What God Hath Put Together: Hurston, Black Queer Love, and the Act of Creation.

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Author: McKinley Melton
Date: Spring 2020
From: Langston Hughes Review(Vol. 26, Issue 1)
Publisher: Penn State University Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 9,458 words

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ABSTRACT This discussion considers a literary genealogy that examines Zora Neale Hurston as a predecessor to Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill, prefiguring their need for a process through which multiply-marginalized communities might create images that more accurately reflect their existence, and considers contemporary poets Danez Smith and Timothy DuWhite as inhabitants of the legacy that they left behind. Focusing primarily on how these artists invoke--and often revise and subvert--the biblical creation narrative within their own narratives of self-creation and image-making, this discussion is also concerned with these writers' articulation of love that is deemed unnatural due to its defiance of heteropatriarchal and cultural norms. These works, when read alongside and in dialogue with one another, collectively assert that love, defined as natural and divinely approved, functions as a challenge to restrictive ideologies and a tool of affirmation for themselves and their communities.

KEYWORDS queer theology, womanist theology, self-creation, Black love


Each morning as I wipe the sleep from my eyes, don the costume that alleges my safety, and propel myself onto the stoop, I know with the surety of the laws of gravity that my footsteps fall in a world not created in my image. It is not in the newspapers, in store windows, nor is it on the television screen. Too often, it is not in the eyes of my sisters who fear my crack, nor is it present in the countenance of my brothers who fear the face that mirrors our anger. At day's end, having done their bidding, I rush home to do my own: creating myself from scratch as a black gay man.

--Joseph Beam, "Brother to Brother: Words from the Heart"

Joseph Beam, in his seminal essay "Making Ourselves from Scratch," argues that a primary challenge facing Black (1) queer men is the absence of images that accurately reflect their existence, requiring them to navigate a world "not created in [their] image" while crafting a different reality for those yet to come. Positioning himself at the "desk and typing table" that "anchor the northeast corner of [his] one-room apartment," Beam links the project of writing to the need for self-creation. He develops an activist spirit as a writer, he explains, with the recognition that "[he] needed to create [his] reality, that [he] needed to create images by which [he], and other black gay men to follow, could live this life" (336). His efforts are bolstered by the discovery of a tradition of writers in which he now situates himself,

on the walls surrounding me are pictures of powerful people, mentors if you will. Among them are: Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, John Edgar Wideman, Essex Hemphill, Lamont Steptoe, Judy Grahn, Tommi Avicolli, Charles Fuller, Toni Morrison, and Barbara Smith. These writers, of local and international fame, are connected by their desire to create images by which they could survive as gays and lesbians, as blacks, and as poor people. (335)

Beam defines writing and representation as an act of self-creation and survival through affirmation, but...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A625156418