(RNS) — When people reel off the names of American Black writers such as Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward and Deesha Philyaw, Danté Stewart hopes they’ll include his name, too.
“I wanted to be in the tradition of Black writing, but also wanted to do it as a Christian,” Stewart said.
His first book, “Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle,” released this week, isn’t necessarily a Christian book, he said, though it’s published by Convergent Books, which publishes major Christian writers such as Jen Hatmaker and Philip Yancey.
Instead the author weaves together memoir and social and cultural criticism along with theology — stories about his family with stories from the Bible and Black literature. He shares his own experiences as a Black man leaving and returning to the Black church alongside the stories of Black men whose lives were cut short by police violence.
“I’m going to literature, I’m going to art, I’m going to our bodies to see what type of revelation can be had in both of those,” he said.
Stewart spoke with Religion News Service about “Shoutin’ in the Fire,” his experiences in white evangelicalism and how reading has shaped his faith and writing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you write this book, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?
I wrote the book first and foremost for me, because it was the type of book I needed to write and I knew I could write, but I had to challenge myself to write. But also I wrote the book for Black people. I wanted to write a book that would be incredibly hard to put in the “antiracist” category insofar as I didn’t want this book to be received as something that can teach white people about Black life in hopes that white people can get better. A lot of people ask me, “What can white people learn from your book?” I’m not really concerned about answering what white people can learn, because I’m not really concerned about what white people learn.
White people have had centuries to learn, and my book, as small or as huge as it is, can only do so much to reorganize the systems and the powers and the structures of society — you know, things like that that would actually, fundamentally change the type of experience that we’re living in.
But I wanted to write something that was for us, that felt like us, that was familiar and familial in the sense that it used the language that we use, the smells that we smell, the tastes that we taste, the places that we went.