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Interview with Author John Steven Welch


In a groundbreaking literary debut, author John Steven Welch introduces readers to "The One Who's Gonna See You Through." This thought-provoking work embarks on a mission to challenge the status quo and shed light on a scarcely explored narrative: the gay black theme within the unique framework of an absent mother and a loving father. Welch's novel promises to offer a fresh perspective that diverges from the conventional portrayals often found in literature.

 

Breaking free from the well-worn path of the stereotypical angry, Black, homophobic father, and the more frequently depicted storyline of unwavering single Black motherhood, "The One Who's Gonna See You Through" pioneers a new narrative direction.

 

John Steven Welch's passion for the written word has been a constant presence throughout his life. Armed with a doctorate in art history from Princeton University, his scholarly journey delved into the world of nineteenth-century British photographer Roger Fenton. This academic pursuit culminated in his dissertation. Welch's educational journey includes a master's degree from Princeton and a bachelor's degree from Columbia University (GS).

 

Beyond his groundbreaking novel, Welch has authored numerous articles and played a pivotal role as an assistant editor and author for a special issue addressing the State of Black Museums, published in The Public Historian in August 2018. With a rich academic background and a penchant for storytelling, John Steven Welch's literary endeavors are poised to leave an indelible mark on the literary landscape.


Continue reading for an exclusive interview.



Tell us a bit about your background?


I was born and grew up in Washington, D.C. during the 1960s and 1970s. I attended parochial schools there and have lived primarily on the East Coast between Washington and New York most of my life. As a graduate student studying Art History, I was faced with the choice of either becoming an academic or working in art museums. After completing my M.A. and while pursuing my doctorate, I began working in art museums because I wanted to teach the public about art. I pursued a career as an art educator in museums for some 15+ years. 


I always had a love of writing and suspect I harbored a repressed dream of someday writing novels while I was pursuing a career in museums. When I stepped away from full-time employment in 2012, I began focusing on writing. First, as a consultant working on arts related projects, then later, more exclusively on creative writing. I began writing my first novel, The One Who’s Gonna See You Through in earnest around 2022. Fortunately, with my husband’s support, I was freed to completely immerse myself in a passion that had been dormant for years. 


What was the impetus for writing, "The One Who's Gonna See You Through?"


In my reading of Coming-of-Age literature and gay fiction more generally, I had not found an example of a story that encompassed all the themes I wanted to see in that type of literature. I wanted to tell a story about a poor, black kid growing up gay-identified with a single father rather than a single mother, who bore no confusion about his gay identity, but instead grappled with insecurities about race and class. I wanted to portray the relationship between a black gay son and his father that was not abusive but rather wholly supportive, nurturing and loving. I wanted to explore the ways such a protagonist pursued a romantic idyll of love and partnership in his life and how he achieved realization of such a love. And, I wanted to tell a story of a gay man who experiences a life-long and sustaining love rather than promiscuity and loneliness. Ultimately, I wanted to tell an uplifting story about identity, love, acceptance, and self-actualization that would hopefully resonate with many different types of audiences.


Can you tell us a bit about the book?


In a word, the book is about a young gay black boy raised by a loving illiterate father and it’s quite different from the usual coming of age story. 

At ten years old GJ’s father killed a man who was trying to kill him and GJ. And GJ becomes the principal witness at a trial for his father who is then acquitted. Also, at age ten, GJ has no confusion about his sexual identity and he comes out to his father who loves, accepts, and supports him. Also, at ten, GJ has his first sexual experience with a tough older kid from the neighborhood. So, it was quite a year. But nothing to what came next. GJ’s life changed radically after that.

At 14, he began a seven-year relationship with a 37-year-old partner. He was a fly-on-the-wall of the black gay bar scene in DC during the late 1970s, and he also watched The Waltons, and he loved John Boy because John Boy wanted to write, and it planted the seed in GJ that he too wanted to write. He also had a bigger dream of romance which changed his life. 

At age 21, GJ ends his relationship with his first partner because GJ is intellectually curious, he wants a bigger life, and his partner wants to be comfortable. GJ is a romantic and he does not love his partner in the deeply romantic, idyllic understanding he has of romantic love and he decides its best to breakup.  And that opens the door to events that will entirely change his life.

Also, by age 21, GJ has dropped out of college and he meets an intellectually ambitious, white, Yale educated, 26-year-old Congressional staffer who will become the great love of his life, and he begins to realize his dreams. He goes from being a college dropout to earning a Bachelors from Columbia University and a PhD from Princeton.


Why was this book important for you to write?


I wanted the book to speak to anyone who has or is struggling with issues of identity, class, or race acceptance. I also wanted gay kids who know themselves from an early age, and who never deviate from that knowledge of self throughout their lives, to know its ok not to be fluid or confused about their sexuality. I wanted to explore atypical black family dynamics and explore Washington, DC in the 1960’s and 70’s through that lens. And, I wanted to explore a character with my audiences who is an anomaly, one who does not fit into any established boxes neatly but who nevertheless finds love and great happiness in life.


Would you describe the book as being autobiographical?


Some aspects of GJ’s life are specifically informed by my own life experiences. For instance, growing up in Washington, DC, attending parochial schools, being upwardly mobile and experiencing happiness in love and life. But much of the book is fictionalized.



Who do you see your primary audience being?


Gay men of all ages. Readers interested in Coming-of-Age stories. African-American readers interested in historical fiction. Readers interested in stories of self-actualization.


What do you hope readers will take away from it?


My book has two core messages:


  1. If you are gay and you know it is who you are from an early age do not be confused or dissuaded by those who still insist you are fluid, or you must be confused. Its ok to be fluid, but it’s also ok to know yourself early and have no confusion about that.


  1. Whatever your dream in life keep it within your soul. If it remains in your soul, you will fulfill that dream.

Embrace the differences in yourself and others. Embrace your dreams no matter how far they seem from your ability to realize them at various stages of your life.


Are you working on any other books?


I am currently at work on a novel set in 2095. It is about a woman with a very human dilemma driving the story. Though set in the future, it will be more akin to literary fiction than science fiction.



 




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