His groundbreaking, best-selling novel tells the story of Mitchell (or Little Bit), an Ivy League-educated print journalist, who connects with and ultimately becomes romantically involved with Raheim (aka Pooquie), a ‘round-the-way high school dropout and bike messenger.
The breakthrough, hip hop-themed love story emerged because Hardy, at the time a research fellow in Newsweek’s arts department, couldn’t find books that told stories exclusively portraying contemporary black gay male culture and relationships.
Hardy’s assignment was to sift through dozens of titles by burgeoning authors and then make recommendations to the staff editor. Explicitly comparing his daily writing frequency to breathing, a passionate Hardy started to draft B-Boy Blues.
The award-winning pop culture columnist and essayist was partly inspired by James Baldwin’s 1979 book Just Above My Head.
“I had an epiphany. If I wanted to see a title on the bookshelf that has a reflection of me and the world other black same gender loving (SGL) men lived and loved in, I’d have to write it myself,” says Hardy.
The Brooklyn native whose byline has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Essence, Out, The Village Voice, The Advocate, The Source, Vibe and The Washington Postlists some of the necessary components it takes to write. “It takes focus and patience,” he says.
“You can’t force it or will it. Someone needs to read your story. Give yourself the proper space, place and time to create. You can’t call yourself a writer if you haven’t written,” Hardy adds.
Upon completing the manuscript, publishers told the esteemed Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism alumnus that his work didn’t have an audience. They passed on it: further suggesting that Hardy write either a black love story of a gay love story.
Committed to his vision, Hardy had 5,000 copies printed. By word-of-mouth, he completely sold them all in one month.
B-Boy Blues, a Lambda Literary award finalist,not only struck a chord with the black gay community; it carried over into heterosexual and white readers who identified with the story’s relationship trajectories.
By coincidence, Hardy’s pioneering, gender bending book also became required reading in numerous university-level courses. “There was a conspiracy of silence amongst too many black heterosexuals to even acknowledge that we exist,” says Hardy. “It offered black America points of reference to begin having open, constructive dialogue about SGL people.”
Subsequent titles such as 2nd Time Around(1996), If Only For One Nite(1998), Love The One You’re With(2003), The Day Eazy-E Died(2002) and A House Is Not a Home(2006) were a continuum of Pooquie’s and Little Bit’s relationship.
A huge fan of the late Grammy-winning vocalist Luther Vandross, Hardy, by design, named some of his novels after some of the performer’s songs. “The way his voice wrapped itself around the music and captured you is the way I’ve always wanted to write,” says Hardy.
“It’s breezy and easy. Nobody sang about the highs, lows and in-betweens of love like him. His songs and lyrics illustrate a character’s point of view better than I could.”
B-Boy Blues, according to Hardy, was never supposed to expand into a book series. However, the books resonated with audiences that defy age, gender and ethnic categories. By February of 2000, the iconic novel had sold over 100,000 copies.
Pooquie’s and Little Bit’s saga explored themes like unconditional love, raising a family, coming out, the DL lifestyle, monogamy, addiction, heartbreak and abandonment. Hardy points out that he received “letters with Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King, Jr. postage stamps that are now emails, Facebook posts and tweets.”
Hardy’s readers, he says, have declared to him that Pooquie and Little Bit are their “extended family members.”
“The work has helped mothers and sons, fathers and sons, brothers and brothers and brothers and sisters break that silence, repair relationships and build bridges of mutual understanding and respect,” says Hardy.
“A community of fellowship was created. I’m so blessed to have been a part of it.”
B-Boy Blues was Hardy’s release therapy, too. When B-Boy Blues was completed, the GLAAD Media award nominee wasn’t out of the closet yet. He even admits to rarely focusing on gay subject matter in his journalism work.
B-Boy Blues, Hardy says, was his official “coming out.”
“Writing became my voice, the way I best communicated with people,” says Hardy. “I don’t believe I would be secure in my own skin if I hadn’t created it. I refuse to be anyone’s user-friendly Negro homo. My life is so much richer and fuller because of it.”
“Fear is a dream crusher,” adds Hardy. “It can be a road block and lead you to a dead end.”
To commemorate B-Boy Blues’ 20th anniversary, Hardy, who developed the compelling one-man play on adult film star, Tiger Tyson, Confessions of a Homo Thug Porn Star, in 2009, has adapted his own seminal opus into a stage production.
Hardy’s debut full-length dramatic interpretation was no easy task. Even with no desire to become a dramatist, the Downtown Urban Theater Festival award honoree had to decide on what characters to include and simultaneously develop a cohesive, 90-minute story.
“One of the most challenging aspects was making it contemporary but still being true to the source material,” writes Hardy. “It had to possess the same soul but a different sheen.”
Hardy, remains grateful that the stage version of B-Boy Blues, resonates with diverse audiences.
“Witnessing your work being brought to life right before your very eyes is truly an out-of-body experience,” says Hardy. “There is synergy between the audience and the cast that is so electric and palpable.”
A week before the premiere, the matinee performance had already surpassed the 50 percent sales mark. The excitement leading up to the commemorative shows, Hardy believes, reiterates that B-Boy Blues is a universal story that affects various communities.
“Be open to all of life’s possibilities,” adds Hardy.
“My journey is a testament to that. The play is bringing those who are not black, gay or male into the theater, proving once again that our work is just as so-called mainstream as those about whites and/or heterosexuals. The audience sees and responds to it as a love story, not a black gay love story.”
James E. Hardy’s imprint, IAJ Books, will reissue a 20th Anniversary edition of B-Boy Blues in December 2014.
The stage play B-Boy Blues will premiere at Atlanta’s Balzer Theater at Herren’s on Saturday, Aug. 2. For ticket information, click here.
To celebrate B-Boy Blues’ Atlanta debut, Hardy is offering his fans 60 percent off the eBook version of his short story anthology Can You Feel What I’m Saying?and 75 percent off his eSingle How Stanley Got His Back In Groove.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.