Monday 6 July 2020

A Fire of Love and Protest: On Writing All Flowers Bloom

Kawika Guillermo’s second novel, All Flowers Bloom, is a queer speculative revision of histories and imagined futures. In this post Kawika discusses the persistent theme of love, including both self-love and love for others, and offers a view on how love (or a lack of love) is related to the race-focused protests currently happening across the United States and the world.

Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
– James Baldwin, “In Search of a Majority: an Address,” 1960

My first novel, Stamped: an anti-travel novel, detailed the dejection that many people of color felt during the Bush years, and their attempts to self-exile in the face of the war atrocities committed in the “war on terror.” Hating their own country, the novel’s characters can’t help but hate themselves. They idealize suicide. They transport drugs. They become violent. Their stories reflect my own feelings of loss and anger during those years, when I lived and traveled abroad.

If Stamped documents my feelings of self-hate, All Flowers Bloom documents my journey learning to love myself. The novel follows two souls who reincarnate throughout human history, and whose love survives war, famine, and their own deaths. In every life, their love blooms in times of intense political change: the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the British colonization of India, the Philippine-American War, and political upheavals far, far into the future. 

When I met my wife, I was writing All Flowers Bloom. Three years later, when she gave birth to our son, I was still writing it. All Flowers Bloom represents my transition from an angry, dejected ex-patriate, into a father, a husband, a son-in-law, a lover of love itself. And yet, the book’s roots remain deeply political, and angry.

I began this reflection with Baldwin’s often-cited quote, “love is a growing up,” because Baldwin himself saw love as a distinctly political act. He saw the bus boycotts and youth marches of the late 1950s as love speaking, love coming from the downtrodden who still had hope that their white oppressors could change. Protest was a way of tearing down walls, a way of saying “we are bound together forever. We are part of each other.”

We are seeing similar expressions of love today, as we have throughout American history. Love, Baldwin felt, came from Black people who had learned to love others because they had to outwit and empathize with them. Protest was not a demand to be loved back, but an attempt to expose the hatred that guides oppression. The hatred that one must have to kneel on another man’s neck while under the protection of the law. As Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time, if white people could learn to love themselves, then “the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”

Speaking back to Baldwin in her 2016 edited collection, The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward writes that she seeks to “reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce, protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America.” How do we reckon with this fierce, protective love, in our current moment of worldwide pandemic and global rebellion? Can the voices of the streets speak simultaneously with rage and love? 

Kawika Guillermo
All Flowers Bloom is dedicated, in loving memory, to my uncle, Daniel Durwood Patterson, who died of HIV/AIDS-related illness in March of 1996. As I too grew up in the same intensely religious family, I have no way to show love for Danny’s memory without becoming political. To love my uncle is also to love his queerness, his rebellion, his death at the hands of a disease that Christians around the world called “God’s love.”

Love, in many forms, is that in-between space where base desire meets justifiable action. We use it to describe both the gravity that pulls us, and the planet of memories and ideas for which we fight. Written during a time of political upheaval, All Flowers Bloom is still a novel about love, from A-Z.

Details: All Flowers Bloom is published by Westphalia Press