Here we are, January in Minnesota. Interestingly enough, there’s sunshine and a spring thaw in the air–go figure. I recently spent time in remembrance of another of my favorite songstresses who has gone on to glory: none other than Nancy Wilson. If you had never had a ringside table to hear her perform, you missed out on a treat. I had such an opportunity, and like Aretha, it was an experience I’ll always remember. Many songs play on my mind when I think of her: “How Glad I Am,” “All In Love is Fair,” “You Can Have Him,” “Do You Still Dream About Me,” and her famous you’re-busted song (served cold), “Guess Who I Saw Today.” And now that she’s gone, “A Lady With a Song” has stronger resonance.
One thing about living in Minnesota during the winter months, from this writer’s perspective, is that the time I spend writing is more concentrated than at any other time of the year. I remember well the winters up here back in the day, when the temperature didn’t break 0 for most of January, ones that required me to play the game of “Find Your Car–If You Can” due to the snowfall. Don’t get it twisted, though–summer temperatures here can and do reach 90-100. This is a time, right now, when I’m having fun. I am currently writing two romance novels simultaneously as part of my series of Christopher Family novels, and they are progressing well. Some have asked me if I find it difficult and confusing to do this. That hasn’t been the case, since 1) my characters occupy the same universe and 2) being connected to my family sagas, I created family trees beforehand. Those family tree programs were a godsend! To my fellow writers/authors out there, I acknowledge and respect you for doing what works best for you.
Speaking of authors, I knew I had to start off the year with Frederick Smith’s novel, Play It Forward. This was one of those novels where I sat down to read it, and three hours later I was done. The story is told in the first person by the MC, Malcolm Martin Campbell, set in the Los Angeles of 2009, during Obama’s first year as president and Proposition 8. Malcolm is a 35-year-old, Black gay man transplanted from Indiana. He founded a nonprofit organization called LADS, to mentor and better the lives of Black gay youth and young adults in the city. He is a man of character, and has the determination and commitment to keep the center going despite the challenges, plus good friends like the long-term couple, Kyle and Bernard, who have been there for him.
Malcolm’s taste in men, however, leaves something to be desired. Prior to trading him in for a newer model, his last ex-boyfriend had the bad taste to secretly videotape their sex life and post the videos online, thus placing his position as director of LADS in jeopardy as more and more people see them. On top of that, he receives a call from his sister Marlena, who has had it with her reckless, 19-year-old gay son Blake and is sending him out to L.A. to spend the summer with him.
His unwanted notoriety eventually has him crossing paths with Tyrell Kincaid, a professional basketball player, and Tommie Jordan, an R&B singer. These very public Black celebrities live as a couple in a deep closet, but Tommie’s whoring ways become fodder for media scrutiny in the community. Mix in a ruthless agent, a duplicitous clergyman, and these four lives intersect in ways Malcolm never dreamed of.
Welcome to Hollywood, land of fantasy and illusion, where nothing is what it appears to be, and dreamers so often come there only to have their dreams crushed. Even those who “make it” find not freedom, but a life buried under the weight of control and image. Through the character of Malcolm, Frederick Smith illustrates with skill the issues and challenges Black gay men face in striving to live an authentic life, even for someone who is a role model. I applaud him for showing that though Malcolm may have been down at some point, he was never out. His story provided hope, as well as love.
Yes, 2009 was a mere 10 years ago, and major changes in the landscape have taken place. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. African-American sports and entertainment celebrities like Jason Collins, Michael Sam and Frank Ocean came out. Nevada State Senator Kelvin Atkinson came out and married his longtime partner, Sherwood Howard. Marriage equality is now the law of the land. A sitting president became an ally for LGBT rights.
That being said, thank you, Frederick, for letting us know what still needs work. And for those of you who are dying to know what PBC stands for, you’ll have to check out his work at your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library.