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Book of essays speaks Black queer truths of the next generation
by Melissa Wasserman
2016-11-16

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E. Patrick Johnson's book, titled No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies, reveals tactful truth from the next generation of scholars and activists about the Black queer experience.

Johnson is chair of the Department of African-American studies and the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African-American studies at Northwestern University. He is a Southerner in the truest sense, having grown up in North Carolina, graduating from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earning his doctorate from Louisiana State University.

"A lot of my interest come from my own experience," said Johnson, editor of No Tea, No Shade. "Being a Southerner, being Black, being gay—all of my personal experiences sort of fuel my intellectual interest and I'm really interested in the ways that people use performance to maintain their culture, to pass down traditions, but also use performance as a way to speak back to power as ritual play. I witnessed all these things growing up, but didn't think about them in academic ways. I didn't know that I could until I got to graduate school."

He said he has always been a performer and interested in performance and theater studies. It was in graduate school that he became increasingly interested in oral histories, feminist theory/feminist studies and LGBT studies with a focus on African-American communities. From there he started publishing work in those areas.

"I'm really interested in how everyday people come up with these strategies of resistance through performance, whether that be Black gay men or Black lesbians, southerners, so on and so forth," said Johnson. "I'm also interested in doing performance, I've always been a performer, but I also like adapting non-fiction text for the stage. So I've been performing the stories of Black gay men from the South from my book 'Sweet Tea.'"

No Tea, No Shade is his sixth book ( and he has one more, titled Honey Pot, on the way ). Johnson and Kai M. Green ( one of the writers featured in No Tea, No Shade ) are featured on the cover. The photo ( taken by Chicago photographer Philip Thomas ) is titled "Sharing Tea," and Johnson said it represents passing on the torch to the next generation. The book's title comes from the phrase queer blogger Qaadir Howard ( also known as Timiya ) made popular and then taken up in Black queer popular culture by RuPaul on "RuPaul's Drag Race," meaning telling the complete truth, with no offense and in a respectful way. As Johnson explained, it is revealing yourself to yourself.

"I just thought that was a great title to kind of say, 'yes, you folks who started this field of Black queer studies are great, but we, of this younger generation, we're building off of that, but we're also taking it to the next step," said Johnson.

"I think the thing that runs through all my books, however, is I love language and I love playing with language, so there's always going to be playful language in there," said Johnson.

In 2005, Johnson and a colleague published a book titled Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, which he said was the first anthology to inaugurate Black queer studies as a field of study. While there had been nothing like it before, he explained it was also limited by the kinds of scholarship that could be published on Black sexuality and it was very U.S.-centric. Since then the field has vastly expanded and Johnson said he felt there needed to be a new collection that celebrated this new growth of the field. That's when he came up with the idea for doing this follow-up, which he co-edited with Mae G. Henderson.

The book features 19 essays, written by contributing scholars who share their perspectives about the Black queer experience and explain existing principles, as well as include statistics and facts from other studies and publications. Topics include "raw" sex, pornography, the Black queer experience throughout the Black diaspora and social media, among many others.

"It's interdisciplinary," said Johnson of the book. "There are scholars from the humanities, from the social sciences, there are people who are also practitioners. Each chapter is its own world revealing language that's nuanced and unknown to people who aren't familiar."

The ideas that these scholars came up with, Johnson said, are things that at one point he would not have imagined could be written about today.

"It's demonstrating that what was created wasn't just a fad at the time, that it was just this one moment that's now come and gone, [but] that it actually laid the ground work for serious, rigorous research on Black sexuality," said Johnson.

Johnson said that while the work in the book is important itself, it is also about continuing the work that was done before this book and expanding the field on Black, queer sexuality in various ways.

"I learn from all of these young scholars and I just think the work that they're doing is fascinating and it is important work and it's work that I use to teach in my own classes," said Johnson. "That's the other thing, this book was about elevating this new work that's being done, so that folks will know that these scholars are doing some really, really important work, so the book just becomes a platform for the work to be acknowledged and noticed by a broader community."

To learn more, visit: epatrickjohnson.com and www.dukeupress.edu/no-tea-no-shade.


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