Re-Remembering Brent Dorian Carpenter: A Writer Who Pushed Boundaries With His Fearless Essays

Jason A. Michael

Over the past two decades, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my name among the bylines in this paper of some pretty talented writers. I was blessed to win the media award at the former annual Community Pride Banquet & Awards in 2005. I was not alone. Many other BTL writers, such as C. Imani Williams and Cheryl Zupan, took home the award as well. As did one old friend who we’ve since lost, Brent Dorian Carpenter. Brent, who died four years ago, would have turned 60 on April 19th.

I was digging through my steamer trunk of back issues looking for clips for another column when I came across Brent’s photo staring back up at me. It was bittersweet to see him. Sweet because he was such an eccentric, gifted, passionate individual. Bitter because he was gone.

Brent started freelancing for Between The Lines, Pride Source's print publication, in the early 2000s. Before long, he had his own controversial column: Brent’s Fagenda. I took the photo of him that ran at the top of the column. 

Brent’s columns were wild and outlandish — especially the one he wrote about an orgy he had participated in. He called it “My Night with the Four Tops.” And trust me, there was no mention of the Motown musical act in this column at all. Other columns featured such titles as
“C'mon, Baby, Let Me Just Stick the Head In,” “In Search of the Perfect Orgy,” “When the Bottom Falls Out of the Market,” “Girl, He Tore My Guts Out” and “When Are You Queens Going to Let Go of Astrology?”

It was shocking to me to read and, I’m sure, many of our readers felt the same. But Brent was unapologetic, even when the editors would have to hold him back and rework or take out certain passages. For a time, Brent also wrote a column called Historically Black, Historically Gay, which featured short bios of influential gay Black folk and incredible illustrations that Brent drew himself. 

Brent was also an author before he even came to BTL. His books were as fantastical and out there as he was. In 2001’s “Man of the Cloth,” Brent tells the science fiction story of a catastrophic plane crash that wipes out the Pope and the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church, plunging the Holy See into turmoil. Then there’s “This Time Around,” the story of a gay African American college student who discovers a way to travel through time and go back to 15th-century Africa to attempt to stop the Atlantic slave trade before it begins.

Brent’s imagination knew no end. He also illustrated a comic book and put out a collection of his columns for BTL called “Bald Ambition.” He also wrote for the newspaper the Michigan Citizen. Yes, Brent was enterprising. 

He was also very community-minded. He spoke to groups such as Affirmations and Ruth Ellis Center. He co-produced a town hall meeting on homophobia in Detroit that took place at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. He even brought along his chanteuse of a mother, who went by Charmin’ Carmen, to play her keyboard and sing in the lobby as folks came in and found their seats.

"There was a moment two weeks before the town hall that I helped organize to address homophobia in Detroit's Black community when I realized it was the most important thing I had done in my entire life," Carpenter, himself, reflected in one of his more subdued columns. "No venue of that nature had ever been convened before. My magnificent collaborators and I were making history."

Brent was an exceptional writer, and I actually co-wrote a couple of stories with him. I enjoyed working with him and hanging out with him as well. I took his publicity shot. He drove me to the airport. It was a give-and-take friendship, and we looked out for each other. 

A Detroit native, Brent graduated from Cass Tech in 1981. He had a lifelong love of writing and drawing. He battled, like me, bipolar disorder, and it often visibly affected him. He was high-strung at times and the mania he was fighting would at times rise to the surface. Brent had a desire to shock, to be graphic and in your face.

"Brent was mercurial and kind of progressive," our mutual friend Keronce Sims said about him, recalling those early columns. "He was truthful to a fault."

Brent was also HIV positive and very open about it, bringing attention to AIDS causes whenever possible. He moved to Atlanta in 2006, though he’d continue to contribute to BTL from time to time. He worked in Georgia mostly as a personal trainer. 

I will never forget Brent even though, I’ll admit, we weren’t on the best of terms when he died. I don’t recall what I did or if I, in fact, did anything, but Brent felt slighted and was mad at me. I couldn’t dwell on that when on March 23, 2020, Brent died, at 55, following heart surgery and I was called upon to write his obituary for the paper. No easy challenge, for sure. How do you sum up the life of someone so vibrant, so charismatic, in a few hundred words. How do I sum him up here?

In this instance, I decided to cheat and call on another friend of Brent’s to give me closing thoughts.

“Brent was brutally honest,” said C. Imani Williams, who helped plan the town hall meeting with Brent. “He wasn't scared to ask or answer hard questions.”

Indeed, Brent was fearless. And BTL is all the better for featuring his outlandish yet thought-provoking work. I miss Brent. The world is a little less colorful without him.