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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Bhallin' with Books: 'How We Fight for Our Lives'

It’s that busy time of year, and unfortunately I was not able to attend Saeed Jones’book talk about his latest memoir,“How We Fight for Our Lives” (2019), like I had planned. Jones’ book is important and deserves coverage though, so I am giving it some space here to talk to you all.

“How We Fight for Our Lives” is Jones’ story aboutgrowing up a black, gay man from the South. He is constantly battling with both identities and struggling with what the combination of them both results in. Jones reveals how he grappled with placing himself within his family, this country, this world and even within his own body.

He follows his life chronologically, giving you peeks into different scenes and events. Each reveals another interaction with the world, his family, lovers and his identity. You watch him develop his sexuality and wrestle with it. Lovers come and go and the tumultuous relationships he has are bluntly laid out for the reader. It is raw, honest and therefore sometimes difficult to read because of his vulnerability with the reader.

I flew through his book. It drew me in, but it also weighed on my heart in ways that I cannot explain and gave me the space to acknowledge his feelings even though they are ones I could never actually feel. Jones does it wonderfully, and I don’t want to try and encapsulate all that he does in this short column.

I am not a black, gay man and will never truly understand his experience. But his memoir was powerful, and its gritty and unvarnished portrayal gifted me with a deeper understanding.

Jones is brutally examining the intersection of race and sexuality. His language is a fiery combination of his poetic roots and prose, pouring every ounce of his energy into his sentences. His voice is incredibly loud in the most intoxicating way.

It is sexual as well, explicit in some parts. But the casual way he treats sexually-charged language is important. It is just as prevalent or valid as his stories about college or his relationship with his mother. I think he purposefully put them all on the same level, gave them the same value. In turn, he de-stigmatizes the way sexual language is so often treated.

Moreover, Jonesemphasizes the connections between people and the ways that your fight to be yourself interacts with other people’s fights. Everyone is fighting for their own spot and fighting to help someone else find footing in themselves as well. Each section of his book intensifies this while continuing his intersection of blackness and queerness, of love and sex and of power and vulnerability.

I struggled writing this column because I am simply in awe of all that “How We Fight for Our Lives” accomplishes and the space this little book takes up. He does so much, and you deserve to give yourself the gift of reading his words and hearing his voice.