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Belt Publishing

Be Not Afraid of My Body (pre-order)

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By Darius Stewart
February 6, 2024

“Darius Stewart has reimagined the form of the American memoir. Be Not Afraid of My Body is a gift, an assembly of grace, wit, candor, outrage, bewilderment, charm, and wisdom of stunning beauty.” —John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain and Halls of Fame

From an exhilarating new voice, a breathtaking memoir about gay desire, Blackness, and growing up.

Darius Stewart spent his childhood in the Lonsdale projects of Knoxville, where he grew up navigating school, friendship, and his own family life in a context that often felt perilous. As we learn about his life in Tennessee—and eventually in Texas and Iowa, where he studies to become a poet—he details the obstacles to his most crucial desires: hiding his earliest attraction to boys in his neighborhood, predatory stalkers, doomed affairs, his struggles with alcohol addiction, and his eventual diagnosis with HIV. Through a mix of straightforward memoir, brilliantly surreal reveries, and moments of startling imagery and insight, Stewart’s explorations of love, illness, chemical dependency, desire, family, joy, shame, loneliness, and beauty coalesce into a wrenching, musical whole.

A lyrical narrative reminiscent of Saeed Jones’s How We Fight for Our Lives and Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Be Not Afraid of My Body stands as a compelling testament to growing up Black and gay in America, and to the drive in all of us to collect the fragments of our own experience and transform them into a story that does justice to all the multitudes we contain.


Darius Stewart is a poet and writer from Knoxville, Tennessee. He is the author of the poetry collection Intimacies in Borrowed Light (EastOver Press 2022). His poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in the Arkansas International, the Brooklyn ReviewCallalooCimarron ReviewFourth GenreSalamanderVerse Daily, and others. He holds MFAs from the Michener Center for Writers and the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. Currently, he is a Lulu Johnson Doctoral Fellow in Literary Studies at the University of Iowa.


Advance praise: 

"Darius Stewart is a charming, searching, and unflinching interlocutor, whether he’s speaking through the book’s presiding influence, Essex Hemphill, or regaling the reader with messy hookups and botched attempts to snort coke through a cigarette. Calling Be Not Afraid of My Body artful belies just how readable, dazzlingly propulsive this book is. I already can’t wait to read it again."—Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf

"A heart-wrenching exploration of sexuality—how it’s discovered, how it’s exploited, how it blossoms. Stewart’s is a voice we’ve been waiting for.”—Sarah Blake, author of Naamah and Clean Air 

"Funny, sexy, sad, tender, poignant, brutal and heartbreaking, but always vivid, always alive—a major literary event that will justly draw comparisons to Baldwin and Styron. Do yourself a favor, and don't wait to read it." Catherine Baab-Muguira, author of Poe for Your Problems: Uncommon Advice from History's Least Likely Self-Help Guru 

“I read this book in one breathless setting, often heart-choked and always enrapt.” —Sarah Viren, author of To Name the Bigger Lie and Mine

“In lyric prose and fearless voice, Stewart brilliantly confronts, defies, celebrates, and pays homage to our human limitations and limitlessness.” —Susan Steinberg, author of Machine and Spectacle

"Darius Stewart's Be Not Afraid of My Body is a memoir of haunting beauty that captures, in language bone-clean and sure, the complexities of being Black, gay, and southern in America. And like all ghosts I know, it has kept me up at night. Never have I met on the page such steadfast tenderness, such grace for one's past transgressions, such beauty in the face of heartache and grief. Yes, this memoir is drenched in grief, as Stewart revisits, in uncompromising language, the death of his innocence, the death of close friendships, the death of loved ones both intimate and dear. And still, there's hope here, standing like a sentinel between the reader and the book's murkier depths, always pointing us towards the brighter tomorrow." –Alonzo Vereen, author of Historically Black: American Icons Who Attended HBCUs

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