Words: Emanuel Xavier and Cheryl Boyce Taylor: two poets in conversation

  • by Michele Karlsberg
  • Tuesday January 2, 2024
Share this Post:
Poets Cheryl Boyce Taylor and Emanuel Xavier
Poets Cheryl Boyce Taylor and Emanuel Xavier

Happy New Year, dear readers. Excitement is in the air as we gear up for a literary journey right here in the Bay Area Reporter. I am thrilled to announce the launch of Words, a groundbreaking space where the pages come alive and authors take center stage.

Get ready for captivating books and the brilliant minds behind them. These stories that demand to be heard and with writers who deserve the spotlight. Join me as we champion the written word and celebrate the boundless creativity of authors who are reshaping our literary landscape. Hold onto your bookmarks, Bay Area, because onward we go together.

In my first contribution, we have a conversation between poets Emanuel Xavier ("Love(ly) Child") and Cheryl Boyce Taylor ("The Limitless Heart: New and Selected Poems 1997-2022") in my first BAR column. Both poets have made significant contributions to the world of poetry and have unique voices that resonate with readers.

Emanuel Xavier is known for his powerful and evocative poetry that often explores themes of identity, sexuality, and the human experience. Cheryl Boyce Taylor, on the other hand, brings a rich and diverse perspective to her work, often drawing from her Caribbean heritage and addressing issues of race, gender, and spirituality.

Emanuel: What was it like being openly queer on the spoken word poetry scene during the early 1990s?
Cheryl: It was scary, tough, sexy, brave, and prideful all at once. We sensed the importance of that moment. We knew that there was an entire generation coming behind us that needed us to stop being afraid. We accepted the challenge and lead the way with our hearts, our words, and our loud sometimes shaky voices. At that time, I was about thirty-eight, I knew our world was changing and I was not going to be left behind.

Cheryl: You have always been so brave and stalwart in your work, what keeps you going? Is there a specific audience that you write for?
Emanuel: I suppose passion and perseverance are the only things that have kept me going for this long. I started writing because I wanted to capture the world around me and our history out on the streets and in the ballroom scene which wasn't celebrated in the late '90s as it is now.

The LGBTQ+ community was pushing to be seen in a positive way and highlighting heteronormality. Deviants like us — the homeless, people of color, the trans community, drag queens, the leather scene, sex workers, etc. — were pushed aside before the world became more accepting of all our diversities. I write for an audience that celebrates all our similarities and differences. My story may be unique to the vast majority but ultimately, we're all looking to find love and be seen.

Emanuel: Over the course of our careers, there has been a huge change in the public visibility and career potential for queer artists, artists of color, and queer artists of color. How do you feel about that?
Cheryl: I've seen the acceptance and healing the work of queer artists of color bring. I am so thrilled when I see young people, reading and sharing without fear. I am proud for so many reasons, but one reason is because I've persevered, I did not let anyone shut me down. What a joy.

I watched other queer artists do their work equally hard — yourself, Regie Cabico, Staceyann Chin, R. Erica Doyle — all these writers who opened doors for the loud and persistent voices that are present and constantly changing our world today. Am I proud? Hell yes!

Cheryl: I read and reread your first poem in "Love(ly) Child" almost like I was seeking your permission to enter a private door. What factors went into your decision to begin with this edgy poem?
Emanuel: "Old Pro" seemed to be the perfect way to kick off this new poetic era. I was all up in my feelings about how I had no real literary acclaim or awards. A new generation of LGBTQ+ poets of color enjoy newfound success, but some have forgotten our strides and struggles. I became an unlikely poet as a former homeless teen and hustler. I always felt like I had so much more to prove. This poem covers a lot of personal history. It was a fantastic bonus to find out it had been accepted to be published in "Poetry" magazine.

Emanuel: "The Limitless Heart: New and Selected Poems (1997-2022)" is a celebration of your contributions to the LGBTQ+ poetry community. What continues to inspire you?
Cheryl: I recently turned 73 years old, what inspires me and makes me so proud to be a Queer Caribbean writer is the freedom that I feel in sharing my culture, history, and my family life. I write not just for the LGBTQ+ community. I write for my Caribbean family my mother, grandmother, father and added to that, I am continuing the message voice, and work of my son Phife Dawg. When I write, I honor him. He inspired me with his wit and wild joy. In his career as a Hip Hop artist, he combined work with his illness and family life. He never let anything stop him.

There were times when he would be hospitalized yet he would be giving interviews, making videos, and making the nurses laugh, or supporting his wife and family through something difficult. He never gave up. I learned from him how to push through this severity of diabetes and continue my work. I want to always continue this precious work with our struggling earth.

Cheryl: How do you hold anger and joy within your poems and still make them thrive, still make them sing with hope?
Emanuel: I suppose the only silver lining to being abandoned, molested, and rejected as a child is that I learned early on that I had to learn to love myself if nobody else was going to be there for me. It may be sad that I had to survive by being independent, but I valued life so much more because I never knew when my time on earth would be over.

I don't think many of my poems have thrived, but I have certainly tried to make them sing. Hope is all I've ever had, and it is what I offer my readers. If there is any legacy, I would like to leave behind it is that anyone can become a poet and we all have stories to tell.

Rebel Satori Press: www.rebelsatori.com
Emanuel Xavier's website: www.emanuelxavier.org
Haymarket Books: www.haymarketbooks.org/
Cheryl Boyce Taylor's website: www.cherylboycetaylor.net

Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity and marketing for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 35 years of successful campaigns. www.michelekarlsberg.com

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!