Author Archives: Matthew Gallaway

GREAT ARTISTS STEAL: #gods by Matthew Gallaway

In writing #gods, probably my most important research material (loosely defined), given that most of the book is set in Harlem and Washington Heights (in upper Manhattan), was the neighborhood where I’ve lived for the past twenty years. I specifically live east of Broadway in the lower 160s, just north and west of an area traditionally known as Sugar Hill, which is famous for its role in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s as the home of African-American artists and writers including Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and many others. Today, the neighborhood remains (demographically speaking) nonwhite, which I mention because, as a white person, I think it’s important to have an understanding of what it means (to some small extent) to be a minority in our country, and living in a nonwhite neighborhood, along with being gay, has I hope given me some perspective—or at least sensitivity—that I tried to incorporate into the book.

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Flower Singers

This block was new to me, but its warped cornices, crumbling lintels, and broken, zigzagging fire escapes could have been ripped from my memories. The people seemed familiar, too: the woman in curlers, cigarette dangling from two fingers, leaning out a first-floor window to gossip with a neighbor on the sidewalk, a potbellied mayor holding court on a nearby stoop. Older boys with gleaming biceps who slouched in lawn chairs and played video games on a television hotwired into the streetlight. Teenage girls in suffocatingly tight jeans who caressed the rusting finials of a wrought-iron fence and kept an eye on a horde of children—black and Spanish—who ran screaming through an open hydrant.

I stepped aside as a girl, maybe seven or eight, tore past me with a water balloon. I used to be one of these kids, I thought, oblivious to the crushing heat: exactly what that made me now, forty years later (and acutely aware of the heat), I couldn’t say. Though as much at home here as anywhere else in the city, I viewed the street warily. We shared a history of sorts, but history—my history—was at best a pleasant dream from which I always awoke with an unsettling sense of loss. I had no reason to be nostalgic. As for the future, that too had always been filled with questions, which led me to suspect that, in the hours and days ahead, I would still be chasing ghosts.

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