WINNER FERRO-GRUMLEY AWARD FINALIST LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD - BEST GAY FICTION
Drapetomania n. (obs): the pathological psychological condition wherein a slave feels compelled to escape his master, however well that master treats him. Recommended treatment for this condition: firm discipline.
When house-servant Abednego is sold away south, his heartbroken field-hand lover Cyrus snaps and flees the estate on which he has lived his entire life. Leaving everything he knows behind him, evading dogs and patrollers as he heads north, in the midst of a dismal swamp Cyrus receives the revelation that Abednego is his true North Star, and, impossible though it seems, he determines to find and rescue his lost lover from slavery.
Ten years in the writing, Drapetomania, Or The Narrative of Cyrus Tyler & Abednego Tyler, lovers, is an epic tale of black freedom, uprising, and a radical representation of romantic love between black men in slavery times, is Gordon's seventh novel, and is one of Attitude magazine's 20 Best Reads of 2018. It has also been selected by the American Library Association for their 2019 LGBTQ Rainbow List.
"Virtually nothing has been written about the black gay experience under slavery. This is a stunning work of imagination from the pen of a politically committed white gay British writer. He captures the difficult feelings between individual humans within the dehumanizing context that was the horror of slavery – the nuances of emotion that formed the tightrope of external obedience and internal defiance. Even more, he provides us with a great antebellum love story rooted in resistance and endurance. My hope is that this stunning novel will open the door to more visible work on the lives of gay black slaves." MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (New York Times bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop: Sermon to White America)
“[A] riveting, masterful work. Set against the brutalizing, material captivity meant to break the soul, that came to define the chattel enslavement of Africans in the American south, Drapetomania tells the compelling story of two men whose love for each other reimagines the erotic contours of what was possible under the whip and scrutiny of catastrophic bondage. Here is a story of love so powerful, so achingly present, it dares to consider not just the past but the future, as vital to freedom; and in doing so, defies any notion of the black enslaved body as an ugly, unpalatable thing, unworthy of the sweetness of love. Gordon’s novel enters the company of such classic works as Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger. We will be reading and talking about this extraordinary novel for years to come.” ALEXIS DE VEAUX (author of Yabo and Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde)
“We’ve seen the African-American slave narrative told from many perspectives, but in this groundbreaking novel, Gordon becomes the first to explore this experience through the eyes of a gay slave. The result is an all-out masterpiece. While his previous novels (Skin Deep, Faggamuffin, Colour Scheme) hinted at his literary genius, Drapetomania confirms it. With this bold, painstakingly historicized effort, Gordon arguably makes a bid to join the ranks of some of the greatest writers of the African-American experience – Baldwin, Haley, Morrison, Walker. This book is just THAT good. It’s no easy task to write what feels like a classic American novel in the 21st century, but Gordon has done just that. The fact that he’s white and British make this feat all the more impressive.” PATRIK IAN-POLK (Blackbird; The Skinny; Noah’s Arc)
"[A] damning indictment of America’s racist history...The intensely sensory nature of the language heightens the filmic quality of the book, endowing the landscape and its people with a hyper-kinetic pulse and presence...undoubtedly his chef-d'œuvre. Often deeply moving and gripping, Drapetomania is a tour de force and John R. Gordon is a novelist working at the height of his creative capabilities." DIRIYE OSMAN, The Financial Times - link to full review here.
"What a beautiful read this is. John Gordon is not only a fine author but a fine historian as well. He reminds us all too well about the horrors of slavery and even with my having been raised in the southern United States, I was amazed at how much I did not know about the institution." AMOS LESSEN - read full review here.
"A bittersweet novel that explores uncharted territory with courage and a deep compassion. I won’t encourage you to read this, I insist on it." CAT VAN MAANEN, CONKER magazine.
"...an experience you will not forget." GIANNA JACKSON, gjackswrites.com
"Epic and exciting." Atittude magazine
Read a piece in Medium about the creation of the striking cover image for Drapetomania here.
Read John's thoughts on writing Drapetomania here.
Diriye Osman interviews John here.
You can buy this text via the following outlets:
Do check out this fascinating profile of John R. Gordon, which was co-produced by Diriye Osman and Isabel Gordon: