Robert Jones Jr. Is Son of Baldwin, and More

Robert Jones Jr. Is Son of Baldwin, and More

Robert Jones Jr. Is Son of Baldwin, and More

Robert Jones Jr. Is Son of Baldwin, and More

Nor did he feel safe to be himself even within his own family, who told him not to be gay, that homosexuality was a sin. “I had no role models to tell me what is the next step for a boy like me,” he said.

His mother, Joan Jones, was “considered the black sheep of the family because she bucked all the patriarchal norms,” he said, and “claimed atheism early on.” But her father, Alfred Benjamin, raised in Depression-era Hell’s Kitchen by parents who’d immigrated from St. Kitts, later joined the Nation of Islam, and in Jones’s words, “had very stringent ideas of what a man is supposed to be.” Jones and his grandfather never said they loved each other; they were only “as close as patriarchal masculinity allows men to be,” the author said.

But eventually something within him overrode the self-doubt. “There were these voices,” he said, “which I am attributing to the ancestral voice, that made me uncomfortable with that fear, and kept waking me up in the middle of the night to do it. And so I wrote it.”

Karen Maeda Allman, a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle who identifies as multiracial and lesbian, called the result “the book we’ve been waiting for” — and she’s been in the industry for more than 30 years. “People like me knew being gay is not a new thing,” she said. “And yet where are the stories?”

There will be some people, Allman said, who “won’t want to go there.” She hopes they pick it up anyway. After all, as Laymon put it, “it’s one of those books that can change the world.”

Jones knows this kind of change is possible, because he’s seen it. One day in 2002, after he hadn’t seen Benjamin in more than a decade, he got a call from his 85-year-old grandfather out of the blue. “He goes, ‘Listen,’” Jones recalled. “‘I don’t exactly understand your lifestyle, but you are my grandson, and I love you.’” Benjamin died 11 years later.

“People can change,” Jones said. “That’s what it told me. It might take their entire lifetime, but people can change.”

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