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Thursday, July 19, 2007

PROFILE: Bestselling author James Earl Hardy

Early in June 2007 Bestselling author James Earl Hardy sat down with Conversations Book Club for a discussion about his love of words, the acclaimed B-Boy Blues series he created and the future for his characters Mitchell and Raheim. A man who is no stranger to seeing his name in print, Hardy has written for The Washington Post, Essence Magazine and The Advocate, as well as penned non-fiction work that has garnered him national attention. Now 40, his appreciation for where his passion has gotten him.

Hardy was born in Brooklyn, NY and working as a journalist when he pinned his first book B-BOY BLUES in 1993. When talking with him, he describes writing “like breathing”, having written his first poem before he was 8 years old. The book that has now raised a new level of dialogue about the parallels between the relationships of gay and straight couples didn’t seem to have been what the writer expected. “I didn’t think the books would be as groundbreaking as they have proven to be,” he told Conversations. “Same-Gender-Loving relationships sometime mimic straight couples. I think the reading population is just catching up to what has been there for some time.”

When asked about the roles his characters play in their own development, Hardy learned he had to step aside and let them have their say. “I wasn’t initially thinking about their (meaning Raheim and Mitchell’s) voices, but they let me know that they had other stories they wanted to tell.” This led the book to evolve into a series of novels that have changed the face of printing forever.

How did it become such a phenomenon? For Hardy it seemed to literally happen over night. “I owe it all to the way the book was marketed and promoted. The initial print was only 3,000, but those sold out within a month. A lot of its success has come from the grapevine and simple word of mouth.”

Seeing what a runaway hit he penned didn’t make everyone believers in the beginning. “I was told you have to tell either a black story or a gay story. You couldn’t do both in one book.” However, with readership increasing with each new book of the series---and readers of all sexual orientations becoming fans---that advice doesn’t seem to be grounded in fact.

Conversations was curious as to how it felt to see his book in the stores with so many of the authors he had grown to love over the years. Hardy told us that it was “the moment” for him. He related that he would be flooded with emails from those who felt as though he had “finally told their story.”

So what is the B-Boy Blues series all about? ‘Mitchell Crawford, a journalist, falls for a roughneck bike messenger, Raheim Rivers, and they commence a relationship that is at once passionate and abusive. Themes, such as gay pride and prejudice, are smartly worked into the narrative. Hardy explores what motivates Mitchell, who is African-American and homosexual, in a society where, it can be difficult at times to be either, let alone both. (Heather Keets, EW.com)’

Hardy told Conversations that he wanted to tell the story of people like himself, but admitted that the series is not necessarily based on his own personal experiences. Among the issues addressed in the books are self-awareness, self-love, the complexities of relationships and even political and social commentaries. In the book THE DAY EAZY-E DIED he found a way to educate people without being preachy. “I saw Eazy-E’s death as an opportunity. We needed to tap into what caused it (AIDS) and why the prevention efforts seemed to fail. Nobody wants to keep it real with us,” he explained, yet the effect of that time in history for his main characters couldn’t be ignored.

We asked if he expected his work to have the crossover appeal (from Gay to Straight readers) that it did. He answered: “The story is the same no matter who picks it up. It doesn’t change. People may come out of their comfort zone to read something different, but that is just an added benefit. These characters are real and deserve to have their story told.”

Conversations was curious as to which of his books have been his favorite. Hardy confessed that 2ND TIME AROUND was his personal favorite, but the debut novel B-BOY BLUES has been praised more by critics and fans alike.

The final novel in the series A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME may seem bittersweet for readers, but not so much for the author. “I believe this is the end of the road for them, at least in book form,” Hardy explained. “I care about Mitchell and Raheim. They are my muse, and they are real people to me.”

Hardy has been blessed to receive praise not just from his fans, but from those close to him as well. “My family and friends are not surprised by my success. My father is my #1 fan. He’s proud of me and what I have achieved.”

THE DAY EAZY-E DIED is becoming a play, as well as the novel that started it all, B-BOY BLUES.

At the end of the day, Hardy has this to say: “I’m certain that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. One day I got a letter from a young man who wanted to die because he was dealing with his sexuality. After reading B-BOY BLUES he saw it was alright to live. That just shows how words have so much power.”

And with power like that contained in James Earl Hardy, we can look for many more lives to be affected for years to come.

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