Darnell Moore Fashions the Future He Wants to See

The author and activist says the words of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan saved his life. Now he’s paying it forward.

Martin Sanchez

As a young man, writer Darnell Moore found himself through literature, but sadly not in it. In the books he was assigned to read in grade school, high school, and college—many of which are considered canonical works of American literature—Moore says he found little to no representation of black, LGBTQ+ people.

Growing up in Camden, New Jersey, he would go to libraries in order to find representation in books by black novelist James Baldwin and, later, in the works of poets including Audre Lorde and June Jordan. “Audre Lorde’s Zami, for instance, is a remarkable, memoir-esque book, and it saved my life,” says Moore. “It’s about a black lesbian that grew up [here] in New York City. These are the books that helped me come into myself.”

With his new memoir, No Ashes in the Fire (Nation Books), Moore says he hopes to have a similar impact on readers in need of “words that help them to live.” In it, he shares some of the most painful moments of his upbringing, including the time some neighborhood boys tried to set him on fire when he was 14 years old.

Sarah Deragon
Darnell MooreSarah Deragon

Moore found delving into the difficult truths of his upbringing to be a freeing process. “These are the traces of my life as I remember it,” he says, “and I honor them—the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful.” There’s no doubt these experiences shaped his commitment to activism, including work with the Black Lives Matter Global Network. In 2014, Moore organized the Freedom Rides that brought about 500 people from all around the country to Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by local police.

Speaking about the impetus behind the Black Lives Matter movement, Moore says that “it was a community, a collective, a whole range of people. Trans folk, queer-identified folk, young folk, older folk, formerly incarcerated people, all in this group who wanted a better future, a liberated future, and who put themselves on the front line.”

In many ways, Moore’s autobiographical writing doubles as social commentary on the nature of acceptance, both of oneself and of others around us. Take, for example, Moore’s decision not to use the phrase “coming out” in reference to sharing your sexuality with loved ones. “I always felt like that term demanded that people who are identified as different, not straight, have this work that we have to do,” he says. Revealing this aspect of your life is what Moore says you do “when you care for people, when you love them.” It’s about letting them into those spaces—so he takes a different approach. “I don’t say ‘coming out.’ I say ‘inviting in.’”