After being found in an intimate, sexual encounter with another young man, Perry is thrown out of his house by his family and forced to survive on his own. As he struggles to hold on by working in a h... more
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After being found in an intimate, sexual encounter with another young man, Perry is thrown out of his house by his family and forced to survive on his own. As he struggles to hold on by working in a homeless shelter and trying to maintain a college scholarship, he is haunted by his homosexuality and becomes increasingly withdrawn due to his family's rejection of him and their condemnation of his desires. As his friend Marcus is performing his new poetry for him, an elderly man, Bruce, appears seemingly out of nowhere and begins reciting verse to them. He disappears just as quickly and elusively as he arrived, before they get a chance to talk to him. In his library research for a class project, Perry finds a book about the Harlem Renaissance and recognizes a poem ("Smoke, Lilies and Jade" by Bruce Nugent) as the same one that the elderly man was reciting. They encounter each other again at the homeless shelter where Perry works. He confronts Bruce about who he is and begins to ask him about the Harlem Renaissance. They go on a literal and metaphorical journey to the house that was known as "Niggeratti Manor" which was the creative center for the younger, rebellious generation of the Harlem Renaissance as they created their revolutionary literary journal, "Fire!". Although the house is now dilapidated, we are transported through the landscape of Bruce's memories of the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance. Perry learns about the lives and personalities of Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Aaron Douglas and sees how they became a surrogate family for Bruce. Perry begins to recognize this era as his history. He sees the pride that Bruce exuded in those times in terms of being Black, gay and unashamed. His pride and self-esteem begin to have an empowering effect on Perry as he gains a stronger sense of his identity. As the story progresses, we witness the transformative power that they have on each other's lives through their shared passion for art and storytelling.