Danté Stewart describes himself as many things, including a husband, father, writer, and student. But in his debut book, Shoutin in the Fire: An American Epistle, Stewart grapples with the intersecting identities of being Black, Christian, and American.
He is also an avid reader, a devourer of words. That becomes almost immediately apparent to anyone who spends even a few minutes reading through Shoutin’ in the Fire, Stewart’s riveting and transparent account of awakening to the failures of White Evangelicalism and finding hope amid the hypocrisy of the American dream.
A South Carolina native, Stewart pursued what he saw as the safety of whiteness, and a key to success, when he became a cornerback for Clemson University and eventually started attending a White church. Raised in a Black Pentecostal tradition, Stewart soon found himself judging his former church tradition by the standards of White conservative Christianity and suppressing parts of himself to fit in.
As Stewart told Faithfully Magazine in an interview, “from a thematic perspective, the book is my wrestling with ‘what does it mean to be Black and American and Christian?’ And what does it mean to become the worst of those identities? And in some sense, become the best of those identities as well.”
Stewart finds footing for those identities and affirmation of his experiences in the ever-growing canon of Black Literature — which influenced his desire to keep Shoutin’ in the Fire from being viewed simply as a “Christian” book.
“I wanted to craft the narrative that will be among the best of Black writers, particularly those who do memoir and do it well,” he said, name-dropping Rebecca Carroll, Brian Broome, Darnell Moore, and several other Black authors. But it was books like Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde that helped shape his own memoir.
“I wanted to be alongside them in conversation with them, you know, as someone who is representative of particularly being Black and Christian,” Stewart said. “I did not want to write that Christian book because I knew that for Christian literature oftentimes…I would say that much of Christian literature as a genre does not necessarily do the honest kind of work that a memoir call[s] you to do.” That being to “implicate” oneself within the text.
Stewart, 29, definitely implicates himself in Shoutin’ in the Fire, revealing how he became antagonistic toward his own cultures — racially and religiously.
“I don’t represent the hero of the story. Like, in many ways, I am actually at many times, I am the perpetrator. And in many ways, I give white supremacy its oxygen. I give it its justification and theological protection,” he said.
The cauldron for much of his change in reorienting his Black, Christian, and American identities was a White Evangelical church and other White spaces that valued his performance and silence over vulnerability and authenticity. Other catalysts in Stewart’s journey were murders of Black people at the hands of police. Incessant broadcasts of Black death and abuse, and public reaction to them, compelled Stewart to ask and examine what kinds of messages were being conveyed, and inspired him to imagine new ones.
And to hope.
“The hope was in the struggle, God was in the hope, and these bodies will not always suffer,” Stewart writes of Black bodies at the end of his book. “These bodies will not always tremble. These bodies will live….”
Theologically, Stewart leans on the Bible as much as he does on Black Literature, citing works by James Cone and Katie Cannon, among many others. He draws a parallel between the sacredness of the Bible and the works of Black authors that give voice and presence to the reality of the Black experience.
Stewart explained that like people in the Hebrew Bible and authors of the New Testament, he relies on the works of “the ancestors” to inform his present and help him envision a hopeful future.
“You know, in some sense, because we think about the Bible, this anthology, this is a collection of books with many people’s names and we receive these names —whether it be Nehemiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Hosea — we receive these names as divine revelation. Paul and John and Peter, we receive these names as divine revelation to teach us something about life, to teach us something about God, to teach us something about the world we live in, to teach us something about the stories that give us meaning,” he said.
He believes it is the same with the canon of Black Literature, because “Black people have the same type of sacredness bound to their stories.”
Watch or listen to Stewart discuss Shoutin’ in the Fire in the video and audio players below.