I just returned from hearing Rita Dove, poet and professor, read from the published Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry (which she edited). She is full of fun and laughter and sarcastic good humor. I would be her best friend if I could. She signed my journal and left a blessing: “Fill these pages with your songs.”
Thinking a lot of academy thoughts this week. Reading Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower.
Dr. Brown just articulated better than I ever could what it is like being a College Educated Negress:
Where can students of color get intellectual validation that does not require them to so fully assimilate that they lose the best of themselves, their families,and their cultures? It occurred to me that through grade school and high school we had learned to compete, to keep up, but not to surpass; to stand alongside but not in front; to fit in but not to reshape.*
Standing alongside you begin to know the discomfort of ghosts.
And that pressure to assimilate, to choose between where your family is and where you are…well.
That feels a lot like the dissonance of being raised under the determined, near frantic optimism of a colorblind, post-Movement, Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father seething with internalized racism in cocaine80s Chicago.
And that feels a lot like wanting things and not having them and striving for things and not getting them, and dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s and still watching the goal move further away again and again and again, and picking up Piri Thomas for help and picking up Cherríe Moraga for help and picking up, good gawd, and picking up and holding close and hugging Gwendolyn Brooks for help and good heavens almighty, it feels like picking up Octavia and picking her brain and reading every word and holding her hand when things were too much….
And it feels a lot like frustration and tastes bitter as blood. Because Piri is dead now. And it took over 24 hours for an obituary to post. And I never had a chance to tell him what his work meant to me. And Gwendolyn is dead. And she lived in Chicago. And I, knuckle-head high schooler I was, missed the chance to tell her what she meant to me. And Octavia is dead. And she lived half a country away and I was never gonna get to tell her what she meant to me but damn if only I could have.
And it feels like the cold that sweeps across the back of your neck when you realize a mentor you loved like a father…his facebook page is still active. Active. Alive. Living. And you want to post something but you can’t. Because how do you tell someone that you are also active.alive.living now but only because they lived? How do you tell someone that you have survived this far in part because of what they were and that you are remembering them all the time and regretting every phone call you didn’t make and even that doesn’t make you feel better because you know they knew that they knew that you knew you were loved anyway. That nothing you could do could lose their love for you.
And it feels like ……..
But is also full of promise.
After all, here I am. Writing stuff. Grateful for things like Facebook profiles and black Latinidad Twitter communities and emails from mentors that affirm that “yes, I check it too” and voices who check in with me from across social media to say, “Hey there. Hey. Hear my voice.”
I am still here. Writing stuff. Thinking thoughts. I haven’t disappeared yet.
*Leslie Brown, “How a Hundred Years of History Tracked Me Down,” Telling Histories: Black Women Historians and the Ivory Tower, 262
weeks months, I’ve been trying to do a Thursday Readin’ post on Nisi Shawl’s short story “Maggies.”
“Maggies,” from speculative fiction author Nisi Shawl’s 2008 Tiptree award-winning short story collection Filter House, will make any self-respecting Sable Fan Gyrl cheer and vomit at the same time. Set in the future-verse colony of New Bahama, the narrator is a young, gender-neutral protagonist sent to live with their father after their mother falls ill.
Follow my footnotes.
So why not kick off Thursday Readin’ with a few final reflections on Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s novel Wench?
The Cool Kidz Book Club (@fortyoneacres & @Mdotwrites) started and finished this book last year. And I won’t even pretend I read slow. I don’t. But I do read with careful attention to violence and danger. And since I research women & slavery all day, everyday in the Flesh, I need to watch how I enter that space when I am reading for pleasure.
Lucky for me, Valdez got me in and out safely. She pushed me but she didn’t burn me up and she didn’t leave me with the happies. She left me just where I should be after a book about enslaved women negotiating for their lives–disturbed, invigorated and ready for battle.
Reading Wench Part 3 & 4 after the jump….