“If Only For One Nite” – uplifting Black gay fiction from the late 90’s

I found If Only For One Nite by James Earl Hardy by accident while wandering the shelves at my local library, and since I’m interested in reading 1. LGBT lit and 2. romance that isn’t about well-to-do white Protestants, I eagerly grabbed it and checked it out.

I was instantly hooked on the gossipy, blunt voice of the narrator, spilling the beans about all his former classmates and how they’ve changed in the ten years between graduation and the present setting, his high school reunion. I also loved his gleeful hyperbole when talking about anything sexual or romantic, the words practically coming off the page and dancing around the room waving ribbons at me. Hardy, by the way, is not the least bit interested in appeasing the white gaze, and there’s a great line where his narrator tells a white former classmate who used to be racist and is now married to a Black woman and thinks he’s God’s Greatest White Ally: “Just because you’re sleeping with one of us doesn’t mean you’re sleeping with all of us.”

While I was reading the book, I kept tweeting about it as if it was a “romance”, especially moved by writing like:

He washed me — not whiter than snow (I have always refused to sing that hymn in church for reasons I’m sure I don’t have to explain) but with a melanin sun.

However, at final consideration, it isn’t “a romance” in the traditional sense, but a journey. Mitchell starts and ends the story — spoilers — in a stable, loving relationship with another man, so if you’re like me and prefer your queer narratives to be hopeful, you’re safe here. But the bulk of the story is the complex, thorough, and incredibly familiar story of how he was seduced in high school by his coach. The seduction is both physical and emotional, both affectionate and lusty–a complete head trip.

It’s hard to know what to say about this other than that it’s very good, but I do want to make the point that alongside the men who will see themselves in this book, I think many women will find it validating as well. Mitchell says all the right things at the end, during the inevitable confrontation, and the final pages of the book pack a punch that had me wide-eyed and impressed.

I’m definitely going to read more by Hardy because I really like his style.

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About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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