Joe Okonkwo

Author of Jazz Moon:
WINNER: 2016 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Finalist: 2016 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction

"A passionate, alive, and original novel about love, race, and jazz in 1920s Harlem and Paris — a moving story of traveling far to find oneself."
— David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife

In a lyrical, captivating debut set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance and glittering Jazz Age Paris, Joe Okonkwo creates an evocative story of emotional and artistic awakening.

On a sweltering summer night in 1925, beauties in beaded dresses mingle with hepcats in dapper suits on the streets of Harlem. The air is thick with reefer smoke, and jazz pours out of speakeasy doorways. Ben Charles and his devoted wife, Angeline, are among the locals crammed into a basement club to hear jazz and drink bootleg liquor.

For aspiring poet Ben, the swirling, heady rhythms are a revelation. So is Baby Back Johnston, an ambitious trumpet player who flashes a devilish grin and blasts jazz dynamite from his horn. Ben finds himself drawn to the trumpeter–and to Paris where Baby Back says everything is happening.

In Paris, jazz and champagne flow eternally, and blacks are welcomed as exotic celebrities, especially those from Harlem. It’s an easy life that quickly leaves Ben adrift and alone, craving solace through anonymous dalliances in the city’s decadent underground scene.

From chic Parisian cafés to seedy opium dens, his odyssey will bring new love, trials, and heartache, even as echoes from the past urge him to decide where true fulfillment and inspiration lie.


"Jazz Moon mashes up essences of Hurston and Hughes and Fitzgerald into a heady mixtape of a romance: driving and rhythmic as an Armstrong Hot Five record, sensuous as the small of a Cotton Club chorus girl’s back. I enjoyed it immensely. Frankly, I wish I’d written it." — LARRY DUPLECHAN, author of Blackbird and Got ‘til It’s Gone

"Okonkwo’s sweeping debut novel combines the rich history of jazz’s golden age with the emotional turmoil of an African American male coming to terms with his sexuality." — LIBRARY JOURNAL

"Joe Okonkwo is an incredibly unique new voice and a very familiar one at the same time. His haunting style is reminiscent of Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Jazz Moon is an elegantly written gift and a stunning literary debut. The characters are so vibrant and precise! The delicate plot about race, jazz, betrayal, and sex in early Harlem and Paris snatched me and held me hostage until the very last sentence." — MARY MONROE, author of The Upper Room and God Don't Like Ugly

"Okonkwo’s narrative masterfully weaves his familiar characters into the same realm as jazz great Louis Armstrong and Parisian starlet Josephine Baker, allowing them to become as real as these historical icons." — PLENITUDE MAGAZINE

With commitment and compassion, the author deposits the reader back in time as he takes us on a roller coaster ride of human experiences and emotions. He conjures an alluring, nostalgic, sentimental, but also tragic atmosphere of black gay Harlem and Paris during the heyday of the Jazz Age." — JAMES SMALLS PH.D., author of Gay Art and The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten: Public Face, Private Thoughts

"In his debut novel, Joe Okonkwo composes a melodic tale that is as arousing and jarring as one might imagine the roaring jazz era of 1920’s Harlem." — LAMBDA LITERARY

"Jazz Moon is an unexpected and original grand romance: sweeping, evocative, and colorful. Okonkwo is an author to enjoy now and watch in the future." — FELICE PICANO, author of Nights at Rizzoli and Like People in History


WINNER: Publishing Triangle's 2016 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction

Finalist: Lambda Literary's Best Gay Fiction Award


The Rumpus Interview with Joe Okonkwo
"I’ve always had a thing for the Harlem Renaissance. If I could go back in time and go to any period in history, it would definitely be [then] because there was so much happening...It was really the first time that anyone realized that black was not only beautiful but marketable."

Joe Okonkwo on the Gay Black Entertainers of 1920s Harlem and Paris
"I identified primarily as a poet for a long time. I self-published a book of poetry back in 2002, and when I flip through the book now — there might be some flashes of good writing, but for the most part, it’s not something I’m proud of. Poetry is hard. It’s harder than fiction."

Watch BronxNet's Interview with Joe Okonkwo

Writing About Gayness, Blackness and Jazz in 1920s Harlem and Paris 
"Jazz Moon is very much about the search for self-worth, self-love, self-value. It’s a personal and creative odyssey, which is a journey so many of us—particularly artists—engage in constantly. Ben begins by depending on other people—his lovers—to provide him with self-worth, but he starts to learn to depend on—and love—himself."

Joe Okonkwo Wins Edmund White Award For Debut Fiction
"Queer fiction in the digital age? I think there will always be a demand for literature that speaks to and sheds light on certain kinds of experiences that are different from the mainstream, regardless of the age."


Joe's Harlem Renaissance Blog on TUMBLR >>>