INTERVIEW: A Conversation With My Brooklyn Brother Darnell Moore
Some would describe Darnell Moore as a writer, educator, an advocate for social justice in his community and around the world; but they never seem to mention how fly this brother really is. Darnell resides in Brooklyn's Bed-stuy neighborhood, which is the home of Chris Rock, Biggie, Mos Def, poet June Jordan, and activist Hattie Cartharn.
Darnell has been one of my friends for a very long time; so, as you can imaging, when I got the opportunity to interview him, I had about a million questions to ask. This brother's imagination stretches far allowing his words to paint such vivid pictures of the subjects that he writes about, subjects that matter to him.
Darnell was a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University and Lecturer at Rutgers University and City College at City University of New York. He was appointed by Mayor Cory Booker as Inaugural Chair of the city of Newark, NJ's LGBT Concerns Advisory Commission and has recently published an essay titled, “Black Freaks, Black Fags, Black Dykes: Re-imagining Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool.”
Darnell is an editorial collective member of The Feminist Wire and has been published in numerous publications around the world, including Ebony.com, Gawker, Racialicious, Mondoweiss, TheRoot.com, Hyacide Magazine, and The Huffington Post where he blogs with former NFL player Wade Davis. Darnell and Wade also co-wrote a piece for the official blog of President Obama. He has also published in academic journals on issues of race, sexuality, gender and religion. He was a recent participant of the 2012 Seminars on Debates and Religion at Harvard Divinity School and presented the inaugural lecture as part of the Audre Lorde Human Rights Speaker series at The Kennedy School, Harvard. So as you can see this brother is so much (Moore) than a writer and activist. Peep our interview below:
Troy: Lets get straight into it, Where did it all start for you as a writer?
Darnell: It has taken me years to actually name myself a "writer" even though I've been writing for enjoyment since I was a kid. I won a city-wide poetry contest in my hometown (Camden, NJ) when I was a young teen. I don't recall what the poem was about except that it was largely concerned with blackness. I remember that day clearly because Sonia Sanchez, a well-known poet of the Black Arts Movement in the US, was the guest reader and she shared a fiery poem about race and racism. I was in shock that she read her words with such force in public. Anyway, even if that moment was meant to be a sign that writing would be my lot, I didn't believe it until much later. Ironically, the teacher that organized the contest, and subsequently presented me the award, was the same teacher that told me in front of my 8th grade classmates that I couldn't write. I guess I believed her. I've only recently, within the past two years, believed what, I guess, I've always known.
Troy: What was your experience like growing up in Camden NJ? How has it influenced your writing?
Darnell: I’ve experienced the best and worst of days in Camden. It is home, but it is also a place that I ran from. I experienced immense violence, lost friends to gun violence, felt the sting of poverty, AND I also experienced the deep love of family, had fun on the same streets I was victimized on, and share a strong connection to the people there. I was hated, and I was loved in Camden. My first love lived a few blocks away when I was a freshman in college. So, yes, I have been forever shaped by growing up there. I cannot lie and act as if it wasn’t hard; it was. But I am who I am today because of my growing up in Camden: I am pretty street smart, unafraid to explore the world on my own; resourceful; I am fighter; and in love with urban space. I really do try to pay homage to my hometown and try to write pieces that focus on the life worlds of those living and loving in the black urban space, in what some others call the “hood.”
Troy: You write quite candidly about your background and the abuse your mom suffered at the hands of your dad. What did you do to mentally and physically escape that environment?
Darnell: I dreamt a lot as a child. I would visualize myself in better circumstances. I would dream about college, traveling around the world, performing on stage. I even had an imaginary friend as a child. I think it was my creative imagination that saved me. It provided me with a bit of hope in the midst of tough circumstances. I saw a lot of what I am experiencing before I ever experienced it.
Troy: You identify as a black queer man and this is a big part of your writing, activism. You work at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, your also on the board of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York, and you and Wade co-author a blog series on Huffington Post Gay Voices. How has working with (LGBTQ) youth influenced your work?
Darnell: Working with LGBTQ youth definitely influences my writing and activism. Young people, regardless of their sexual identities, tend to be left out of so many conversations—even those supposedly focused on their well-being. But they have so much to teach us. LGBTQ youth, in particular, face so many odds. They might easily be bullied in schools, kicked out of homes and thrown on the streets, physically assaulted or murdered, forced to do sex work as a means of making money, etc. And if they happen to be black and brown and poor they will also face racism and class elitism. The list of possible forms of marginalization goes on and on: transphobia, ablesim, ageism, etc. We must work to ensure that their futures are brighter than the present, brighter than our pasts.
Troy: Is this why you got into activism?
Darnell: I got tired of experiencing and witnessing homophobia, racism, and other forms of injustice. I really hate to label myself an "activist" because there are folk like my friend Matt Graber and sister Aishah Shahidah Simmons, for example, who truly exemplify what it means to be an activist. I just started raising my voice and using my pen to speak out against injustice. I also was pushed to do community organizing by my friend June Dowell-Burton who has done a lot of LGBTQ activism in the city of Newark, NJ. In fact, it was June that really inspired me to do the work.
Troy: It has been a busy year for you. Can you sum up the success you've experienced in the last 6 months?
Darnell: Success is a tricky calculation to figure out. I can say that I’ve experienced a lot of good (and a lot of failures too). I have finally summoned the courage to write my first book. The goal is to complete a draft by the end of year. I have solicited the help of a writing mentor—the amazing and prolific Sarah Schuman. I am pleased to be working as one of three managing editors, along with Tamura Lomax and Monica Casper, of The Feminist Wire. My business partner/brother/confidant Wade Davis and I are pretty close to launching a few initiatives that, I think, are pretty amazing and groundbreaking (more on that soon). Most recently, I’ve been designated a Visiting Scholar in the Institute for Research on African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University, which will provide me access to resources and people as I write. Oh, and I am learning to say “no.” I count that as a success, too.
Troy: Oh nice, I look forward to that. You mentioned you currently blog at The Huffington Post (Tongues United) with Wade Davis (Former NFL Player Turned LGBT Advocate). How did that duo come about?
Darnell: Wade and I work at the same organization and discovered during our many lunch conversations that we are a lot alike and, yet, so damn different. We thought that it would be a great idea to share our lunchtime conversations with others. We wanted to open up conversations on black masculinities and sexuality.
Troy: Out of all the numerous pieces you have written, what is your favorite?
Darnell: I wrote a reflective essay when I arrived back in the US from my time in the West Bank, in Palestine. I wrote a piece titled "The Occupation Stole My Words, June Jordan Helped me to Locate Them." I love that particular piece because I got pretty close to writing words with raw feeling. I was concerned about the ways that others would respond because I named Israel as an occupying force. And decided not to give a fuck. That was freeing for me. The second, if I may, was an interview that I conducted with my mother, Diane Moore Chism. I learned so much about her and my father during that process. It actually healed me.
Troy: You recently wrote an essay titled, “Black Freaks, Black Fags, Black Dykes: Re-imagining Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool.” What inspired that piece?
Darnell: Well, I was invited to write a much longer essay, of which the most recent article is part, by friends who were interested in pulling together a collection of essays written in response to Walkers’ Black Cool. I wanted to think about the ways we conceptualize “black cool” as an aesthetic, a way of being that is specific to men and masculine people only. I wanted to challenge the limited idea that black and cool means black and male/masculine.
Troy: Speaking of “black cool” Do you feel like you represent Brooklyn's aesthetics?
Darnell: I think Brooklyn, in many ways, is representative of "cool." Anything goes. I just do me. But I was also deeply influenced by the pretty-boy, preppy, urban chic looks in Philly.
Troy: lol…I think I’m channeling some Philly chic in London as well. I remember not long ago, we went shopping in downtown Brooklyn, and you bought those yellow and black Lebron’s. How do you juggle staying so fly and so politically informed?
Darnell: It’s a task…lol…for real. I have a bit of a clothes and footwear fetish. I’ve grown into being a more conscious shopper, though. I don’t shop as much as I used to, and, when I do, I try to buy items on sale. (I don’t always succeed.) I also buy pieces from thrift stores. In fact, a lot of the items that draw attention are thrift store finds.
Troy: You might not know this but I envy your book collection…what book are you reading at the moment?
Darnell: The two books that are in my bag are Mark Anthony Neal's New Black Man and Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Troy: And music you’re listening to?
Darnell: I am a bit old school-meets-neo-soul. I have Musiq's "Momentinlife" on repeat. I’m also diggin' Miguel's "The Thrill."
Troy: A lot of people don’t really know this, but you can really SANG, If you were to do any other job, what would it be?
Darnell: Ha! Thank you. Well, I would probably be a performer in a jazz club, a travel writer, or a restaurant critic. I love to see other worlds and eat lots of food.
Troy: Amen lol…Are there any young writers out there you have taken an interest in?
Darnell: If by young writers, you mean those who are younger in age, yes. Bet, these folk are certainly skilled artists who write beautifully and prolifically. In fact, I learn from them. But, yes, Mychal Denzel Smith, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jamilah King, and Aaron Talley immediately come to mind. I think that they are brilliant writers. My little brother and mentee Eddie Ndopu is certainly one of the smartest writers I know. His analysis is always on point and his words pierce and heal. The brother is quite amazing. He will be one that generations behind us will talk about for some time. The same goes for Alexis, Mychal, Jamilah, and Aaron.
Troy: I will be checking them all out…what would your advice to other writers be?
Funny, I shared the following with Street Gypsies’ own brilliant writer and cultural worker, Alexander: 1). Think of writing as a form of intellectual activism. Words can change minds and can, therefore, change lives. 2). Writing is an art and should, as Keats suggests, reveal beauty and truth. 3) Write a lot. Write when moved. Or move yourself until the words come. Write from the heart/mind/soul. 4). Refuse fear. 5). Be comfortable with your writerly voice. Love your voice. And use it.
Darnell on Twitter