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My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

More Dark Hard Chocolate at Naked Heart

BY DREW ROWSOME  -

When Man2Man was an artistic and commercial success and then Dark Hard Chocolate was first published, author Kwame Stephens confessed to a dilemma,

What do you do after you have a hit? I struggled with that. Then I did one short story, which is what I used to do for years, the art form I love the most. I used to crank out Christian stories. But now I'm thinking that the stories might be too short. The story of Damien and Emmanuel wants to be a novel, way before the events of Man2Man and Dark Hard Chocolate, and way beyond. It's just the time, time, time.

Somewhere he found some time because Dark Hard Chocolate is now a brand name and there are six sequels available for download. Collectively they are called More Dark Hard Chocolate and individually they continue to wrestle with Stephens' thematic concerns while celebrating the sexual appeal of black men,

It's been a long time since he had a black dick in his mouth and he's really enjoying it . . . He loves the fire, the energy, the deep connection he's missed of being with another black man . . . chocolate on chocolate.

For those who have read and loved Dark Hard Chocolate - and that is a considerable number, Stephens himself is astonished when he reveals that downloads number in the thousands - the sequels will be welcome. The adventures of Street the stripper take a conventional but very satisfying turn after a literary voice experiment that also works extremely well in "Street's Day and Night."

"ReArrangements" is sheer wish fulfillment and includes a blatant salute to DJ Blackcat. It surprised me how much I had cared about the characters, how much I remembered of them (I did not re-read Dark Hard Chocolate before reading any of the sequels but found myself quickly oriented and familiar). But that is a curse as well as a blessing, "December Nights" does not expand much on the most compelling Dark Hard Chocolate characters in "Texting, Texting, Texting." It is a fun read on the hazards (and joys) of non-monogamy but lacks the punch of the now-prequel.

Along with all the sex, Stephens continues to explore racial problems from a gay black male perspective. "Matt and Ray" and "Rainbow Pride" both revolve around the question of interracial sex. One character has exclusively dated white men, another is confused about arousal by anything other than a black man. A casually sarcastic line about men at an orgy "watching some white on white porn" deftly dismantles preconceptions and privilege.

The saga of "Damien and Emmanuel’s Love Story" continues from both Man2Man and "Dark Hard Chocolate" and it does call for treatment as a novel. Getting to marriage, surviving marriage, is on Stephens' mind but he doesn't have a solution other than some soapy and sexy complications,

"Now he's caught you cheating on him again. Maybe Damien thinks you aren't serious about him."
"But I am. He's the only man that I want to be with. Sometimes I stray."
"If you didn't want to be in a monogamous relationship then why did you marry Damien?"
Emmanuel said nothing. He didn't have an answer.

The prose occasionally falls flat and Stephens is still a bit coy and rote with the sexual content, but he is delving into areas that urgently require discussion and exploration. And I am very eager to see where he ventures next. In the meantime he will be reading from his body of work as part of Glad Day Bookshop's Naked Heart literary festival. And it will be the more salacious body parts, Stephens is reading with fellow provocateurs Andrew Morrison-Gurza, Sky GilbertPaul Bellini and Catherine Hernandez as part of,

GRIT LIT: WRITERS READ
Unpredictable. Unashamed. And sometimes uncomfortable. This is Grit Lit. With gritty resolve these authors offer a look at pleasure and pain, tough truths and reclaiming desire with bad ass disruption and dignity.

More Dark Hard Chocolate is a prime example of the aims of Naked Heart. One of the organizers, Michael Erickson, has a lot to say about Naked Heart's ambitions,

At a time when many of us feel the LGBTQ is fractured, I think Naked Heart might provide a unique collaboration of voices across gender, culture and age. It feels like we are building something historic. I think people are going to want to say "I was there." One of the unique things is how interactive most of the events are. They break down the wall between artist and audience in a way that intends to bring people together.

And what better way to come together across divides than by sharing some Dark Hard Chocolate.

Kwame Stephens reads at Naked Heart: An LGBTQ Festival of Words on Sat, Oct 17 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. The Naked Heart festival runs Fri, Oct 16 to Sun, Oct 18 at various locations including Glad Day Bookshop, 598 Yonge St. nakedheart.ca

Dark Hard Chocolate and More Dark Hard Chocolate are available at amazon.ca


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