Robert Jones Jr. Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Robert Jones Jr.
Photo: © Alberto Vargas, RainRiver

Robert Jones Jr.

An interview with Robert Jones Jr.

In an essay to his readers, Robert Jones Jr. discusses the extraordinary need he felt to wrote The Prophets.


There is often a sense in writers that their work is There is often a sense in writers that their work is never good enough, can never be good enough. But we continue to write because it is beyond our control. I didn't know if the story of The Prophets could be told. Or rather, I didn't know if I could be the one to tell it. Not only was the subject matter too uncharted but the psychic weight of it felt too heavy to dredge up.

But I kept hearing whispers.

In my dreams and in my waking: calls not just from somewhere, but from some time, beckoning, laughing, scolding, demanding to be heard. It was the singing, however, that I heard most clearly. And in the event that I decided to ignore the pleas of the dead, they spoke to me through living words, in the voices of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and others telling me to ask the question because because then I must write down the answer and share it.

As a Black queer person who has felt so cut off from my lineage, the question I wanted to ask: Did Black queer people exist in the distant past? Of course they did, but it's often the way of a traumatized people to erase the past, shun excavation of it, deny it ever existed, or pretend that it looked some other erroneous but glorious way. This is understandable. Who would want to explain the horrors of yesteryear with no way of stopping the pain from returning?

Terrified that I might discover the answer, I went searching. I read every book about the pre-colonial African societies and the American antebellum period that I could get my hands on. In pre-colonial African historical data, queerness was often presented clinically, as convenience in the absence of the opposite sex, as custom or ritual. In the antebellum period queerness was mentioned briefly at most, and almost always as something despicable or synonymous with rape. This prompted another question:

What about love?

Love, in all of its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of The Prophets: hard or soft; withheld or freely given; healing or wounding, but always revealing. Love is also why I wrote this book: for the ancestors who were wiped from the record, who spoke to me when I almost didn't listen. To give me a line to walk back to and a tree to lean against and shake when the mood strikes. Sometimes, I don't even think of think of The Prophets as a book but as a prayer, a testimony, maybe even a witnessing. It's my sincerest hope that you risk bearing witness with me.

With gratitude,

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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