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Epochalips

New Writing

An excerpt from Waiting for Giovanni a play in two acts by Jewelle Gomez, in collaboration with Harry Waters, Jr.

The first reading of the play took place at Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco on March 19, 2008. Thank you to the theatre professionals who gave their time to that moment: Cedric Brown, David Jacobs, Lynn Johnson and CKelly Wright. As well as to Deborah Cullinan and to Sean San Jose for laughing in the dark.

The play takes place in the mind of the author, James Baldwin, just before the publication of his groundbreaking novel of “homosexual” love and betrayal, Giovanni’s Room (1956). Although he’s been told the book will ruin his career as a writer and his influence as a Black activist Baldwin sees the book through to completion with his own trepidations about how it will be received. The advent of this momentous publication is seen through the eyes of the writer who could believe in his brilliance but not his own beauty.

End of ACT I  Scene 7

JIMMY

A boy, not Luc, once said to me:  You talk like a book. 

I wondered which book he meant.  Clearly he had never read anything I’d written.  There was everything in his tone to indicate this was not a compliment.  But he was not being unpleasant either, merely stating a fact as he heard it.  I looked at his fine face.  Rivers of Africa—all tributaries—suffusing those bones and wondered what books he had read.  None. 

Perhaps the bible.  I couldn’t keep his tone out of my mind.  There was no childlike wonder, or angry dismissal—the two emotions in whose company I feel most comfortable. He had simply observed and then not judged.  Is that possible?   

My father’s judgment has hung like Damocles’ sword above my neck since my childhood.  His death did not dismantle it.  The sword’s shadow is cool even today on my face.  Now the others join in, a chorus of shadows.

I have written so much.  I’ve written things in my head, observations, critiques, ruminations.  But I don’t remember feeling like my words were boning knives.  Still that’s the image that comes to mind when I think of what they will say of this book. 

They will remove my bones so I fit into some box they’ve constructed. 

I can see myself, neatly aligned like a sardine in a roll top tin.

***