In partnership with Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, every day throughout the month of February we will spotlight one of the most important black movers and shakers in the city.
Today, local author Larry Benjamin. Mr. Benjamin has published three gay-romance works: the 2013 Rainbow Award runner-up for Best Gay Contemporary General Fiction, Damaged Angels; the steamy, Philadelphia-inspired What Binds Us; and his most recent, coming-of-age novel Unbroken. He was also one of our most-fab LGBT Six Word Memoirists.
What’s your Philly connection?
Philly is my heart, and my blood; it’s been my home for 25 years, but I was born and raised in the Bronx ―Yeah I’m a Bronx boy—no Noo Yawk accent though, which disappoints some people. I came here at 17 to go to Penn and fell in love with the city. After graduation I vowed I would one day come back. In 1988, I convinced my D.C.-area employer to relocate me to Philly.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I told everyone I wanted to be a veterinarian or an architect but in my secret heart I wanted to be a dancer — like the backup dancers on The Sonny and Cher Show. Or one of the dancers on Solid Gold. Sadly I have not a whit of rhythm. Like none.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
You know I’m always amazed when young people asked this question respond with the name of a pop star or a sports legend. For me, I’d say my mom & dad; they moved separately to New York from St Croix as young adults. They left their homes and everyone they knew behind to start a new life. I always thought that was remarkably courageous. And when it was time for me to leave them behind and move to Philly to make a life for myself, I knew I could do it because they had done it. When, in my 40s, I decided it was time to start writing seriously I again looked to my mother who didn’t let age stop her from achieving her dream. She started college when my brothers and I were in junior high school, eventually earning her Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in special education. My dad inspires me because he is quiet but he was always there, taking care us, making sure we had nothing to worry about but schoolwork.
I feel fiercest when …
I have a bunch of people I love sitting around my table drinking and eating and talking and one of them says, “Wow, Larry this is the best meal ever.”
What’s your proudest achievement?
Six months ago, I would have said reinventing myself at 50, teaching myself that I wasn’t too old to dream, wasn’t too old to do. Learning that 50 isn’t fatal; 50 is fierce. But now, after the publication of Unbroken, my third book, I’d say my proudest achievement is having men I don’t know write me and say, “I remember those feelings. Thank you for telling my story.” And having my 88-year-old aunt, after reading the book, call me and say, “Thank you for showing me what life was like growing up you.”
If you had one super power what would it be and what would you do with it?
It would be the power to take away fear. Fear motivates so much negative behavior and underlies so much hatred. I would take away the fear that spreading equality somehow diminishes you, the fear that opening our borders to immigrants willing to do work we won’t, somehow takes something away from the American-born, the fear that my marriage will somehow devalue yours. I would take away the fear that causes so many or our youth to kill themselves because they are afraid being different means they are less, less valued, less loved.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years I …
…will be in the same literary stratosphere as James Baldwin and F. Scott Fitzgerald.