A Dream Deferred
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
and then run?”
-Langston Hughes, A Dream Deferred
Dear Phyllis Fans Worldwide,
I first dreamt of writing Phyllis Hyman’s biography shortly after she made her transition in 1995. In fact, I made my first attempt to write it that year. But I didn’t get far. Then I picked it up again in 1998. I didn’t get much farther. I was told that a book was already in the works, so I waited for its release. And I waited. And I waited some more. Finally, in 2002 – seven years after Phyllis left us and with no book in sight – I came to the conclusion that if I ever wanted to read a book about Phyllis, I was going to have to write it myself. This time around, I decided that nothing would stop me.
So I spent five years working on it. It was a rollercoaster ride of emotion as I tried to delve deep beyond the mythos and actually get into Phyllis’ head. At times I didn’t know if I was chasing Phyllis or if she was chasing me. We became intertwined in a way that was not altogether healthy. But holding fast to my conviction that it was ordained by the Universe for me to write this story, I held on and kept going. Finally, in 2007, I could see the finish line before me.
But now that the book was completed, how would I deliver it to the world? I had secured my first literary agent in 2004. He couldn’t sell the project. I picked up another agent in 2006, one who represented New York Times bestselling authors. She couldn’t sell it either. I taped all my rejection letters on the ceiling over my desk. Here’s a sampling of what the major publishing houses had to say about the project. These are three separate rejections:
“I admire Michael’s effort in piecing together a thoughtful portrait of Phyllis Hyman’s life, [however] I’m afraid that most people won’t recall her story.”
“Jason handles the material in a smart, sensitive way that doesn’t lose any of the provocative, controversial elements. However, I’m afraid that Hyman simply isn’t well known enough.”
“Phyllis Hyman was not the cult icon that someone like Marvin Gaye became after his death and it is too long after her death to publish a biography that will do well in the current marketplace.”
Yes, they all said the same thing. The writing was good, but there was no market for a book about Phyllis. She wasn’t well known enough, not a big enough star. I didn’t believe it though. So I decided to do the only thing I could: I created my own publishing company and released the book myself. But the truth is, I’m not a publisher. I didn’t have the know-how and, most importantly, I didn’t have the passion for it.
I released the book in September 2007, and did a second printing early in 2008. But as a self-published author, I didn’t have money for a major press campaign. I spent all I could on a publicist, but she wasn’t able to get much started. Money that came in from sales of the book went to pay back those I had borrowed from to put it out in the first place. The rest was spent on operating expenses for the company. In short, by the time the second printing ran out, there wasn’t enough left to pay for a third. And so, the book slowly vanished.
Out of print since 2009, it’s devastating to me that the book is not available to those who seek it out. I had hoped to always keep the book in print. It pains me that I failed in my mission. It was my dream to tell Phyllis’ story to the world. Today, it’s a dream deferred.
It is my sincere hope that the book will live again. Maybe an independent publisher will realize what I have always known: that folks want to read about Phyllis. Perhaps a visionary filmmaker will realize how powerfully Phyllis’ story would translate to the big screen. Till then, I’ll keep looking for ways to revive the book on my own. An e-book and audio version have both been suggested. I’m considering all possibilities.
I’d like to close by saying that I’m personally grateful to everyone who purchased and read the book. I received such wonderful feedback from many of you that did. That sustained me on days I felt I was in way over my head. To those who never got the chance, I offer you my sincerest apology. I let you down. I hope you’ll forgive me.