required reading

Brontez Purnell’s New Book 100 Boyfriends Feels Right at Home in 2021


“Linear time is a scam,” says the Oakland-based performance artist, punk musician, and writer Brontez Purnell about his just-published story collection 100 Boyfriends. “My approach might seem chaotic, but it’s actually closer to the way humans move through life.” That approach, a foul-mouthed twist on short fiction that draws on zines, critical theory, and pornography, feels right at home in 2021. The coming-out narrative has grown staid, and queer readers are hungry for a forthright rejection of respectability politics that captures the gritty, authentic sensibility that Purnell brings to life on the page.

Boyfriends unfolds through a series of vignettes and wide-ranging narrators. Purnell’s characters steal husbands, huff poppers, and talk more shit than a Drag Race all-star. “[He] hated the idea of meeting these faggots for lunch,” writes Purnell of one character, a failed actor who uses Preparation H as face cream. “He despised Mark’s habit of always dragging boys he was fucking to brunch… Still, it was time to meet these faggots for lunch.”

Chaotic he might be, but Purnell is more than a shock jock. At 38, in addition to founding the cult zine Fag School, he has already published a novella, a queer punk coming-of-age graphic novel, a children’s book, and the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down. And even though he is staying true to his underground ethos, his decades of dedicated craftsmanship have led to establishment accolades, most notably a 2018 Whiting Award for Fiction. “I come from a lineage of disruptive, fucked-up Black artists,” says Purnell, who is already at work on his next book, about a feuding family of Black psychics in the American South. “We’re not ambassadors for peace, and our work doesn’t fall into an easy category. But I believe the next 20 years will be ours.”

This article appears in the March 2021 issue of Interview Magazine. Subscribe here.