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James Hannaham on Books That Show What is Possible

James Hannaham on Books That Show What is Possible

Author: Lilia Shrayfer

December 22, 2019

How can young, creative people know it’s possible to become a writer? By reading books that provide inspirational pathways to creativity. We need Lambda Literary to make sure that LGBTQ authors are nurtured from the very beginnings of their careers. Please donate today to make sure Lambda Literary can continue this important work.
We recently asked a group of writers what books impacted them as a child. James Hannaham told us about how transformative it was to see that someone like him could write a book:

My late uncle, the Rev. Elverett Howard Walker of Atlanta, Georgia, published a book of sermons called The Gospel of Every Sunrise. I am not certain of the pub date or the publisher, which may have been himself. This slim volume had a glossy cover with a minimalist illustration of a yellow sun across the top half. Howard, as everyone called him, had a debilitating case of rheumatoid arthritis; he was wheelchair-bound for as long as I knew him. Never did we consider him disabled, though—he was a lively, charismatic man, always with a sort of mischief in his eye, who lived on his own and had made for himself a kind of claw-like instrument more useful than his hands.

I don’t think I ever read The Gospel of Every Sunrise—despite the many preachers on both sides of my family, I was not raised religiously (though for us, especially the Walker side, art is a kind of religion). When I was younger the book was beyond my capabilities, and when I got older, the subject matter seemed less my thing. Nevertheless, Howard’s work remained in a place of honor on my mother’s bookshelf for decades, alongside a decaying copy of Ulysses, Sammy Davis, Jr.’s hefty autobiography Yes I Can, Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, and another book that would later change my life, We Charge Genocide.

The mere fact that as a kid, I knew someone who had published a book—a relative, no less, and on top of that, someone who had many strikes against him to ignore and surpass as a wheelchair-bound, low-income black man in the South—made it so that I never felt that any strikes against me would matter, either. It must have been a monumental struggle for Howard to write anything down, let alone publish it, so who was I to whine? The Gospel of Every Sunrise not only let me know that it was possible for someone I knew, someone like me, someone in my bloodline, to publish a book, it also challenged me, in that subtle-yet-proud way the elder Walkers had, to take up the cause.

Help us to make sure that more young people see that they, too, can be writers. With your support, we will continue to bring LGBTQ books into schools and nurture emerging LGBTQ writers. If you want to support the next generation of young writers, donate what you can today.

James Hannaham is an award-winning author of novels, criticism, and essays. He is also a visual and performance artist. His 2015 novel Delicious Foods won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

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