- Writers Retreat
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Thomas Glave, winner of an O. Henry Award and two Lambda Literary Awards, returns with a powerful collection of essays that both frighten and inspire. Broken into chapters that seem disparate at first, Bloodpeople soon connects by focusing our attention on the body politic—the black, queer, Caribbean body; the black body on the periphery fighting for acceptance of its humanity and for its intense desire to survive and tell its story. Glave uses language to disrupt and question the idea of what the body can and cannot represent. In doing this, he has created a space for critical reflection, however painful.
In the section, The Caribbean and Jamaica, Glave’s quest for a language to adequately express the thoughts of oppressed and murdered queer Caribbean bodies is devastating in its honesty and beauty. In the essay “In the BloodPeople In the Language,” he says:
And so even now I am here in Jamaica where in language, the daily and nightly language, the voices, I hear them all: hear those close to me who have died or who are dying. Those who are leaving, who have left. I continue to hear all of them in the patios, the creole, the cadences, the words, the intonations, the sounds, the expressions, the proverbs, the syntax, the utterances of Yes, my dear and Masa God, do and But see ya? and Mi cyan believe seh and Ah mi one know seh him woulda drop lick pon har and more, so much more: here in Jamaica at this time partly because this, this is what I must have, I think: this, the primal language of my existence and being that, for me, conjures them, the living, and the dead. Conjures and summons memory. Language is that memory.
In using language to initiate the process of memory, Glave’s results are twofold: he gives life to the horrors and atrocities happened upon queer bodies decimated by hate and violence. Moreover, he reinforces the dangers of language that is both oppressive and freeing—a conundrum that black, colonized bodies know well. This language, however dangerous, he tells us, is necessary and without it, without mastering it and making it our own, the remembering process becomes even more precarious. This section also uses descriptions of violence—of rape, decapitations, carving up of bodies—that is not gratuitous; it is stark, honest, and refreshing and he reminds us that, “what we can know is that “safety” is, in this deeply fraught world, as elusive as shadows at dusk: glimpsed for a moment, then gone; then maybe returned at some future point, but not, I suspect, for long.”
“In Five Writers,” Glave turns his attention to a form of literary criticism in which he examines writers from various backgrounds whom themselves can be claimed as bloodpeople because they speak to a larger consciousness. In his examination of Edward Salkey’s Escape to An Autumn Pavement, Glave suggests that Johnny, the main character of the novel,
…marks the sharpening of a Jamaican consciousness in conflict with the emergence of a Caribbean- British hybrid one; a way of being that today could be correctly termed black British: an identity comfortable with both blackness and “British”-ness, derived from the deeply complex perspective of both, that squares with the fact that blackness and Britishness are not mutually exclusive.
This close reading speaks to the heart of Glave’s collection: queer bodies cannot wholly separate themselves from a Caribbean that they love dearly—its language, people, culture, food, love, music, politics. However, they must become the political, the voice, and not continue to turn a blind eye to the ways in which this beloved Caribbean denies them their humanity—they must continue to organize and fight against the forces that work to oppress and silence them. Glave concludes this section with “The Four Of Them,” epistolary-like letters to four authors—Gordimer, Baldwin, Morrison, Lorde—that give thanks for their courage in using language to create a narrative space to talk about their bodies and the ways in which they have been marginalized and made spectacles of.
Always a true craftsman, Glave has created essays that are beautiful and emotionally and intellectually challenging. His language is lyrical and powerful and forces readers to slow down and pay attention to the beauty in suffering, consequences, and outcome of that suffering. While Glave has been compared to Baldwin in the ways in which his honesty cuts to the bone, I found these essays to be Ellisonian in nature—the musicality of the prose, the use of allegory. These essays, through language, ask one to reconcile the history, struggle, redemption, and humanity of the oppressed. Moreover, these wonderful, astute, essays ask—no, demand—that we use this language, these words, to formulate a clear understanding of the body and its language, and the multi-dimensional songs that it sings.
This is a collection that will leave you with chills; you will return to it not only for its sheer beauty, but also for its raw honesty, pain, and passion.
Among the BloodPeople: Politics and Flesh
By Thomas Glave
Paperback, 9781617751707, 224 pp.