My apologies for not blogging last week; in truth, I’d forgotten it was Tuesday and was really overwhelmed with election stress. But the good Lord works everything together for our good, including letting Democrats take over the House, hallelujah.
This weekend, I had the great honor of attending the second annual Well-Read Black Girl literary festival in Brooklyn. I went to the first one last year, so I was excited to go again. Glory Edim is doing the Lord’s work in promoting literature by Black women. You can tell this even more when you’re in a room full of them, so many beautiful women of every shade, size, and shape “woo” over authors who look like them.
I arrived to the festival later than I would have liked, thanks to some Lyft Line snafus, so I got a terrible seat.
Luckily, I could *hear* everyone just fine.
Powerful, award-winning poet Patricia Smith’s keynote address left us all in tears, standing, cheering, and stamping our feet, as her work is wont to do. She spoke about, as a child, being told to be quiet, and how she was being lead to believe that important things were “white” things. She compared this to current events, like the president telling Black women journalists to sit down and that their questions were stupid.
“No, Mr. President, we will stand,” she said, and electricity ripped through my spine.
Next was a panel on the creation of the Well-Read Black Girl Anthology, with contributors talking about some of their biggest Black woman writer influences. I love and hate talks like this, as I get to hear, as a writer, who drove my peers to create their best work, but these things also remind me that I didn’t grow up in an area where reading Black authors was a thing. I didn’t hear the name “Zora Neale Hurston” or “Audre Lorde” until I went to college, and even then, I didn’t get to read their work because I was already behind on my assigned Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. But I learn so much from these talks and I expand my to-be-read list.
My favorite panel of the day was “Black Girl Magic: Writing for and about Black girls.” The panelists were YA and middle grade authors, but I found the topic relevant to my memoir/literary fiction, too, as I recently have written Black girls/women protagonists exclusively. The biggest thing I took away from it was a quote I can’t remember who said (sorry!), “Write for the reader you are.” This is what has driven me to write for most of my life, but definitely in the past year, and especially with fiction. I realize that my literary fiction has plots and it usually involves a relationship gone messy—because that’s what I love to read. I haven’t seen enough stories about Black women who aren’t struggling, but face somewhat ordinary problems, such as encountering messy situations, and I want to read them, so I write them.
And in the last panel I attended, Uncovering the Legacies of Black Women, I learned of even more writers with whom I was not familiar, which again, I feel bad about, but until Doc and Marty McFly come by with a Delorean, I’m going to have to be okay with not knowing sooner.
One thing I always note in these environments in which I am *not* the only Black person or the only Black woman is how different we are and how homogenized literature and pop culture can make us out to be. I loved Nafissa Thompson-Spires collection, Heads of the Colored People, because it broke up that narrative. I believe Camille Acker’s Training School for Negro Girls does the same (haven’t read it yet, but I am so excited to!). These books give me the space to be; they make me feel adequate in a world where I’m supposed to have been drowning and hopeless in a den of drugs and abject poverty, which was not my story. They give me room to tell my story and I am eternally grateful to them for it.
I also, because of this conference, I got to meet up with a writer friend I met online! I love when social media does what it’s actually supposed to do—bring us together. So, three cheers for Glory, Well-Read Black Girl, and Black women writers supporting each other as we show the world who we really are.