“In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book — leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity”
The first book I read by Toni Morrison was assigned in high school. It was “The Bluest Eye.” In my senior year I signed up for a class dedicated to understanding Toni Morrison’s work. We read “Sula,” “Jazz” and “Tar Baby” a book I was obsessed with understanding for a period of time and which is still one of my favorite of her novels that I’ve read. “Tar Baby” is a broad, unfurling narrative, sprawling and unwinding from the shores of a Caribbean island haunted by the slaves who washed up there to the streets of New York and back again. Point of view shifts across race, gender and even plant species as Morrison incorporates even the island flora as minor characters and witnesses to the history and lives of it’s inhabitants and visitors.
Morrison’s literary voice is among the richest, most inventive, unique and celebrated among her peers. A single mother, award-winning author, editor and professor, Morrison has created Black female literary characters who are as complex, intuitive and supernatural as they are resilient, determined and conflicted. In their development these characters speak to a myriad of epic themes, which are often defined in large part by the post traumatic effects of slavery and systemic racism and sexism in America.
Morrison’s refusal to be pegged by critics as any one type of writer is a testament to her desire as a artist to be embraced for all parts of her multidimensional talent. On the page she spreads her literary wings and soars beyond the boundaries of monolithic chains and in doing so is an example to women of color everywhere to accept nothing less than the capacity to express all that we are.
“You can’t eat beauty
It doesn’t feed you”
-Lupita Nyongo’s mother
The world became aware of Lupita Nyongo in her break out Academy Award winning role as a slave named Patsey in “12 Years a Slave.” But it was her Essence award acceptance speech that really defined what Lupita has come to represent for women of color everywhere. When she shared the letter she received a letter from a young Black girl struggling with the perceived burden of her dark skin, Lupita was prompted to share her own experience being taunted and harassed because of her dark skin. She spoke of the self-hate that lead to destructive aspirations to lighten her skin as well as her journey toward self- acceptance with help from words of affirmation from Oprah, her mother’s love and compassion and the emergence of the dark-skinned model, Alek Wek.
This was an unforgettable, timely and touching moment in history, a moment when dark-skinned Black women watching everywhere were joined in the validation of their own struggles with colorism and also in gratitude to Lupita’s fearless, loving and beautiful testament to truth about beauty. Wherever she appears in print gracing fashion magazine covers and larger than life Lancome ads or on screen, lively, intelligent and sparkling with joy and curiosity, Lupita represents to young black girls and Black women alike what Alek Wek once did for her. The beauty of self acceptance that exists within is what illuminates what we see on the outside and no shade of Black, Brown or shades in between should ever be exempt from the definition of beauty.
Ava DuVernay’s handle on her IG account is Directher, simply, powerfully and concisely telling you who she is by transforming a term that is dominated by white male directors to tell the story of a black female film director. And in so many ways Ava has directed not only her own films but also the trajectory of her life through her passion as well as directing our attention to her phenomenal talent.
I first learned about Ava DuVernay through a good friend of hers who is also a dear friend of mine. CeCelia Falls who shares my deep and sometimes fanatic love of film invited me to the AFFRM (African Film Festival Releasing Movement) film festival for the first time in 2010 to see the debut of Ava’s film “I Will Follow.” I loved everything about it, the story, her direction, lighting, editing, score choice, the fact that it was an all black and predominantly female cast. I even wrote a review of it back when I had a film review blog on blogger.com. I wanted to promote the film as much as possible and put the full weight of my own support as a writer and movie goer behind it.
Since then she has gone on to direct and produce films, such as “Middle of Nowhere,” “Say Yes” an episode of “Scandal,” the fashion film “The Door” and her latest “Selma” an epic biopic about Martin Luther King Jr. and the formidable pioneers who were integral to his fight to represent and gain civil rights in the early post integration era of the South. I actually just saw the film myself last weekend and am certain I will never watch another Oscars ever again until they nominate at least three black black films in the same year. Fact.
Ava’s mastery of visual language, story-line, pacing and richness of character exhibit a breadth of experience that paints the experiences of women of color with broad, nuanced strokes that depict our depth and complexities with pride, reverence, honesty and care.
Like anyone else I go through these periods of stress wherein I feel like I just need quick management devices just to get me over the latest hump and into the light of “sanity.” This can be anything from eating, to music, binge watching television. The last few weeks it’s been B&J Chunky Monkey and “West Wing.” Don’t let anyone tell you that comfort and revelation cannot be had while shoveling cold hunks of banana ice cream into your face and watching Anna Deavere Smith explain a plan of U.S. military attack to President Bartlett in the situation room.
In Episode 17, “US Poet Laureate,” Laura Dern who plays the poet Laureate tells Toby Zeiglar, the President’s Speech Writer (I made a mistake in my podcast and called him the Communications Director) that poetry is the way in which she enters the world. It was a rare moment of tenderness she shared with Toby given the dark, gruff, curmudgeonly know -it-all behavior he usually reserves for most of the people he works with. I was just kind of blown away by that idea of ways in which we enter the world. Her exact line, “I write poetry. It’s how I enter the world.” just kind of hovered in a cloud over my head and deeply resonated with me.
You can listen to me talk more about the ways in which I enter the world here on my soundcloud podcast for Urban Eve. I understand the way we enter the world as the bridge we build collaboratively from birth through relationship with others, with nature and with spirit. The way I enter the world has brought me along the path most closely associated with being an artist but it has also allowed me to cross paths with a broad range of other travelers who define their art in ways that broaden my understanding of what it means to be an “artist.”
How do you feel you enter the world? What are those things that you are aware of on a very basic level which connect you to the understanding you have about the world and your place in it? What brings you fully into the present, fully and completely?
My word is: multidimensional
Just when I think I understand everything it means to be a black woman in America, I discover yet another layer and another and another, another story, another perspective, another way of seeing and being and expressing ourselves in an infinitely evolving dialogue. During the time I spent conducting interviews with women of color in collaboration with SoulSistah4real to launch this special project, I discovered that there really is no one black woman who can represent all. While we all have experiences and perspectives that are similar, there is nothing like a good old face to face chat with our sisters to begin to immediately recognize the rich, broad and various complexities that make each of us so incredibly unique, beautiful, intelligent and inspirational.
It is with great honor, excitement and joy that I extend this invitation to you my sisters, to be a part of the first in a series of bi-monthly conversations created for and by woman of color, brought to you by Urban Eve and Soulsistah4real.com.
The SOUL Sistah Series
The very first in our exciting series of discussions is “Manicures and Mimosas.” The goal of this series is to create a safe, nurturing and supportive space in which women of color are free to engage in stimulating and enlightening discussion about what it means to be a woman of color in America all while getting pampered and fed the way we deserve to be. Don’t miss your opportunity to join in the conversation. Click here or on the link in the title above for more information on the SOUL Sistah Series and to register for tickets to our first event on Sunday, March 29th.
I don’t comment on Facebook threads very often that appear outside of my network. But every once in awhile, situations present themselves that I cannot resist. For instance whoever posts for Harry Belafonte (is it really you Harry?) posted some anti Kanyeness story last week, positing something like “He doesn’t have all the answers.” To which I commented, “No one has all the answers.” Someone later responded to that by saying, “God does.”
…okay. That’s fair. Not relevant. But fair.
Yesterday there was a post on Chimimanda Adichie’s FB page, which directed interested readers to see what she was wearing on a page titled “Day 3 of Nigerian novelist’s Vogue Today I’m Wearing Photo Blog.” There was a long list of comments responding to that which expressed displeasure about why they should be interested in what she wears, that they only wanted to know what she was writing or thinking. To which I commented that I was interested in everything she did, what she’s wearing, writing, thinking…
I mean it just so happens that in addition to being a highly educated brilliant writer, thinker and speaker, Adichie is also stunningly beautiful. Her dress game is sickening. Her hair is always tight and on point. Her skin is flawless and she has an infectious inner glow that pours out from her eyes and her voice whenever she is on camera. Are we’re supposed to not notice this?
Continue reading Why Shouldn’t I Care what Smart Black Women are Wearing?
Last week at my job we had a wonderful Black History Presentation in which one of the participators read from Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen.” Her reading reminded me that it’s been on my to-read list the moment I learned about it and I have to purchase the book as soon as possible. Word of this “meditation on race” started circulating online like wildfire during the time two juries failed to indict cops responsible for the deaths of both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, around the time that #blacklives matter and Black twitter in general became a force to be reckoned with.
For my own contribution to the Black History presentation, I read the poem, “All Their Stanzas Look Alike, a compelling work by Thomas Sayers Ellis from his book “The Maverick Room,” which successfully indicts a system of standards by which our work, our creative expression, our bodies are measured and assimilated into soulless White washed acceptance. I discovered Ellis as a result of googling contemporary Black poets and I’m not sure why I’ve never read of him before but I was so impressed by “All Their Stanzas” that I immediately ordered his book “Skin Inc: Identity Repair Poems” published in 2013. I haven’t been this excited about discovering a poet in years. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.
“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay by has also been strongly recommended to me by several of my female friends and although it will not be the first book I’ve read about Feminism, it shall be the first book I ever read with the word Feminist in it’s title. I’m sure that Feminists all over the country are sighing collectively. LOL!
And of course anything that Chimimanda Adiche feels like putting out this year moves swiftly to the top of that list.