It's all too easy for Black children growing up in America to feel unwanted.
Author Darnell Moore is using his words to remind them of their interminable value. The 43-year-old Camden, NJ, native recounts his days as a gay Black child during the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in particular, to relay the message. No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America is the writer and media maker's first memoir. When the 257-page autobiography was first released last May, it was deemed a New York Times Notable Book.
"It is a story about coming of age [while] Black and gay in the age of AIDS, in the dawning of neoliberal politics, in the epicenter of hip-hop in Camden, New Jersey," Moore told Blavity. "And yet, it touches on universal themes like familial care, intimacy, loss, shame, faith, survival and love, which readers who exist in different 'worlds' might be able to relate to."
The title of the book, which is now being sold in paperback, alludes to the violence experienced by the Black LGBTQI community, a harrowing reality Moore has experienced firsthand.
Blavitize your inbox! Join our daily newsletter for fresh stories and breaking news.
"The title is a reference to my surviving an encounter I experienced when I was teen. A few neighborhood boys physically attacked and doused me with gasoline. One of the boys tried to light a match, but the breeze kept extinguishing the fire," Moore said.
"So, the title is a nod to the realities that Black people, some of whom are LGBTQI, survive through various forms of violence — from racism to sexism and queer antagonism," he continued. "Fire is a metaphor for those forms of violence. Some of us survive, and some of us do not."
Moore said he wants young readers of the memoir to walk away from the novel with an understanding of the value they possess as Black Americans.
"I want young Black folks to read it, and know that they have every right to be here, to be free, to be alive."
Read an excerpt from No Ashes In The Fire below:
January 15 is a day full of complexity. Every celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth is another opportunity to highlight the type of college-educated, Christian, married, suit-wearing, and respectable black man society deems worthy of public praise. My father was born in 1961, on the same day as King but thirty years later. Two black men, one an Ameri- can hero and the other its proverbial nightmare.
America is obsessed with images of the good black man whom niggas should strive to emulate. Forget King’s own internal and private conflicts made public by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Marital infidelity and imperfections aside, the respect reserved for King has much to do with America’s fascination with black men it regards as great, even when those same men have been demonized and killed before their deification. America’s relationship with King since his death has been a one-sided love story centered on a man made out to be less hu- man and complex than he actually was. I compared my father to King. My father, I thought then, was less great. But that is not what I think today, as I write and remember his humanity.
Boo Boo was a black boy who may have dreamt about a life full of promise, resources, respect, and familial love. But how much of a life, free of troubles and self-detestation, can a fifteen-year-old boy concerned with raising an infant build before his sense of self is devoured? How could he withstand the effects of immense poverty, lack of education, lovelessness outside of his home, restrictive rules governing the code of thuggish black manhood he performed, quests for internal power to upset the reality of material disempowerment, the lure of the street, and the force of white America’s fear-induced policing of his body? I don’t have any answers, but I imagine the many societal expectations he tried to meet were only magnified by the presence of a woman partner who succeeded where he had seemingly failed. In no way is this an excuse for his bad decisions, absence, and abuse. But it is a reckoning with the lived experiences of a black boy who had trouble loving his best friend and their children because he had no sense of the tenderness within him or not enough faith in the love and hope we had for him.
My mother discovered her strength because she had no choice but to do so. She survived the violence inflicted on her body and psyche by the black men she loved and celebrated after they hurt her. Her kids, she told me years later, were the reason she fought so hard to live. I wanted her, however, to live and fight hard for herself. In many ways she has. It took years, until she was fifty, but she eventually earned her high school diploma. That day was one of the proudest moments of my life.
I buried a man who was stuck. He was forever attempting to break away from the world of the black boy who didn’t finish grade eight, the one who had a kid at fifteen, a boy who was pulled in by the lure of the streets, a teen who would later beat the girl he got beat up for protecting, a black man frozen in time. He was a black man who swung back when love sometimes showed up in the form of an embrace. We are the same. Like my father, and so many other black men, some of us don’t really ask for what we want because to ask for love is to ask for what has been denied us for so long. How many of us want what we have been told we cannot, or are not al- lowed to, have? Interpersonal and structural forces shape the ways we give and receive love as well as the violence we men sometimes inflict upon our partners. I am not sure if that was his struggle. I know it is mine, largely because of his absence, which is a truth I believe had weighed him down.
The last words I spoke over his unconscious body as he rested on a hospital bed, surrounded by the kids he had left long before, were simple: “Fly. I know you are heavy. We for- give you. Whatever weights you have been carrying, let them go. Fly.”
I only told him what I learned to do in his absence.
The paperback edition of No Ashes In The Fire is now available for purchase.
Liking this content? Check these out: