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Voice for the voiceless: RedBone, a press for LGBT writers of color, rises from the ashes to make a mark in publishing.

In September 2004, publisher Lisa C. Moore gave birth to triplets. Or rather, her RedBone Press published three titles simultaneously: theater artist sharon bridgforth's love conjure/blues, Marvin K. White's verse collection Nothin' Ugly Fly, and the reissue of White's first book of poetry, Last Rights. For many small presses, having one new title per year is a major achievement. For Moore and RedBone, however, releasing three rifles in the same month, two years after a fire that destroyed most of her personal effects and the records of the press itself, is nothing short of extraordinary.

"Putting together a book is like having a baby; it's hard work" admits Moore. Chosen to be editor of Lambda Book Report in 2003, she is the first African American woman to hold that position at the national book review journal for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) writing. [Lambda closed its magazine in June 2005.] Moore is also cofounder and chair of Fire & Ink, a non-profit organization. The group organized a successful Fire & Ink Writers Festival for LGBT people of African descent in Chicago in 2002 and plans to host another gathering at the University of Texas in Austin, October 6 to 9, 2005. [For more information, log on to http://www.fireandink.org/.]

But first came RedBone Press. "I'm from New Orleans," Moore begins when explaining the distinctive name. "Where I come from, a person who looks like me--some would say 'light-skinneded'--would be called 'red.' When I moved to Atlanta in 1991, I would get hailed on the street: 'Whassup, redbone?' I quickly figured out that's what the rest of the South uses to describe a woman who looked like me. When it came time to name my fledgling press, I chose RedBone as a way to indicate to other black people that this was a black woman-owned, born in the South, press."

Growing up to be a publisher, however, was not one of Moore's childhood dreams. "I wanted to be a veterinarian," she confesses. "A few rounds of organic chemistry in college changed my mind. I switched my major to accounting, and worked in the insurance industry for a few years. I went back to school, got another bachelor's in journalism, and worked as a copy editor, occasionally writing a story or two for the newspaper I worked for, and I worked as an editorial assistant for HealthQuest magazine in Atlanta."

A Life of Its Own

In 1995, Moore began work on what would become RedBone's first book, Does Your Mama Know? "An acquaintance of my younger sister asked me if I knew of any books of coming-out stories for black lesbians," Moore adds. "I thought surely there had to have been. I owned just about every lesbian book I could find. But after picking through my shelves, I found there was none, and I set out to rectify that.

"Once I actually had all the stories, the project took on a life of its own," she recalls. "Wanting to control how the book would look, who'd design the cover, how many copies would get printed, and how it would get marketed and sold, helped me decide to self-publish."

There are now 8,000 copies in print of Does Your Mama Know?, a success that lead Moore to consider taking on other works. "I discovered that I loved publishing books--taking an idea from start to finish, editing, laying out and designing the pages, working with quality artists for cover design, marketing and distributing the finished product," Moore says. "A few months after Does Your Mama Know? was published in 1997, sharon bridgforth approached me and asked if I would consider publishing other authors. I said, 'yes,' she sent me a proposal, I fell in love with it, and within a year the bull-jean stories was out."

A book of performance pieces, the bull-jean stories uses storytelling and non-traditional verse to chronicle the life of a "wo'mn-lovin-wo'mn" named bull-dog-jean. As bridgforth recalls: "I had the opportunity to watch Lisa promote and tour Does Your Mama Know? I knew from that experience that she was not only a brilliant businesswoman, but also that she is passionate and committed to the work she publishes. I feel that Lisa really 'gets' my work and that she loves it and takes good care of it. Once the books are in print, she takes care in promoting and distributing them as well. I also feel taken care of as an author," bridgforth says. Four thousand copies of the bull-jean stories are now in print, and RedBone has created a CD of bridgforth's work as well.

Amazingly, Moore does it all on her own. "I am RedBone Press--staff of one," she declares proudly. "I look at book proposals, edit, layout and design the books, hire artists to design the covers. I distribute the books to bookstores, with the help of my lone U.S. distributor, Mamo Square. I sell books to individuals, send out review copies to appropriate magazines and newspapers, I do the accounting and file the taxes...."

The increasing visibility of gay men and lesbians in the black community, and the success of writers such as E. Lynn Harris, might make some question the need for an exclusively black gay press. Moore believes otherwise.

"Because of the pressures from stockholders, mainstream publishers place more emphasis on best-sellers, which are not always the same quality, intelligent, thought-provoking books that change minds ... ninety-five to ninety-nine percent of gay publishers are white-owned. I commend gay presses when they publish black LGBT writing, but I think there's room for more work by black gays and lesbians. A black LGBT press is needed--and not just one, either. Do you know how diverse we are within that moniker of Black Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender People?"

Expanding the Rubrics

Conceived as a women's press, Moore has expanded RedBone Press's mission to one of publishing works that celebrate the culture of black gay men as well as lesbians, working to promote understanding.

"It made sense to me to start a press that published work by black lesbians, since there wasn't enough work by us published by white, lesbian-owned presses ... Men, in general, have always had greater access to publishing than women," she says. "But in the past few years, through my work in this community of black LGBT writers, I've learned that black, gay male writers continue to struggle to get published, too. I believe we can work together to put forth our work into the marketplace of ideas, and change some minds out there."

In 2002, as Moore was working on the first Fire & Ink Writers' Festival, she faced her greatest challenge: a fire that destroyed her apartment and most of the RedBone Press files.

"I came home to see firemen pulling hoses out of what was my apartment. Everything I owned was either burned or melted, or suffered from smoke or water damage. I literally had the clothes on my back and whatever papers were in my bag," she recalls.

As she relates the aftermath: "I was devastated. I had no renter's insurance. Fortunately, my RedBone Press inventory was in a storage unit off-site. I had been working nonstop on Fire & Ink, and lost all my business records--my computer, my backup disks, my receipts. It's been quite a journey since then. I've learned so much. I've learned that the work that I do has made an impact on countless people. Many of them e-mailed me their prayers and sent me money--even though I didn't ask. Many called and said they were holding me in the light. Friends took care of me when I needed it most. I was not a person who asked for help; I was very self-sufficient, I thought I could handle whatever adversity came nay way. The outpouring of assistance stunned me."

"I came back through the help of other people. I got a new apartment. One of my aunts sent me a bed. My parents helped all they could. People I barely knew, and many I did, sent me money and gift certificates to buy necessities like pots and pans and clothes and sundries. People sent me books to replace some of what I'd lost. But most of all, people sent me reminders that there was a place in the world I was there to fill. They sent me faith that I still had a purpose, and I wasn't done yet."

Moore continues to value the lessons she learned from the fire: "Understand that we are more than our possessions. Understand that your value is not based on what you own, but what you contribute to the world. A friend told me that after a forest fire, the most luscious blueberries grow from the forest floor. That stays with me. Know that there is life afterward; you just have to be able to imagine it and trust that you'll get through the process."

Next up for RedBone Press is Spirited: Affirming the Soul and Black Gay/Lesbian Identity, an anthology of writings on spirituality, coedited by Moore and poet G. Winston James (August 2005). Moore describes the book as, "an affirming work about reconciling our spiritual and sexual selves, and how we as black LGBT people have seen our way clear to loving ourselves through whatever religious and/or spiritual system we worship. How can we live healthy, supported lives if our families don't recognize us, and if our religious systems beat us down, if we don't believe we are deserving, spiritual beings? We have to learn to love ourselves."

"Lisa and I work well together because we are of like mind," Spirited coeditor James says. "We don't need to have discussions around the use of vernacular or the meanings of certain images. Lisa helps to prod me when I need prodding, which is often, and we seek advice from one another as sounding boards when we must. She inspires me to try to do more than I would feel compelled to without her. Lisa and RedBone Press are proof of what one person can do to create and foster change."

In Love With Writing

RedBone also published poet Samiya Bashir's first collection, Where the Apple Falls this spring. "I can think of no other publisher--large or small, male or female, gay or straight--to whom I would rather entrust my little seed," Bashir says. "I have been working on this book for three years, and knew that I wanted someone who could understand what I was trying to do with the work, someone who truly honored and respected voices like my own. Of course, I also wanted to work with someone who understood the business of publishing, whose books had ample distribution, and who supported authors and books of poetry, a genre that has been all but abandoned by the larger presses. To have our premier African American woman publisher taking up the mantle of our literary poetry is a major addition to keeping our work in the marketplace and accessible to readers," Bashir says.

Moore also continues to solicit book proposals for new RedBone Press titles. "I look for black LGBT writing that's innovative, that affirms who we are, celebrates our culture, and makes me think," she says. "Writing that makes me put my hand in the air in testimony, makes me snap my fingers and say, 'Go 'head on!' I have to fall in love with the writing in order for me to put my energy behind producing it."

For more information about RedBone Press, write: RedBone Press, P.O. Box 15571, Washington, D.C. 20003, redbonepress@yahoo.com, telephone: 202-667-0392. On the Internet, visit http://www.femmenoir.net/RedbonePress.htm.

Reginald Harris is a writer and head of the Information Technology Support Department for the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, RedBone Press, Lisa C. Moore
Author:Harris, Reginald
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:1966
Previous Article:Spike Lee: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It.
Next Article:Love Conjure/Blues.
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