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Out in the Bay

Author Dwayne Ratleff on ‘Dancing to the Lyrics’

Book cover art by Leann E. Johnson
L&J Graphics
Dancing to the Lyrics won Dwayne Ratleff a Best Indie Book Award in the “LGBTQ Coming Of Age” category.

Airs 5 p.m. Friday Dwayne Ratleff grew up Black, poor and gay in 1960s Baltimore. As a youngster, an older Southern neighbor and his loving grandma both told him: “Don’t explain yourself, be yourself.”

Long-time San Franciscan Ratleff has written an insightful, award-winning novel – a fiction-style memoir – about his childhood. Dancing to the Lyrics takes us from his sudden uprooting at age 4 from rural Ohio to one of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods, where he lives with his young mother, two sisters and abusive stepfather.

In the book, young Grant (“names have been changed to protect the guilty,” he told me) and his little sisters find dead gunshot victims in their neighborhood, confront soldiers sent to quell riots after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., see how adults enjoyed New Year’s Eve, and much more.

It’s grim in many places, joyful and full of love in others. Ultimately, it’s inspiring as it takes us through the strength, confidence and courage this boy finds en route to manhood, even though we only know him in the book from age 4 to 9.

Hear more from Ratleff on this week's Out in the Bay.

Dancing to the Lyrics won Ratleff a 2021 Best Indie Book Award in the “LGBTQ Coming Of Age” category. I’m so glad he sent me his novel, read from it for Out in the Bay listeners and spoke with us about his life, the people in his boyhood who helped shape who he is now, and his reflections on today’s social turbulence and that of the 1960s.

Out in the Bay is supported in part by Project Open Hand, which provides 2,500 life-saving meals and 200 bags of groceries daily to sustain people experiencing illness, social isolation, or the health challenges of aging. Learn more at OpenHand.org. Project Open Hand – Meals with Love

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Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.