As you probably heard last month
, political exile Assata Shakur has been added to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List. This is huge, not only because they doubled the reward for her capture to $2 million, and not only because she's the first woman to be added to the list, but because the U.S. government is sending a message that reaches beyond Assata's ears. This message reaches me, and of course, anyone like me, merging the word "revolutionary" with the word "terrorist"
to call those of us who resist, who challenge injustice, enemies.
Like many others, I've been searching for a way to respond to this attack on political activists. And, like I usually do, I've been searching especially for a way to respond through art.
So of course, I'm so glad that such an opportunity has emerged. Poet, artist, and cultural organizer Vanessa Huang
has written a poem for Assata, and she's invited all of us to be part of amplifying "our liberation love frequency" by sharing these words. Hearing about the poem, I knew already that I believed in its power, and all the more so when I heard of its sources of inspiration - Assata's poem "I believe in living,"
Audre Lorde's poem "For Assata"
and essay "Poetry is Not a Luxury,"
Cheryl Clarke's poem "wearing my cap backwards,"
and Morgan Bassichis' play "The Witch House."
The convergence of such artistic power can only mean magic is taking place, so it's only fitting that the invitation is to help "cast a spell"
for Assata by helping the support for her spread and grow.
Visit this project's campaign page at www.igg.me/at/poemforassata to read Vanessa's poem and to learn about how you can help share the poem, get a print for yourself, and do more help bring love and liberation to Assata. We, the change-makers following in Assata's revolutionary footsteps, can have our say - Hands Off Assata!
Mr. Invisible Doesn't Like Rain
by Candace Fowler
I'm realizing I spend a lot of time trying to shake off the good things that come my way. I dismiss compliments to my work as exaggerations of my talent, shaking my head rather than letting the words stick. If I read the poem and the audience applauds, I try to let the sound fly off me like a dog shimmying water off its coat, instead of letting the praise sink in. And recently, upon reading a particularly glowing review of my poetry, I seriously considered the possibility that the reviewer was uncharacteristically drunk when she read my work. But I guess that's not likely.
Can anybody relate? Why do we do this? I guess I can see why people of color, or women, or queer people get used to the idea that we're not good enough, not deserving of good things, so it's easier to attribute our successes to other sources than to believe that we're really the ones who created something of value. After surviving abuse and oppression, I can understand why someone like me would have a hard time accepting that she's worthy of praise.
Today's practice is not one in humility. Today, I'm practicing saying something new - "I deserve this."
Recently, I've read my work as part of some truly magnificent events
, and poems of mine have been published in some compelling journals. It feels both humbling and empowering to share my work among such talent, and instead of asking, "What the hell am I
doing here?" I'm taking a breath and sitting with the feeling. And I'm saying, "I deserve this."
Try it out when good things come your way. Let me know how it goes.
And for one of those compelling journals in which I'm honored to have my work published, check out last December's issue of Blackberry: A Magazine.
by Charles Bibbs
Sometimes, when I think of divinity, I think of something bigger than this world, something so far outside of myself that perhaps I'll never reach it.
Then there are the times when I see divinity in the eyes of another black woman. I guess that's the difference between thinking
about divinity and feeling
the spirit of the divine, through contact with a black woman who has struggled and survived. And in turn, I suppose that means seeing divinity in my own eyes. I've got to stop and absorb that for a moment, because the transformation from struggling to sense an ounce of worth in my dark skin
to seeing myself as embodying the divine feels like a miracle.
Black women's voices lifted up our divinity at last weekend's Black Women From the Future
event. It really enriched my soul to be part of
such a powerful reading, and I'm feeling an immense amount of gratitude for everyone who was part of the show, and who came out to see it, and who watched online via livestream. Be on the lookout for video from the event soon, and for more from Black Futurists Speak
And in the meantime, let's continue on with the inspirational divinity of black women with The Black Woman is God, a living altar art exhibition showing now at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. From the program description
: The Black woman’s contribution in the society has been devalued. She has been viewed as second-class citizen, relegated to the dresser draws of history. However, she has shaped and changed the world in social and political spheres. These influences of change are reflected in the art world, however, dominated by white male patriarchy. This exhibition will challenge the limited artistic space deemed appropriated for black women to occupy and question when black women create are they God. It is explosive because the images of God have on the most part been white and male until recently.Wow.
I can't wait to see this exhibition, and to hear from the participating artists at tomorrow night's reception - see details for that event on Facebook
. And for a start, listen to an important discussion between the artists in the videos below, and see what you get out of it. The message I got? I am more than a healer. I am healing.
Okay, so I know I get really excited about every event
where I get the chance to read my work, but I must say, I'm really
excited for this weekend's reading. Let me tell you why.
- It's called Black Women From the Future. Enough said, right? I'll say more, anyway. This event, the latest installment of Black Futurists Speak, celebrates Black History Month and helps kick off Women's History Month, by lifting up the unique power of black women's voices. That's right, it's a lineup consisting entirely of powerful black women.
- Said badass lineup of performers is as follows: African-Jamaican dub poet d’bi.young anitafrika, poet and director of The Lower Bottom Players Ayodele Nzinga, the stunningly talented fiction writer Lisa D. Gray, poet and musician Amber McZeal as our host, and lil' ol' me.
- We'll be reading along with music by Kevin Carnes of the celebrated jazz-electronica trio Broun Fellinis.
- There's also an open mic, which means there will be even more badassery, which we have yet to hear of.
- The creation of this event is truly inspired, born from Warehouse 416’s current art show, African-American Icons (featuring the work of celebrated artists James Gayles, Esuu Orinde and Aswad Arif) and the theme for 2013’s Women’s History Month - “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” By celebrating black women of today, we are looking to "the future of the written word - where creative innovation and skill meet community responsibility and futuristic thinking."
Now you can see why I'm so looking forward to this event. Here are the details:
Black Women From the Future
Saturday, February 23, 2013
416 26th St in OaklandGet there early to sign up for the open mic!See you in the future!
I’m finally back to blogging! Sorry for the extended break, and thanks for sticking with me. What have I been doing during all this time off, you ask? Keeping busy. Here are a few highlights – more on the resulting insights later.
- I made a big move, crossing the Bay to move from San Francisco to Oakland. It feels a little like hooking up (and shacking up) with the person I’ve been crushing on for a long time, and it’s been really good for me so far.
- I attended my second-to-last residency for my MFA program at Pacific University. Spent most of my time there feeling floored by the fact that the time has passed so quickly, but I had a great time. One of the big high points – Kaffir Boy author Mark Mathabane as a guest speaker, calling us to be a “courageous, humanitarian generation of writers” who write with the spirit of Ubuntu, that which makes us human.
- On the school note, I’m now in my final semester of my MFA program, which means I’m putting together my thesis, a manuscript of poems. It’s an exhilarating, excruciating process that feels a little like killing my darlings and giving birth to new ones every day. So exhausting and so rewarding, to say the least.
- I’ve been booking reading gigs, and I’ll have details on those soon!
- And I’ve been taking good care of myself, which totally counts as a thing to include among this list of life achievements. Because it’s necessary. It’s revolutionary. It’s love.
But okay, I would be lying if I pretended I’ve been only triumphant in my time away. I’ve also been feeling the pressure of what Jay Smooth calls “the little hater,” which said that when I finally got back to blogging, my return would have to be GLORIOUS. Well, this is my return, and it might not be so glorious, but the important thing is that I’m back.
I encourage you to watch this video, and to beat your own little hater by getting back to doing something you love. Let me know how it goes. *Shout out to Sugarcane
, the LGBTQ of color writing workshop that brought this video into my life and helped me beat my little hater*
Like so many others, I've spent the last few days trying to make sense of Friday's horrific school shooting
. But there is no easy way to make sense of it. Like so many deeply heartbreaking things, it's complicated.
Maybe it's self-centered, the way we try to find personal connections to tragedies that have nothing to do with us. But maybe it's just natural. Even necessary.
Here's my connection: I might've had a child. Instead I had a miscarriage
, but this is one of many moments that has me thinking, "What if...?" What if my baby had survived? I'd have a young child today, a kindergartner. Not quite the same age as the first graders who were killed, but close enough that I'd be imagining their parents' grief, disturbed by the thought of losing my own child. I'd be holding my child close, so close, afraid to let them out of my sight, even for school.
Is it okay to say that I'm glad I don't have to explain this tragedy to a kindergartner? Does that mean that I'm glad for my miscarriage? Glad I didn't bring a child into a world in which nightmarish violence takes place? Not exactly.
Here's my connection: Mental illness. In my communities, in my family, in myself. One of my closest family members has been struggling lately, has been what you might call "troubled," a word that comes up in the media profiles of the people involved in incidents like this one. I have a picture of the two of us sitting on my bookshelf, bleeding. I printed it out on ordinary paper and the sun has taken its toll, running the colors together so that someone else might be unsure of what they're seeing. But I know what's there. I'm not comparing him to the school shooter, no, because mental illness doesn't automatically equate to violent behavior. But the mental health connection is enough for me to think about the consequences of stigma and the limits of how we treat mental illness. I'm also thinking of how our conversation might be different if the shooter were of a different race, or from a different place. I'm thinking about many different sides of the issue. It's complicated.
Here's my connection: This was an act of horrendous violence, and I work at an anti-violence organization. It makes me feel like I should have the answers, like I should be the expert understanding and explaining the whys and the hows, offering instructions on how to prevent this from ever happening again. I should be adding my expert opinion to the chorus of conversations about gun control, mental health, and the influence of the media. But what do I know? What do any of us know, when it means finding words for such unfathomable pain? I know only what I find when I search for my own connection.
It's complicated. Here's my connection: I loved my child. I once held my child. It sounds crazy, I know, but I believe it's true. When I was pregnant, I had a dream in which I held my baby. I don't remember much else about the dream, but that part felt so real, so incredibly real
that after the baby was gone, I believed that dream had been my chance to hold my child. The end of my pregnancy brought loss, grief, sorrow. But before all that, there was love. I know this much is true. There will always be love.
I've made plenty of silly confessions on this blog, so I guess it's a good place for this one, too: there's been a ridiculous amount of giggling in my world these days. Giggling, and smiling, and even blushing, as best as I can blush in my dark skin.
Maybe you can guess what that means. And no, it's not just that I've lost my mind, though I suppose you could call it a form of madness
. I say this has been happening in "my world," because although we live on the
same planet, it sometimes feels like each of us lives in our own little world. Perhaps this is most noticeable during times of tragedy. While some of us struggle through the demolition of our worlds
, the rest of us keep living our lives. When I'm halted by grief
, everyone else's worlds keep spinning. And recently I've discovered that it's true for the opposite feeling, too – it turns out that while I'm consumed by amorous bliss, the rest of the planet doesn't stop and join me in schoolgirl giggles. One glance at the news tells me that injustice doesn't take a leave of absence from the earth to make room for love to flourish. Who knew? I've come across a movie that
captures how the earth keeps spinning throughout a lifetime of love. Chico & Rita
is a feature-length animated film that tells the story of a jazz musician and a beautiful singer, set against the backdrop of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 50s.
The setting of this film means, of course, that the two title characters can't exist within a blissful bubble of joy. Forces including racism, deportation, and the fight for revolution impact Chico and Rita's lives and their chances of being together. The influences of music and of fame also make their mark.
In addition to telling a complex story, Chico & Rita is an alluring film to watch, with dazzling animation, as well as a captivating original soundtrack by Cuban musician Bebo Valdés. Featured musicians include Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and many more who greatly influenced jazz music in both Cuba and the U.S.
Chico & Rita is really an enchanting movie, and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to watch. It's available to view on Netflix, and also on DVD.
I also recommend doing whatever it takes to welcome some more giggles into your world. As I'm discovering, silly laughter can be good for the soul, and though we can't forget about what's happening around us, we can remember that it takes more than injustice to create our worlds.
Want to change the world? Join a non-profit agency! At an organization full of compassionate visionaries dedicated to making the world a better place, nothing could possibly go wrong – right?
Okay, so nobody’s perfect, and no non-profit is the perfect agent for change. As you may know, some aspects of non-profits can be stressful, challenging, and even counter-productive to the ultimate goals of social change work. And that can be hard for me to hold, knowing that even people with the best intentions can contribute to creating obstacles in the way of true liberation.
Luckily, we now have some courageous folks to help us name what goes on in the wacky world of non-profits, through a new activist-artist group called Peacock Rebellion. And they’re doing it all with fun and sass, as well as a deep sense of hope in the power of true activism.
Peacock Rebellion is centered around queer and trans people of color, and the artists craft their work through lenses of intersectionality, interconnection, interdependence and transnationalism. These artists aren’t afraid to speak the truth about the dangers of a non-profit industrial complex that upholds problematic patterns and stifles activists' dreams.
The truth is, we don’t have to accept the problems of the non-profit world, even with the best intentions. As Peacock Rebellion founder Manish Vaidya says, “we can dream bigger.”
Our big dreams take center stage at Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster
, Peacock Rebellion’s first cabaret. Twelve queer and trans people of color use comedy, film, burlesque and more to critique the current state of social change, and to share their freedom dreams. The tremendously talented performers include Lambda Literary Award winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Deep Dickollective founder Juba Kalamka, and Mia McKenzie, of the revolutionary blog Black Girl Dangerous. In addition to the all-star performers and curators (Maya Chapina and Manish Vaidya), there’s an all-star line up of sponsors: INCITE, Mangos with Chili, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, Queer Rebels, and QWOCMAP. In other words, a whole lot of fierceness has gone into this show.
Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster premiered last night to a packed house at La Peña Cultural Center, and tonight’s show is nearly sold out, so it may be too late to see it on this run. But don’t worry! We’ll be seeing much more of Peacock Rebellion’s amazing work. To find out more, you can visit their website
or their Facebook page
, and to offer your support, visit the Indiegogo page
As you may know, I'm a little sensitive about tributes to the irreplaceable Nina Simone. When I heard that Hollywood executives cast Zoe Saldana to play her in a movie, for example, I had to join the chorus of voices
pointing out the trouble with having a petite, light-skinned actress represent Nina, who had to fight to claim the beauty in her dark skin. I'm drawn to Nina's strength, her struggle, and her damn good music, and I like to honor her as a personal hero of mine, so maybe that's why I feel so protective over her legacy.
Well, now musician Meshell Ndegeocello has released a new tribute to Nina Simone with her album Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone. And this time, I can't find a bad word to say about it. In fact, the album leaves me speechless, in silent awe, much like the music of Nina Simone. Since I can't find the words for it, I recommend this excellent write-up on NPR, which says,
"Ndegeocello's has always been Simone's heir apparent. Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene."I still believe, of course, that
nobody could possibly take Nina's place. But it's good to know that she didn't just leave behind shoes too big and too bold for anyone else to fill. She also left her footsteps behind, and when we follow her path with the best intentions, we can continue to walk the road to revolution.
This is a strange edition of Friday Friends. Usually, I use these posts to highlight a blog I like, or a literary hero of mine, or an organization doing important work. Today's Friday Friend is Nina Simone - not a particular interpretation or recreation of Nina Simone's work, but Nina Simone herself. Because some stories just need to speak for themselves. As a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist,
Nina Simone made an unforgettable impact on the world. Personally, I have her to thank for helping me feel permission to love me for me. Her incredible sense of self-respect was nothing less than a fiercely radical act of courage, when she faced racism that said she wasn't good enough, and colorism that would call her anything but beautiful. Like me, Nina Simone looked in the mirror to see dark skin and big features, so like me, she had to see past the messages that attach the word "ugly"
to such features. Hers is a story that can teach us about true beauty, the kind that emanates from a spirit of self-love.
Now, Nina Simone's life is being adapted into a story as told by Hollywood, the source of so many of our messages about beauty. In Hollywood, beauty means lighter skin and smaller features, so in order for our Nina to be a Hollywood hero, she will be played by Zoe Saldana. She will be a romantic lead, because no leading lady is complete without the company of a leading man - never mind that the man in this story, her assistant Clifford Henderson, was, in fact, gay. And she will give us hope, with an altered happy ending - isn't it inspiring to know that every dark-skinned woman could someday be immortalized onscreen as a light-skinned woman? Perhaps there's hope for beauty after all.
Don't get me wrong - I do think Zoe Saldana is a beautiful woman, and for all I know, she could pull off the role very well, as far as the acting goes. And I'm not one to try to challenge someone's Black Card - her more mainstream features don't make her any less black than Nina Simone. So why does it matter if her skin is the right shade for the role? Because, unfortunately, choosing someone whose experience of blackness is so far from the challenges Nina faced follows a predictable Hollywood pattern
reinforcing hurtful messages about what it means to be beautiful. It's very rare to see this happen in reverse - a dark-skinned actress picked to portray someone who was much lighter. Instead, those who don't fit Hollywood standards of beauty must be replaced. And why? Will audiences relate more to someone who is thinner and more conventionally gorgeous
than the average woman? Will we learn not to let history repeat itself, to avoid underestimating the power of a dark-skinned woman, when we see her depicted as a light-skinned woman? Nina Simone's daughter has spoken up about the movie plans, sharing that the project is unauthorized, and giving clarification about her mother's platonic relationship with the film's "romantic" lead.
She also speaks about her mother's unseen beauty, her intelligence, and her revolutionary spirit. All of which could have an indelible impact if it were captured on the big screen. So I prefer to leave Nina's story as told by Nina, through her music, her soul, and her vision for justice. We don't need to rewrite lives, alter people's appearance and sexualities
, and ignore their truths in order to tell their stories. Nina Simone had no shame in who she was. We can respect her enough to know that she doesn't need to live up to Hollywood standards to be beautiful. I've posted this video a couple of times before, but it's always worth re-posting. Here's Nina Simone singing the words of William Waring Cuney's poem "No Images."