’s too dangerous to stay with his father and George any longer and wants him back home) and George (who she’s accused of molesting Wesley) melds both elements beautifully. It’s poignant and revelatory and provides the perfect climax for this story.

Kramer’s prose is nicely turned; it’s flashy enough to be impressive yet never gets in the way of his sharp insights into the minds of boys and men and those in the throes of becoming. I had expected to see more of Wesley’s best friend, Theo, but by the end of the book with that pivotal scene on a rooftop overlooking Ninth Avenue, I didn’t miss that relationship at all.

These Things Happen is a wonderful read, full of wisdom, humor, and wonder. Highly recommended.

© 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler

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