E. Patrick Johnson | Redefining Identity: Black, Male & Gay in the South
The FUTURE caught up with E. Patrick Johnson - Performance Artist, Writer, Ethnographer, and Scholar, who will make an NYC appearance this weekend at the Harlem Book Fair.
Here is what he shared with us:
TF:Where did you grow up?
EPJ:I grew in a small town in western North Carolina called Hickory. It's about 40 miles north of Charlotte.
TF:Tell us about “Sweet Tea” and the message you hope to convey?
EPJ:SWEET TEA is an oral history of black gay men who were born, raised, and continue to live in the South. It covers the life histories of 63 men ranging in age from 19 to 93. The book is broken up into themes that emerged across the narratives, including "growing up in the South," "religion," "sex," "transgenderism," "love and relationships," and "legends and youngin's." I hope that SWEET TEA debunks many myths about the South, especially those that suggest that the South that black gay men don't have or can't have community or fulfilling lives.
TF:How long was your writing process?
EPJ:I began conducting the interviews for the book in 2004 and conducted the last one in 2006. I then transcribed the interviews and wrote the introduction and epilogue over the next year and a half. The book was published in the fall of 2008.
TF:Now you’re a professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Share with us the theory of Performance Studies and how it applies to your works.
EPJ:Performance studies uses performance as a method of studying culture. In other words, performance studies scholars create performances in order to understand other people, cultures, and communities better. In my work, I perform the narratives of some of the men that I have interviewed in order to share their life stories in a three dimensional way with audiences that may not buy the book.
TF:Why is the Harlem Book Fair important to your endeavors?
EPJ:This is my first Harlem Book Fair and I am pleased that the organizers made a space to include my work. I think it is important to present SWEET TEA in black communities and for black organizations that may not otherwise feature issues that pertain to the black LGBT folks who are also a part of the black community.
TF:Any readings or performances of Sweet Tea this weekend during the Book Fair? If so, where?
EPJ: I'll be performing on Saturday, July 18 at Noon at the Schomburg Center Theater.
TF:Name one guilty Pleasure.
EPJ:I LOVE soft serve ice cream. I make late night runs to the ice cream parlor in my neighborhood!