Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Saeed Jones' Memoir Tells Of A Gay Black Man's Coming Of Age


People don't just happen; we sacrifice former versions of ourselves. Those words come from poets say Saeed Jones' new memoir, "How We Fight For Our Lives." The book details his struggles as a young black gay man coming of age. NPR's Sam Sanders recently interviewed Jones. And just a note to listeners here, you'll hear Jones use what has long been considered a derogatory term for gay men.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Saeed Jones is an unlikely fan of Ohio State football.

SAEED JONES: I'm wearing an OSU shirt right now, by the way (laughter).

SANDERS: He's from Texas, not Ohio. The nuts and bolts of the sport don't fascinate him. And he's gay. But when Saeed Jones moved to Columbus, Ohio, this year, he fell in love with it all at an Ohio State tailgate party.

JONES: I hate that here it's very early in the morning. I mean, it's, like, 8 o'clock in the morning.


SANDERS: That didn't stop him. Jones tweeted later that day...

JONES: It was...

SANDERS: 8:54 a.m., and I'm drinking a vodka Red Bull.

JONES: And that was already - I think that was an hour into the experience.

SANDERS: Jones says he loved it all, even though it took him out of his comfort zone.

JONES: Well, there is a lot of walking. It's true. And there are a lot of white people.


SANDERS: Jones says there's some deeper stuff there, besides the fun.

JONES: Anything that is about the intersection of, basically, sex, race and power, I'm there.

SANDERS: That's football.

JONES: That's what I'm meant be looking at.


JONES: You know? And that is football.


JONES: Yeah, absolutely.

SANDERS: This is Saeed Jones - constantly observing the way he moves through spaces not made for him, spaces full of people who don't look like him, and then drawing observations that are universal about what it means to be fully human, wherever you are. This is the focus of Jones' new memoir, "How We Fight For Our Lives." Saeed Jones has lived the life in which he is often othered. He's black, he's gay, and he was raised Buddhist in Texas. The way he tells that life story, it's really Jones telling us how hard it is for a lot of people to tell their own stories.

JONES: Our culture is dominated by and obsessed with straight, rich, cisgender people. I think those people will never fully understand how much work literally everyone else does to imagine ourselves into existence.

D GILSON: We're living in a time where there's a glut of memoirs on the market. Every celebrity writes a memoir; every politician writes a memoir.

SANDERS: That's critic D. Gilson. Gilson teaches writing and cultural studies at Missouri State University. He reviewed "How We Fight For Our Lives" for Lambda Literary. Gilson says this memoir stands out because Saeed Jones wrote it like a poet.

GILSON: Every sentence, every word, every paragraph is so painstakingly pored over.

SANDERS: In fact, Jones begins this memoir with a poem about his mother dancing to a Prince song.


JONES: (Reading) "I Wanna Be Your Lover" comes on the kitchen radio. And briefly, your mother isn't your mother - just like, if the falsetto is just right, a black man in black lace panties isn't a f*****, but a prince, a prodigy.

SANDERS: In the rest of the book, Saeed Jones tells his very distinct story, but he highlights themes we all can relate to - figuring out love, loving the people who raised you but building a life of your own, being you without shame - themes for everyone.

JONES: I don't want people to read my memoir or any of my writing, really, and think of it as a vacation from the reality of their own lives; I hope everything I write, when you experience it as a reader, it feels like it's in dialogue with your life.

SANDERS: A dialogue totally worth having. Saeed Jones' new memoir, "How We Fight For Our Lives," hits bookstores today.

Sam Sanders, NPR News.


GREENE: And you can hear the rest of Sam's conversation on his podcast, It's Been A Minute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
Related Stories