Reading Progress:

Hari Ziyad’s debut memoir is a perfect blend of the personal and the political

by Jane Link

Black Boy Out of Time is a testament to the ways in which Black authors recraft genre categories that are not truly interested in telling our stories. This memoir dares to dream of a future that is not beholden to any of the structures that many of us are afraid to transcend, even imaginatively.

If you love RaceBaitr, you will adore Ziyad’s debut memoir: both share that utterly inspiring blend of care and critique that is so characteristic of their oeuvre. In Black Boy Out of Time, Ziyad creates a unique memoir that bricolages various non-fiction genres including theory, manifesto, and critique.

This formal experiment tells the story of a Black queer boy growing up in an anti-Black carceral world that criminalises Black children for existing. Moving from their childhood in Cleveland, Ohio where Ziyad is one of nineteen children in a diverse family raised by a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father to university in New York, Black Boy Out of Time vacillates between anecdote and analysis in an effort to make collective sense of this personal history.

Though Hari writes that “when black folks die, it’s never so simple,” they might also say that when Black folks do absolutely anything, it’s never so simple. Black folks, plagued with the trauma and dissonance that results from living in an anti-Black carceral world, have unequal access to our memories and therefore memoir writing. We often internalise the logic of the state and inflict it on our own, or our self-preserving minds do us the small mercy of forgetting traumatic times. When Ziyad sat down to write, these truths became quickly apparent.

An eloquent and enlightening testament to the ways in which Black authors re-craft genre categories that are not truly interested in telling our stories.

But it is not just the case that their memoir resorts to Black theory and history when individual memory fails in the telling of Ziyad’s story. It is, more so, that their story cannot be told without these other forms. In the author’s note, Hari writes that their “greatest fear in writing this memoir was that [they] might encroach upon a story that is someone else’s to tell.” Writing fair is always a primary concern in memoir writing. A part of being fair to ourselves and our communities is to talk openly about how the carceral state’s criminalisation of Black bodies encroaches upon everyday livelihoods.

While this memoir’s tone—sometimes veering on the academic and into the slightly impersonal—might trouble the more literary-minded, Black Boy Boy Out of Time is an eloquent and enlightening testament to the ways in which Black authors recraft genre categories that are not truly interested in telling our stories. Coining terms such as misafropedia and carceral dissonance to communicate the particular experience of growing up Black, this is a generative work that creates the language and concepts needed to talk openly about said experience.

The form, in that sense, reflects the content. Black Boy Out of Time is about dismantling the binaries that constrain the horizons of liberatory thought and organise society into male or female, good or bad, law or punishment. In our interview with Ziyad, they talk about how queerness facilitates a conceptualisation of abolition and a better life beyond these fixed binaries. This memoir is essential because it dares to dream of a future that is not beholden to any of the systems and structures that many of us are afraid to transcend, even imaginatively.

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is the founder of bigblackbooks. She is also a publishing professional holding two master’s in literature from The University of Edinburgh and SOAS. Find her on Twitter @verybookishjane.

HARI ZIYAD is a screenwriter, the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitr, and the bestselling author of Black Boy Out of Time (Little A, March 1). They are a 2021 Lambda Literary Fellow, and their writing has been featured in Vanity Fair, Gawker, Out, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Ebony, Mic, Slate and Salon among other publications. Find them at @HariZiyad on Twitter or on their website.

Hari Ziyad’s debut memoir is a perfect blend of the personal and the politicalBlack Boy Out of Time by Hari Ziyad
Published by Little A on 1 March 2021
Genres: Coming-of-age, Queer, Memoir
Pages: 314
Goodreads
four-stars

One of nineteen children in a blended family, Hari Ziyad was raised by a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father. Through reframing their own coming-of-age story, Ziyad takes readers on a powerful journey of growing up queer and Black in Cleveland, Ohio, and of navigating the equally complex path toward finding their true self in New York City. Exploring childhood, gender, race, and the trust that is built, broken, and repaired through generations, Ziyad investigates what it means to live beyond the limited narratives Black children are given and challenges the irreconcilable binaries that restrict them.

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