Where are the Blacks in BBQ Book, Dr. Conyers? The Process, Journey, and Solution
I know I have been keeping you waiting for an in-depth study of Southern BBQ, which focuses solely on the black narrative, which I can tell in depth from both research and experience. This book and story have yet to be written and I recognize that fact. The book is really hard to write from a place of research and a place of cultural authenticity. Over a lifetime of honing the craft of being a whole animal bbq cook, which focused mainly on whole hog bbq, it has been a struggle to get a publisher on board. I have done extensive travel to meet the remaining black whole hog bbq pitmasters in the country in the deep rural south that has focused solely on the whole hog along with reading extensively, while also cooking all the domesticated animals in a manner to fil in the gaps from history after over 33 years of being around and cooking on the pit.
Over 4 years ago, I started to write a book that focused on blacks solely in BBQ. In addition, I submitted the book to many university presses in the Winter of 2016, and they told me they were not interested at all. Needless to say, I still did the research. One university press, did finally came around but they said I would have to modify the narrative, because it was too heavy and I took it to mean because it was so deeply intertwined with slavery. Unfortunately, today I realize to factually write the bbq story in the America, it can’t be separated from Slavery. The publisher offered a few more suggestions and so I did not go any further. The story of bbq is intertwine in slavery and now years later I am more convinced with additional research that is the painful truth, 100%.
Slightly over a year later, I was approached by literary agent in 2018, to pursue a cookbook project told through my eyes Southern Food as a southerner who is deeply connected to the rural south. I thought it was an interesting opportunity but since I am not a chef, recipe development would be hard for me. The only recipes I cooked from was to make desserts and now BBQ sauce, to provide consistency. The other foods I cooked from South Carolina where I am from like Purloo Rice, BBQ Hash, Peas and Okra, etc, was more of Vibration Cooking by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor.
In 2019, I was approached by a literary agent to pursue a memoir project. That project was more interesting to me because I could tell a story I would like to be the person to share, my own. I finished about 80% of the proposal and I have been afraid to send it over because my life is consistently evolving. Furthermore, the project where I was working with PBS Digital Studios Nourish ended a few months prior and I potentially lost access to the over 150,000 followers on Facebook and YouTube. In reality, in the over 150,000 followers, I lost potential customers. There was no bad blood between the network and me but I felt left the following of people I created content, I left hanging for something else and more for reasons beyond my control. The lesson for me is to be a part owner or partner in future endeavors to control my destiny. As I think often about the work of Seth Godin’s Tribes, I said I would never leave my Tribe hanging(this is not taking to be offensive to indigenous culture). The memoir project still interests me but I never did this work to gain attention for myself. I wanted my work in bbq to honor those whom particularly formed and shaped the bbq tradition, I love, black people whom worked the land as enslaved, sharecroppers, and farmers. So I will send the proposal over because this book will take time to bring to market.
As such, my heart is calling me to back to pursue the work that I originally intended to put out into the universe. I wrote numerous chapters, free blog posts, cooked for free exposure to share the craft, and produced events to share the culture with people over this time. After participating in a few events at Black Urban Growers (BUGS) and Fire Flour Fork in November, I believe this work is more important than a story on me as it ultimate it the marriage of black farmers and black foodways. After leaving those two events, I wrote a blog post on Virginia BBQ and it led me to a Facebook conversation with BBQ Author Joseph Haynes, Virginia BBQ: A History, whose book on Virginia BBQ is actually one of the definitive works on Southern BBQ that I have a lot of respect. When I read it in late 2017, I thought it was 1 of 3 bbq books that gave enslaved Africans on plantations the credit they serve for perfecting an American Dish but I felt there were gaps that only a community member of the culture could fill in. The recent conversation has motivated me to go back to the project I originally intended, and since I have traveled countless miles, taken unplanned flights to sit down with bbq legends to talk the BBQ language as only one in the culture would know.
I know this book is the right book for me to finish at this time and I am okay with funding the publication and distribution of the book out of my pocket because the book has to be heavy to write the proper book on blacks in BBQ. However, the book can’t be all academic and all restaurant, it has to be a combination of both while completing the narrative. I am confident that no publisher will accept my book as is because it is the truth and help me put it out in the timeline I want to deliver. With technology and the connections to printers, I will get the book I want published with the quality I ultimately want that I will not sacrifice on because America’s need this book. I took this same mentality in producing Gumbo Jubilee and the culture was blessed immensely.
If one thing I have faith, America will accept and embrace the book should the truth be shared. At the end of the day, I would like to give a voice to those nameless enslaved Africans whom perfected the bbq tradition that we know and love even if regional forms are being dominated because the role of media and the people whom control the narrative. In 2019, there are no more excuses for me to not be able to share the truth. Finally, in the music industry, people like Ray Charles, Master P and Chance the Rapper showed us examples of how to own and distribute our content, but we have to be willing to gamble on what we believe.