Big Black Penis – The Book

Shawn Taylor - Author "Big Black Penis"

 

DIY Book Festival winner Shawn Taylor’s “Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity” is a window into the author’s life. But the reactions it draws from readers, retailers and casual browsers also says a lot about the society….

DIYReporter: The title of your book is pretty audacious. How did you come up with it? And have you met any resistance from retailers/wholesalers/other distributors?

SHAWN TAYLOR: The title was kind of my addressing the fear of too-many Americans: Black male sexuality. I was aware that the title and cover image may hinder my chances of being prominently displayed at certain stores, but once I re-read the book, no other title had as much impact. The funny thing is, most people don’t even get to the sub-title: “Misadventures in Race and Masculinity.” They see “Big Black Penis” and, based on those three words, they are either repulsed or on board. It is hilarious to me that people can watch the misogynistic television, cheer the Vagina Monologues and laud “The Wedding Crasher,’ sbut I put ‘big’ and ‘black’ and ‘penis’ together on the cover of a book, coupled with my photo, people have a hard time.

But, much to my surprise, every independent bookstore I approached was more than happy to stock the book. However, some of the customers of these stores were having a very difficult time with it. One day, I was checking on my sales at Walden Pond Books (in Oakland, CA) and I saw this woman turn all ten copies of my book so that the backs were facing out. I’m sitting there watching her and it looked like she was on a mission. Eventually, I asked her what she was doing. And, without turning to look at me, she talks about ‘filth’ and ‘inappropriateness’ and all this other drivel. I asked her why black cock scared her so much, even though a different colored cock allowed her to even exist and take the actions she was currently taking. She turned around in a huff, looked at me, than peeked at one of my books
and left the store without another word. And it was at that moment that I knew that the title and the cover image were the right thing. If people are still freaked out about race and sexuality, then it is my duty to keep hitting them with it.

DIYReporter: Why did you write the book?

ST: To put it bluntly: Most books about men’s issues are either a) written by women, b) written by guys who have no problems emasculating themselves or c) written by guys whose cultural/ethnic/class experiences have nothing to do with mine. And, along with the above, very few Black men are being vulnerable in public. I wanted to dispel some long-standing stereotypes about Black men and give a candid peek into one facet of Black male life. We are not a monolithic entity and I felt it was my job to let people peer into the façade that the media, people’s own racism and biases and the image that many Black men create and perpetuate. It was my call to truth. There are a couple of brothers who are doing their thing — Kevin Powell, Hill Harper, Michael Datcher, Scott Poulson-Braynt –but I felt they weren’t being raw enough. Maybe it’s that Brooklyn in me, but I wanted my work to be as ‘warts and all’ as possible.

DIYR: Was it cathartic to revisit your childhood?

ST: Yes. It was something that I needed to do so that I could move on to other projects. Everything that I was writing revolved around race and masculinity. I had a one-track mind for so long that I figured that I had to exorcise myself of these gender and culture demons. I wrote a series of monologues and performed them all over the place, and the response that I got was amazing. I did it for the men out there who don’t have it in them to be vulnerable and honest about themselves to others. But it was the women in the audience that were the most responsive and appreciative. I knew that I was on to something when a woman came up to me after performing a piece about absent fathers, and she burst into tears and told me that she now knew what her son was going through. She told me about how the kid’s dad smacked her around one night—in front of their son—and then took off, never to return. This asshole left without a warning and never once contacted the mother or his son again. Her story made me reflect on my coming up and I had to commit some of that horror to a more permanent form, hence the book.

After writing the book, dealing with that shadow-stuff, I became a better friend and a much better husband. The book was kind of a right of passage for me.

DIYR: You’ve sold a lot of units of the book directly in nightclubs and other non-traditional arenas. Tell me about that approach.

ST: It’s all due to hip-hop. From the outset, hip-hop was all about DIY. You made your own flyers, you hotfooted it around the city passing these flyers, posters, tapes, t-shirts and you put a personal touch on your product, and you exposed the face and personality behind the item. I took this same ethic and applied it to selling my book. Event though I was in several bookstores, I couldn’t just rely on them to push the book. It was my job, so I hustled it. Out and about, all hours of the day and night, selling my book. I’d catch people at the gas station, the grocery store, the flea market, anywhere buta bookstore. My biggest sales were after the bar closing. Legions of women, all of whom were disappointed by their interactions with men inside the club, would be storming back to their cars, cursing the very existence of men. I’d come up to them, explain how my book could give them some insight as to why many men are so damaged and not doing anything about it. The book would fly! I sold so many books this way, I can’t even tell you. I believe in my work and I will take any avenue to make sure that it gets out there.

DIYR: You said at the DIY Book Festival awards that you were committed to publishing independently. What is it about the process that appeals to you?

ST: I want to have the final say in how my work is presented to the public. I don’t want marketing teams and focus groups dictating how my voice should be filtered. Even though this was the hardest thing that I have ever done, it was worth it. There are few things that are more satisfying than seeing a something that you envision becoming reality. I did not have to make any sacrifices, compromises or worry about demographics. I wrote a book and am getting out to many people. I can market to whomever I want. My book is being used as a textbook in a junior college course. If I was with a major publisher, I’m sure that that particular avenue would have never been considered. And aside from all of the lofty ideas behind my choice to DIY, doing it this way, I get a bigger cut of the revenue.

DIYR: What’s your next project?

ST: I wrote a book for the 331/3 series from Continuum Books. I wrote a monograph about A Tribe Called Quest’s People Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. This should drop 2.15.06. It’s on Amazon now for pre-order. I’m also finishing up a book about my love affair with the urban environment. My goal is to have a book out every 18-months. I also want to set the books at a manageable page rate (no more than 215 pages) so people won’t get bored and I also want to make sure that the price is affordable enough for people to buy it without having to break themselves.

DIYR: Who were your literary idols growing up? How did they influence your writing?

ST: When I came to the realization that I wanted to be a writer and then trying to figure out what that meant, my holy trinity was Octavia E. Butler, Amiri Baraka and Chester Himes. Butler for her ‘less is more’ approach, Baraka for the way he attacked social ills and Himes for just telling kick-ass stories. I thought that I was going to be a fiction writer, based on my adoration of the above writers, but I found my voice as an essayist. When Octavia E. Butler died, as tribute, I read all of her books in about a month. It was like losing your mentor. I’m still mulling the possibility of writing a fiction book, as tribute to her, but it is still just a thought. I also read more SF and fantasy than anyone has a right to. I loved Orson Scott Card, Michael Moorcock, Harry Harrison, and Ursula K. LeGuin. All of these authors taught me how to establish place and how the physical environment can be a character. Place is very important to me.

DIYR: What are the lessons you hope that your readers take away from the book?

ST: That it can be done. You can get your ideas out there. That if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will, and you will not like the way you are represented. I also want people to recognize that men, especially Black men, are multifaceted. We are not all the same. It may seem as if we are complaining or beating the dead racial horse, but being Black and male is a very difficult road to travel and people need to hear from the source just how difficult it is to carve out an American existence. I don’t want people to pity us but to step out of their comfort zones and hear our versions of our stories. I think that this is the most important lesson.

Big Black Penis - Book Cover