Brontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. Purnell’s films and semi-autobiographical novels reflect upon the search for community, artistic lineage, and belonging, giving expression to untold histories of queerness and blackness.
Purnell’s 2021 book 100 Boyfriends collects stories of queer men experimenting with love, sex, substances, and their senses of self. A novel told through disparate voices, its three acts cohere around a cruised pursuit of pleasure and the desire to be desired.
During a residency at The Lab, San Francisco, CA (2017), Purnell produced Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock (2018), a filmic collage and performance that presents the life and work of the San Francisco-based, postmodern choreographer Ed Mock. Assembling archival materials, interview footage, and documented choreography from the 1980s, the piece suggests an ancestry to contemporary Black, gay performance practice.
Purnell’s films have been presented by the Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA (2018); Visual Aids, New York, NY (2018); and The Lab, San Francisco, CA (2017). He has been awarded the San Francisco Film Society / Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant (2021); the Lambda Literary Foundation Jim Duggins, PhD Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (2021); and the Whiting Foundation Award for Fiction (2018).
Purnell holds an M.F.A. in Art Practice from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.F.A. in Dance and Theater from California State University, East Bay. He is the creator of the cult zine Fag School, the frontman for the band the Younger Lovers, and the co-founder of the Brontez Purnell Dance Company.
In art, I tend to lean into a radically open understanding of form and body to create work that combines punk rock subversion and free jazz improvisation. My explorations of dance, writing, and film all fold into one another, sometimes with no clear break; I make art in a multiplicity of forms because, as a writer, I know that a picture is worth a hell of a lot more than 1,000 words. In the end, I would say that all my work ultimately generates from the written word. I started writing zines when I was a teenager in the 1990s. My love for painting the naked page with words has grown considerably since then. To quote Nikki Giovanni, “I write because I have to.”
- December 2021