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Ernest Hardy and the War Diaries anthology
The Windy City Times talks to Ernest Hardy about War Diaries, the recent AIDS Project Los Angeles literary anthology he co-edited with Tisa Bryant. The anthology was originally conceived by APLA’s Pato Hebert to reach out to African American men along the spectrum of LGBTQ identities and address HIV/AIDS through perspectives specific to their communities. War Diaries is one of “several literary lines (available free of charge) that target queer youth, the Latino community, and so on—communities that historically have fallen through the cracks or been poorly served in terms of HIV and AIDS outreach services.” Hardy and Bryant immediately said yes to the project, but took it a few dozen steps further, wanting to capture not just the experiences of a group who has “fallen through the cracks,” but taking on the complexities — internal and external to the LGBTQ and African American communities — of how that happens. According to Hardy:
We knew we wanted the collection to have a wide-lens focus because the issue of HIV/AIDS and the various struggles around them exist in a layered context of racism, classism, cultural redlining within the LGBT community, homophobia in all its permutations (large-scale societal; within the African American community; internalized, etc.), as well as the huge issue of violence directed toward LGBT folk in horrifying ways and proportions. Issues of depression, suicide and bullying are major components at work in the community. (The volume is dedicated to the memories of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, two pre-teen boys of color who committed suicide within less than two weeks of each other in 2009, well before the recent wave of queer teen suicides.)
We wanted work that encompassed all of that, on a very large scale. But we also wanted work that was playful, erotic, multi-generational, international in scope, written by lesbians as well as gay/SGL men, and ultimately celebratory of our lives. We wanted to create a time capsule of now, something that captured both the insane tenor and the concrete complexities of the time in which we live. But we also wanted balance. What we didn’t want was to create a world mired in gloom, doom and despair because that’s very one-note and nowhere near the width and breadth of the realities of Black LGBT folk—neither historically nor in contemporary terms.
It sounds like a tall order, but with an introduction framing the collection in the opening lines, “We’re in a war,” and a title taken from a poem included in the anthology, Deborah Richards’ “War Diaries (loose leaf),” it would seem that to be anything less than hugely ambitious would mean surrender. In poetry, prose, essays and photography, Hardy and Bryant collected work that constructed a narrative of its own, addressing the cultural and societal wars, particularly inequality in healthcare access, that form the underlying commonalities among a vastly diverse group. Even with the seriousness of the subject of disease and the attendant stigma, violence and discrimination it carries with it, the editors made sure that the collection included a wide emotional range, as well.
YN: … Several of the works are strongly erotic, and record moments of desire and laughter even as they nod to the complications of characters’ lives. How do we write about AIDS in the Black LGBTQ community while also keeping alive that eroticism and laughter, as you point out in your introduction?
EH: We just do it. Don’t over think it. Don’t turn it into an academic exercise. At the risk of sounding corny, if you as a poet or novelist are truly in touch with the human spirit, with human nature, it will come to you. You may still suffer writer’s block and still have to wrestle with whatever you wrestle with simply to be a good writer, but because laughter and eroticism exist in real life, even in the face of the most dire circumstances, they will come and be present in the work of the writers who are open to them. Just know that both the laughter and eroticism may be dark as fuck. And that’s cool too.