Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it’s been a minute since my last post. What can I say? I have been extremely busy. With working on TWO Horsemen projects, teaching and giving presentations among other things, it has left very little time to post on this blog.
One of the things I’ve been busy with is writing for role-playing games. Never thought that I would become a part of that industry as a writer, but here we are.
I’ve been contributing to Onyx Path / White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness franchise, which includes Vampire: The Masquerade and Wraith: The Oblivion (mad shout-out to Matt McElroy of Drive Thru Comics for recommending my work to the team). I had been tasked to create characters and design worlds for these games providing me with the opportunity to add something truly different to this venerable brand. I have had the rare pleasure of complete freedom in my voice and approach to these worlds. I have been truly unapologetically Black in my language and world-building with the complete support of the Onyx Path and White Wolf organizations.
Here is a character I created for Vampire: The Masquerade. When developing her, the spirit of my dear departed uncle Ronald Williams entered my body giving this character her voice and attitude. Visually, my cousin Q Uetta Nunnelly was the inspiration for this character’s look.
What can I say? My people have mad swagger.
If The Horsemen was created to honor my Liberian heritage, then these characters definitely pay homage to my African American clan, the Williams family.
But, enough jibber-jabber (a pun I never I thought I would use) from me. Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Francois Mamuwalde…
You wanna know my story? Well, I suppose. It’s not like I have anything to hide. Have a seat while Mother gets herself ready for this show. This is gonna take a minute.
So, my government name is Clarence Sherman Wilks. If you tell anybody that, I will find you and stake you with this eyebrow pencil. My daddy, Herbert Wilks, was from Autagua County, Alabama. He moved to Harlem in 1940 looking for work like they all did. Daddy did all kinds of things. He was a porter, drove a cab and also ran numbers on the side for Ms. Stephanie St. Clair. That’s right. My daddy was rollin’ with the Madam Queen of Policy!
He met his future wife, the beautiful, the stunning, the GORGEOUS Gwendolyn Price at the Savoy in 1942. All it took was one dance and that was it. They got married six months later and they went to work. Mama popped out the twins right off the bat. Constance and Joann were born in 1943, then my brothers Herbert in ’45, Alvin in ’47, and then my sister Juanita in ’49. After pushing out five kids in six years, they promised themselves that they would have no more kids. Problem was, Mama and Daddy enjoyed fuckin’ too much.
Ok. Do not act new. You wanted me to tell you MY story. So, don’t be actin’ all shocked by the way that I tell it. This is how I talk, honey, and I changing’ that for nobody. We are all grown up in here.
Anyway, I was born on September 17, 1951. I know I look damn good for my age, honey. When they say, “Black don’t crack,” I am living proof.
I was the baby of the family. I knew it and made sure everybody else in the family knew it, too. Mama always doted on me and I got away with everything. On top of that, I had a real slick mouth. Mama would always make my brothers take me when they went out. She knew that I would give the 411 without hesitation. I was a little snitch, honey. Oooh, it would make my brothers and sisters so mad!
Sidebar: I’m trying something new tonight. I’m going for an “Olivia Pope meets Angela Davis” kind of vibe. I call it “Power to the People while running B613” realness. Yes? No? Doesn’t matter. I’m committed.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. I knew I was different from a very young age. My sisters would grab me and dress me up like a little girl. They had me in walking in Mama’s shoes, putting on her jewelry and wearing her wigs. Oh, those heifers pulled out all the stops. They thought they were getting me back for all the times that I got them in trouble. What they didn’t know at the time was that I loved every second of it. Playing dress up was my thing. I told you my Mama was beautiful and I wanted to look just like her.
You know how the story goes. If you know the words, feel free to sing along. Mama cried and prayed to God to get the demon out of her child. Daddy had a fit and tried to beat manhood into me. It all became too much. I ran away from home in ’68 and found myself on the streets of Greenwich Village. I was going to prove my family wrong and become a famous performer. Comedian, singer, dancer, it didn’t matter. I was going to be a star and Manhattan was the place to make it happen.
It is extremely difficult to become a big-time celebrity when you are Black, gay and homeless. I had to fight off the bums who would try and steal my little bit of stuff when I slept on the park benches. I had to run from cops who were cracking down on the “perverts” bringing down society. I wound up selling mouth and ass on the street to the Wall Street businessmen on the “Down Low” and the soldiers in the closet going off to Vietnam for rent money and cigarettes. Those early days were rough, honey.
How’s my lipstick? Poppin’, right?
I was at the Stonewall when the riot started that Saturday night in June of ’69. That was an historical moment for me. Not because of the riots starting the whole movement and everything, but because that was the night I saw Erzulie for the first time. Now, this is a couple of years before we met for real. She was already a legend amongst the scene. There were all kinds of rumors about her. Everybody knew that she used to be a man, but some of the other stories? Some said that she had been around since the 20s.Some said that she never aged. Some said that she was a vampire and drank blood to stay young and fabulous. I didn’t pay any attention to all of the fairy tales, but when I saw her in the flesh? It was like watching sunshine in the darkness, honey.
After the riots though, I knew I had to get my shit together. I wasn’t gonna let anybody use me and throw me away anymore. I had a voice and I was gonna use it, cotdammit! I started telling jokes on the corner for spare change. I was out here reading people left and right working on my material. I was able to “mop” some dresses, wigs and make-up so I could put together some looks.
My first drag name was Baby Love. The whole Motown girl group thing in the early days inspired me. I started performing in bathhouses and the clubs in ’70. I wowed them sweaty young things while making sure my face didn’t melt off in the heat. I started to get a little following, child! I was making moves! Every now and then, I would catch a glimpse of who I thought was Erzulie in the crowd. But, every time I would try and find her after my set, poof! Nowhere to be found. I swear, at a certain point I thought I was making her up as motivation to keep going.
I was also a big fan of horror movies. I loved to scare myself, girl. I would sneak into movie theaters to catch the dollar show and sit in the dark wishing I had a big, strong man to grab his shoulder and bury my head into his chest so I could avoid the really scary moments.
August 25, 1972. I will never, as long as I live, forget that night. This new vampire movie called Blacula had opened. You know that film? Anyway, William Marshall was all elegant and stuff with that strong-ass voice playing a Black vampire prince in love with that fine-ass Vonetta McGee. I loved that movie! All the time I was watching, I thought to myself, “Yaaasss, Mamuwalde! Come bite me!”
You know that old line, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it?” Well, there was this white boy sitting a couple of seats over. I know, I know, but he was fine, girl. All long hair and broad shoulders, big strapping corn-fed muthafucka! I felt him staring at me while he was rubbing his crotch. I got the message loud and clear. I didn’t feel any cop vibes coming off of him and we were in a theatre outside of the usual spots where cops were harassing the bull dykes and the sissies. Plus, it had been a while since I stopped turning tricks. Mama ain’t had any in a while and did not mind ending her drought with a tall glass of milk.
The theatre was pretty filled up. We were in the back where no one could see us. I moved to the seat next to him and replaced his hand with mine on his crotch. I undid his pants and was about to get busy doing my thing when he yanked my head up and bit my neck. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even scream. I saw my life flash before my eyes as I was dying I saw my parents, my brothers and sisters. They were looking at me with judging eyes, shaking their heads, blaming me for getting into this situation and saying this was payment for going against God’s law.
Could you hand me my wig, baby? The purple one. Wha’chu mean the color is off? It’s supposed to be off! Don’t you worry about my skin tone! I know I’m dark! I have a look happening here! It’s gonna be so off, it’s on! Don’t ever question Mother’s fashion sense!
I swear, you ‘bout to get my pressure up and I don’t even have a heartbeat…
ANY WAY… I woke up under a pile of garbage in a dumpster the next evening. The muthafucka took me out back to the alley and threw me away like trash. It was worse than being raped. I was abandoned, I was thirsty, I had fangs, I couldn’t walk out in the middle of the day anymore… Child, I was a mess.
I tried to learn about my new condition as best I could, but vampire movies are not educational films. At least I could see myself in the mirror so I could fix my face. But the rest of it was a sad state of affairs. I resorted to feeding off of rats because I was scared that I was gonna turn anyone I bit into something like me, too. I was so scared; I didn’t know what I was gonna do. The stress was messing with my performance, which also meant it was messing with my money and I wasn’t making that much money to begin with. I was bombing on stage, singing sad-ass songs; people were starting to hate Baby Love.
I became so depressed that I was ready to end it all. It was New Year’s Eve and I decided that after my last show at the bathhouse, I would stand in the middle of the Village and watch the sunrise. Just burn up in the middle of the street to ring in 1973. I opened with The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. As I looked out into the sea of bored faces, I Erzulie again. I thought it my mind was playing tricks on me. But then, she started moving closer until she got up to the front. Child, the goddess was real! I felt the spirit come back and proceeded to bring the house down… Baby Love was back!
But, that was only the beginning. After the show, Mama Erzulie came up to me, gave me a hug and told me it was gonna be alright. I found out that the stories about her were true. She was a vampire and so was I. She took me in and gave me a home. She became my mentor and my friend. She saved my life and gave me a purpose. She’s the reason why you’re sitting here, getting on my nerves while I get ready for this show.
I am the first member of the legendary House of Lilith. I am the Mother of the legendary House of Mamuwalde and the fiercest bitch in all of the goddess’ creation. I am Francois Mamuwalde, but you can call me Buffy because I am here to slay all y’all muthafuckas!
Respect my name.
Chicago by Night – Vampire The Masquerade 5th Edition from Onyx Path and White Wolf Publishing will be coming soon to a tabletop near you. Peep the evolution of the Kindred universe.