With Ricky Tucker
As a writer who narrows in on very specific LGBTQ artists, collectives, media, embodied experiences, and sensibilities, I’m not the broadest or most Olympic-level reader. I read selectively, slowly, and with intent. And I absorb media like everything bears repeating.
But people always ask me if I’ve heard of This Book by So-And-So on the Whatchamacallit’s Bestsellers list—something my work “reminds” them of—and I regularly stop them where they start. “Listen,” I say, “I read the same books by the same authors to an almost ritualistic degree, only annually letting in a mini-flood of approximately thirty newcomers in a two-month period due to my stints as literary award juror then closing off the category for the year. And rarely do any of those remain in the fold.” Maybe it’s how I maintain my voice? Call me chronically simple.
Though my personal scope is narrow, my reading list is inclusive in context with the world. Here are some Black queer authors who are constantly bolstering my writing practice.
1. James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son
I reread this bombastic essay collection at least once a year, often in the depths of New York winter when the sun is at its most elusive and my personal worth or voice as a writer feel equally dim and out of reach. Baldwin’s frank but fiery prose reminds me that, as a Black gay American, my indignation cranked up to its fullest decibel is a key aspect of the democratic process. For the fiction version of this kind of queer audacity, see also Baldwin’s Another Country, and his short story “Sonny’s Blues,” which provides an impressionistic yet very specific answer to our plight. Spoiler: The answer is art.
This detailed, thoughtful consideration of Detroit’s House/Ballroom culture gave me the foundational lexicon to talk about NYC’s iteration (albeit the founding one), without getting too bogged down by what voguing, or realness, or “Shade” even are—though I could and may still write an entire book on that last one. Not only this, but Mr. Bailey did me the honor of providing a blurb for my book about Ballroom. I very much stand on his shoulders.
3. Hilton Als’s White Girls
In 2013, I interviewed New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als for the National Book Critic Circle Awards, and we talked even then about dance and Ballroom, but also about White Girls, his newest release at the time. The conversation was familiar in that way only two Black gay men in the city could facilitate, but more than anything, it reminded me of the odd, essentially symbiotic allyship we have with white women, and how that dynamic requires further inspection. I needed and still need to delve more into the ongoing commodification of Ball Culture by the likes of folks like Madonna, my infinite obsession with TV shows like Designing Women, and the notable omission of Black women in these co-dependencies, and public discourses around art and politics.
4. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist
And to that last point, Roxane Gay needs to be president, if only for her exacting eye, cloud-breaking voice, and insistence in this book on calling out the cracks in our culture (and her own thinking), and most importantly, creating her own joy. All Black women of all experiences deserve to lead with their joy. If you want to know what I mean, follow Ms. Gay on Instagram.
5. Beyond Books
My fifth book isn’t a book, but some media that have lent to my practice.
5a: Essex Hemphill’s poem within Marlon Riggs’s essay-film Tongues Untied about Black queer men, their mothers, and the importance of chosen family à la the House-Ballroom system.
5b: Designing Women—and no, I don’t mean The Golden Girls. This TV show is not made by BIPOCs or LGBTQs but is so formative in building my voice as a Black queer southerner. See book selection #3 above if you need further clarification. Either way, ya welcome.
5c: Adam Pendleton’s Whitney Biennial video piece, Ruby Nell Sales, focusing on the profound words and meditations of activist Ruby Sales. She is the national treasure you’ve never heard of.
5d: Janet Jackson’s 1994 performance of “Throb” on SNL. If your gender expression is at all fem, you’ll live, and if you’re uptight, you’ll swoon. Have fun, stay safe, and never give up. Oh, and happy Pride!
About the Author
Ricky Tucker is a North Carolina native, a storyteller, an educator, a lead creative, and an art critic. His work explores the imprints of art and memory on narrative, and the absurdity of most fleeting moments. He has written for the Paris Review, the Tenth Magazine, and Public Seminar, among others, and has performed for reading series including the Moth Grand SLAM, Sister Spit, Born: Free, and Spark London. In 2017, he was chosen as a Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Fellow for creative nonfiction. He is the author of And the Category Is . . . : Inside New York’s Vogue, House, and Ballroom Community. Connect with him at thewriterrickytucker.com and on Instagram: @rictorscale.