In March 28, 1984, writer Joseph Beam wrote to Sasha Alyson of Alyson Publications about publishing what he called “a book of collected writings by Black gay men.” Later in the letter he emphatically stated:
I am committed to beginning to end the immense silence that surrounds the lives of Black gay men.
In October 1986, Beam?s dream would arrive in a slim gray volume adorned with a sketch of two black men in tuxedos ?stepping out? by black gay artist Daryl Mackie. In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology was published by Alyson Publications, the first collection of its kind featured writings by twenty-nine black gay writers including Sidney Brinkley, Samuel R. Delany, Melvin Dixon, Craig G. Harris, Essex Hemphill, Reginald Shepherd, Max C. Smith, and Assotto Saint.
In the same letter, Beam also tells Alyson “for purely selfish motives, I need the support in knowing who my gay brothers are and where they have been.”?In the Life offers a sumptuous range of stories, essays, poems and interviews written by and about queer men of African descent. Beam stepped forward to excavate and illuminate figures such as Richard Bruce Nugent and Bayard Rustin, and introduce new writers like Essex Hemphill and Melvin Dixon as well as members of early black gay writing collectives such as Blackheart and Other Countries to larger audiences.
Beam’s efforts provided a platform for out black gay voices and expanded what was possible (and thereby profitable) in the world of publishing. Although Beam did not live to complete what was intended to be a sequel to In the Life, his desire to know and record the experiences of black gay men has become a flashpoint from which current scholarship perpetually draws insights, information and inspiration. Thanks to RedBone Press, both In the Life and Brother to Brother are available to a new generation of readers, writers, thinkers, activists, and simply people who, like Beam, seek to know their brother?s stories, and perhaps feel a little less lonely.
We want to take this opportunity to honor Joseph Beam and his tremendous accomplishment that is In The Life on its original publication date October 1986. His genius has been a necessary, sustaining light, and we graciously thank him for it.
Charles Stephens and Steven G Fullwood
Editors of Black Gay Genius