Talking Volumes: Saeed Jones on ‘How We Fight for Our Lives’

Saeed Jones is a poet and author of the new book “How We Fight for Our Lives.” He spoke with MPR's Brandt Williams for Talking Volumes at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Jon Premosch

When Saeed Jones sat down to write his memoir, he had one central question: What are the costs of being made to feel that you cannot be your whole self?

In “How We Fight for Our Lives,” Jones describes his experience living with that question as a gay, black kid growing up in suburban Texas.

As part of the Talking Volumes series, Jones joined MPR’s Brandt Williams at the Parkway Theater. They discussed Jones’ complicated relationships with his mother and grandmother, who struggled to accept his sexuality.

“My mother and I had a vibrant, warm relationship,” he said. “We made each other laugh. We talked about politics. We said ‘I love you.’ Though she practiced nature and Buddhism and was pretty liberal leaning and progressive in a lot of ways…[with] homosexuality [and] queerness, the education just wasn’t there …. so it was a silence for us.”

Jones acknowledged the pain of shutting off part of himself for their benefit, but he also understands that some of his mother’s and grandmother’s struggle to accept this part of his identity came from a place of concern.

He put it this way to Williams: “I think the parts of the book that really break my heart are where you see how loved ones can mangle one another, doing something they believe is preparing the other person for the world.”

But whether or not he was gay was never a question for Jones.

“One thing you don’t see me struggling with is like, ‘Am I gay?’ [or] ‘Am I attracted to boys?’ I’ve always known Marlon Brando was fine. That’s just factual.”

Use the audio player above to hear their discussion.

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