Black Poetry: Now and in the Future

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[Simone Savannah]

Kevin Young, Elizabeth Alexander, Toi Derricotte, Tracy Smith, Harriette Mullen, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, Rita Dove and Kwame Dawes

In the tradition of black poetry and writing conferences, such as the 1966 Black Writers Conference at Fisk, the 2019 Black Poetry: A Conference served as a distinct space through which we honored the history and future of black poetry. Black Poetry was curated by Tracy K. Smith, Joshua Kotin, and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. Smith, current U.S. Poet Laureate, is the Director of  Princeton University’s Creative Writing program. They sought for us to “consider the most urgent social, political and artistic questions of our time.” Four provocations, along with the panels, captured the conference’s commitment to black poets and their creating social, political and artistic discussions through art. Through performance poetry and discussions of poetry and performance, M.NourbeSe Philip, Tyehimba Jess, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Nathaniel Mackey examined memory, death, loss, the blues, and seriality as they relate to black voices.

In connection with the conference, Black Poetry: A Gala Reading took place the night before the first provocation. And it was surely in the spirit of Valentine’s Day – each of us swooning to Rita Dove’s performance of “For My Valentine ,” and to the poems of Kwame Dawes, Harryette Mullen, Kevin Young, Haki Madhubuti, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Sonia Sanchez, as well as the memoirs of Elizabeth Alexander and Toi Derricotte. 

Tracy K. Smith

Panels

We encountered poetry.

The conference featured over 40 black poets who also performed their work and delivered papers in a series of readings and panels. The poets responded to what poet and scholar Eve L. Ewing described as “assertions thinly disguised as questions.” Many of them opened with poems, as well as singing and dancing, leading us into the possibilities of poetic practice.

Panel 1:  History/Ritual, with moderator Roger Reeves and panelists Joanne V. Gabbin, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Shane McCrae, and Haki Madhubuti, responded to several assertions about the history of black poetry, particularly the ways in which black poets create disturbance:

Black poets create a disturbance, and the disturbances in black poetry serve as a means of confronting the actual (history, politics, social reality) and conjuring the possible (joy, revolution, hope)

Black poets and black poetry (and writing) conferences invoke traditional and nontraditional practices towards examining history and creating space for more of this

Panel 2: Words/Music moderated by Vievee Francis and featuring panelists Cornelius Eady, Douglas Kearney, Jessica Care Moore, Fred Moten, and Sonia Sanchez reflected on the relationships between words and music. We listened to Gil Scott Heron, The Temptations, and we sang back to Douglas Kearney multiple iterations of Jennifer Holiday’s 1982 “And I Am Tellin’ You”. The black poets made these assertions:

Poetry is how to encounter music on paper

Music makes poetry accessible to people who aren’t book worms or who don’t go to book stores

Poetry is sometimes a search for sound, not structure

We create art out of social life, then we throw it back into society as a way toward survival – words and music is how we work shit out

Panel 3: Embodiment/Disembodiment included Deana Lawson, Robin Coste Lewis, Dawn Lundy Martin, and J Mase III, and moderator Saeed Jones explored the poetics of embodied experience – how such a poetics confronts and revises forms of embodiment that have been informed by heteronormativity and white supremacy. The poets examined notions of conscious embodiment and what it means to live in a queer body, asking:

What is a poetics of embodiment for queer black poets?

How have a poetics of embodied experience relocated art’s engagement with the mind or imagination to the body itself?

Panel 4: National/International with Mahogany L. Brown, Myronn Hardy, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Lemn Sissay, Patricia Smith, Camae Ayewa spoke to the possibilities of blackness, disrupting our notions of country as a physical thing. Eve L. Ewing opened with two poems including Safia Elhillo’s “& what is a country but the drawing of a line”

 

“today i draw thick black lines around my eyes & they are a country & thick red lines around my lips & they are a country & the knife that chops the onions draws a smooth line through my finger & that is a country & the tightening denim presses a soft purple line into my belly & when i smile like my mother a little black line flashes in between my two front teeth & for every country that i’ve lost i make another & i make another”

asking:

What is a border and what does it matter to diasporic people?

Patricia Smith spoke: I was told the country I was born into would be the only country I would ever have

and we walked away counting the countries in our bodies. Literal and figurative. 

Elizabeth Alexander

Readings

We did poetry.

The readings were a significant contribution to Black Poetry: A Conference, emphasizing the organizers’ international and inter-generational vision, and their honoring of emerging voices. Sharing the stage with influential and celebrated poets such as Natasha Trethewey, Terrance Hayes, and Nikky Finney, affirmed poets like Taylor Johnson and their rightful place in celebrations and discussions of black poetry. Before reading from her debut collection Collective Amnesia (2017), Koleka Putuma (arriving from South Africa) remarked that she was honored to be reading with poets that have been a part of her academic and personal curriculum for years: “I like to think that I called this moment into my life.”

The poets – Jericho Brown, Camille Dungy, Nikky Finney, Taylor Johnson, Jessica Care Moore, Ed Roberson, Natasha Trethewey, Morgan Parker, Simone White, Koleka Putuma, and Terrance Hayes – showed us how to do poetry, the possibilities of doing poetry:

Conclusion

During the final reading, Terrance Hayes began with a draft of an email honoring to Tracy K. Smith. His email – which was undeniably a poem – reminded us of the work of a poet like Tracy K. Smith. We are so thankful for her commitment to creating space for poets to celebrate themselves and the work that they do artistically and professionally. Black Poetry: A Conference recognizes those who do poetry, and those who love the folks that do poetry. I am so honored to have lived this history, to have witnessed this doing of tradition.


Simone Savannah graduated with her  Ph.D. in English-Creative Writing at the University of Kansas in 2017. Simone received her BA in English-Creative Writing and MEd in Cultural Studies from Ohio University. Her research interests include African American Literature & Poetry, Black Feminism/Womanism, and Black Female Sexuality. She is currently working on a chapbook of poems based on the psychology of love and sexuality.

In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens

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Photo taken by Christopher Peace during ZORA! Festival.

“It is one of the blessings of this world that few people see visions and dream dreams.”

–Zora Neale Hurston

I arrived in Eatonville, Florida, in December 2018 to work as the first graduate intern for the 30th annual ZORA! Festival of the Arts and Humanities. I had crossed such a boundary—from the scholar I thought I was becoming to a hands-on practitioner– when Dr. Graham, Director of the Project on the History of Black Writing, asked if I would be interested in working directly in Eatonville for the festival.  I was excited for the opportunity and overjoyed to walk the very streets and inhabit the spaces where Hurston had been. People there call her Zora. I’d been reading about this place since the ninth grade when we were assigned Their Eyes Were Watching God. Why the book stuck with me, I don’t know.  But by the time I was ready to write a master’s thesis years later, I knew that I wanted to explore Hurston’s ethnographic novels and her methods of crossing cultural boundaries to collect and preserve cultural memes.

Once I placed my clothes in the drawers of a dresser at my host family’s house, I felt as if I was integrated in the culture that Hurston spent her life preserving. “Two breaths that way, and you’re out of Eatonville,” said NY Nathiri, the executive director for P.E.C (Association for the Preservation of the Eatonville Community), the parent organization for the festival. Eatonville’s small size belies its historic importance as the oldest Black municipality in the United States, a community held together by the material significance of cultural preservation and folk stories. NY, as everyone calls her, was born there, too, and she is committed to the preservation of the town and its people, just as Zora was.

I quickly adjusted to the role of the festival intern.  It was my job to compile the main program guide for every activity of the ZORA! Festival, while attending city hall meetings, engaging with the spatial parameters of the festival, creating signs and maps for special events and organizing data for graphic design and digitization. Being in such close proximity with several museum and festival staff allowed me to form connections with people in the field who gave me an insider’s view on the ways in which oral histories and cultural preservation sustain a community.

My interests in African-American folklore and the rhetoric of space and place were tested during the 5 weeks.  I was in real-world contexts, seeing the ways in which places and towns serve as rhetorical agents and create social identity. My “Public Genres and Social Action” professor asked me to take notes of the discourse and genres I encountered during the festival. Although I was very busy from sunup to beyond sundown, I noticed several genres that lead to social action during the festival, one being what I would call “car talk.” When I picked up several distinguished professors in the field of African American literature, our conversations revolve around Hurston, culture, food, locations, program activities, directions and locations, and my own scholarly interests. Dr. Trudier Harris of the University of Alabama had an interesting story about cooking cornbread and collard greens she shared with me. Dr. Cheryl Wall of Rutgers University introduced me to her most recent book on the African American essay as a genre. Dr. Ruth Sheffey, a long-time professor at Morgan State University, told me personal stories about Zora that I would have never known. I listened closely; being in this cherished space offered me information that semester of instruction could not have taught me in a classroom.

I was asked to drive Alice Walker to Zora’s gravesite in Fort Pierce, Florida. Although I was somewhat nervous, we arrived safely to the site, some two hours outside of Eatonville. It took us around 20 minutes to find the proper cemetery, and I cracked a joke that we were still in search of our mother’s gardens. Because Walker recorded her search for Hurston’s unmarked gravesite in her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983), being with her in this place was a transformative moment that I could have only dreamed about had it not been for my involvement with the festival.

I continue to use this experience in my scholarly and professional development after the end of this year’s festival. For example, in my “Public Genre and Social Action” class, I am usually on the festival’s Facebook page to complete a genre system analysis on the activities that occur on the page. Being selected as a HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) Scholar at KU gives me the space to combine my interests in African-American folklore and digital humanities, while using Eatonville as a digital project. During the festival, I met and learned from Dr. Julian Chambliss, a member of the steering committee for HASTAC, who also happens to be on the national planner committee for the ZORA! Festival. He and others gave me valuable sources to help me combine my spatial interests to digital humanities. Over the course of these two years, I plan to use digital humanities resources to create a digital interactive map of the town of Eatonville, and possibly other Black settlements in the United States. Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, Inc. (HBTSA) was a major collaborator in this year’s festival, and their goals of promoting heritage, history, and culture inspired me to work with historical towns such as Eatonville. P.E.C. has a paper version of a walking tour for Eatonville, but I think digitizing resources would aid the organization in practical ways. My studies in rhetoric and composition allow me the space to examine certain written and digital genres that the festival and other cultural practices produce, just as the town of Eatonville helps me understand the sacredness of place and the richness of folkloric heritage.

One of the greatest impressions I have from my experience at the festival is that place matters; its history has a material weight that bears on the land. People ritualize territories through cultural practices that seek to preserve and expand culture while reaffirming their identity.

Eatonville is the only place in the South that could teach me the value of oral histories and the preservation of a people through the lens of Hurston’s tradition.


Chris is a doctoral student at the University of Kansas, Christopher Peace holds a B.A. in Writing from Mississippi College and a M.A. in Literature from Jackson State University, where he completed his thesis entitled, “Zora Neale Hurston’s Conjure Memes: A Post-structuralist Analysis of Mules and Men and Tell My Horse.” Some of his academic interests include African Diaspora spiritual systems, ecocomposition, and African American folklore.

Women’s History Month: Naomi Long Madgett

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Morgan McComb visits Naomi Long Madgett at her house to discuss her life’s work.

         Naomi Long Madgett, Detroit Poet Laureate and founder of the Detroit-based Lotus Press, was born into the Harlem Renaissance in 1923, the same year that Jean Toomer’s genre-defying novel Cane was published. Her first book of poetry Songs to a Phantom Nightingale appeared in 1941, when she was just seventeen years old. Madgett found mentors in both Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, and her poetry [MM1] appeared in Hughes’ 1949 anthology, The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949. Despite the fact that Madgett has published 10 books of poetry, she spent most of her time from the 1950s onwards juggling multiple careers as a high school teacher, a college professor, and an editor and publisher. Lotus Press, which she founded in 1972, has published more than 100 books of poetry, and her role as editor shifted her focus to others’ poetry rather than her own. As a result, little critical attention has been paid to her own creative work.

        A member of the Detroit Boone House group of poets from 1962-1964, Madgett was central to a community of Black poets, which included Margaret Danner (1915-1984) and longtime friend Dudley Randall (1914-2000). Madgett spent much of her early career as an educator in Detroit Public Schools—where she taught the school system’s first high school African American literature course—eventually teaching at Eastern Michigan University, where she was a professor of English until she retired to focus on the press in 1984. In 1993, Lotus Press created the Naomi Long Madgett award “to publish and outstanding manuscript by an African American poet.” In 2001, the city of Detroit named Madgett Poet Laureate and in 2012, she received Michigan’s Kresge Eminent Artist Award.

        Madgett’s own publication history is impressive, spanning over five decades of writing, including.  The 1941 publication of Songs to a Phantom Nightingale (1941) was followed by One and the Many (1956), Star by Star (1965), Pink Ladies in the Afternoon (1972), Exits and Entrances (1978), Phantom Nightingale: Juvenalia (1981), Octavia and Other Poems (1988), Remembrances of Spring: Collected Early Poems (1993), Octavia: Guthrie and Beyond (2002), and Connected Islands: New and Selected Poems (2004).  Despite her high level of productivity , Madgett had trouble finding an audience, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Both black and white publishers were looking for “identifiably Black” work rather than “a book of quiet, reflective poetry that dealt with race in more subtle ways, as well as the experience of being a woman, a divorcee, a single mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and an observe of life as a total human being,” she says in her 2006 autobiography (Pilgrim Journey 313). It was her inability to find a publisher that led to Pink Ladies, which helped her to launch Lotus Press, with the help of a few friends. Thereafter, Madgett dedicated herself to creating a space for other Black poets to be published. In 2015, Lotus Press merged with Broadside Press, founded by Dudley Randall, giving birth to a new platform for continuing the foundational work both writers.

        In Pilgrim Journey, Madget explains that “[p]oetry reaches to the depth and breadth of human experience, expressing our loftiest aspirations, our greatest joys, our most crushing disappointments. It sustains us through our most devastating griefs” (391). With poetry that is both diverse and complex, she has consistently explored motherhood, memory, and loneliness, among other themes. A distinctive poetic voice, Madgett recognizes the necessity of reinvention. Now 95, she shows no signs of stopping:  Madgett forcing us to reckon with the complexities and contradictions of human identity through the rhythm of human language. In Madgett’s work, emotional intelligence coexists with a mastery of form, a coupling one rarely sees in poetry.

         As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we will continue to highlight Black women who have made history, like Naomi Long Madgett. An interview in addition to an educational video on her life and legacy will be published later this spring to bring her foundational work to the forefront.

 

“No Saint”

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[ By:Vincent Omni]

Walter Mosley speaking at the Hall Center.
Photo credit: The Hall Center

Call Walter Mosley what you may: novelist, playwright, artist, public speaker. Just don’t call him a saint. Much like Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, the troubled protagonist of his renowned mystery series, Mosley is not a devout man – that is, not in most respects.

“I can’t help but believe in the soul,” the award-winning writer said during his visit to the University of Kansas earlier this month.

Perhaps this belief, along with a practiced optimism bred from growing up black in America – where, more often than not, hope is all one has in the face of racial injustice – allowed Mosley to impart a bit of inspiration on two topics of personal interest to him, politics and writing.

His ministrations began February 7th while speaking to a capacity audience in the Hall Center for Humanities. His sermon: “Political Optimism in the Age of Trump.”

Mosley, I should note here, is no fan of our nation’s 45th president, whose presidential campaign and subsequent term in the White House has been mired in controversy and scandal too long to list in this humble post. “He’s an idiot,” Mosley said.

Mr. Trump’s folly, however, is cause for optimism. At least, Mosley, who prefers Trump over other republican challengers in 2016, seems to think so. This preference is grounded in the notion that Trump lacks the sophistication required to camouflage his political machinations with smoke and mirrors, making his agenda of intolerance and discrimination apparent to the American public.

Moreover, Mosley remains hopeful that this administration — with its alternative facts, travel bans on Muslims, and recent government shutdown — just might unite Americans. “His (Trump’s) racism and greed will not undo us,” he said. “Things are open and there’s a chance for us to work together and change together.”

Mosley returned to the Hall Center on February 8th to extol the tenets of writing – a craft that has earned him an O’Henry Award, a Grammy Award, two NAACP Image Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Edgar from Mystery Writers of America.

His first suggestion is one that may sound familiar to some writers: revise.

“Writing is rewriting,” he said. “You discover the story you’re telling while retelling it and then retelling it again. You may start out thinking that you’re telling one tale but after the fourth or fortieth rewrite an entirely different creature crawls out onto the page.”

His craft book, This Year You Write Your Novel (Little Brown and Company, 2009) is full of the kind of writerly advice that inspires discipline and dedication to the process. Mosley offered up a few verses from this text.

Dr. Shawn Alexander interviewing Walter Mosley. Photo credit: The Hall Center

Write Every Day: “That’s seven days a week, including holidays,” Mosley said. “This is the normal commitment of any athlete politician or parent.” What is written is just as important as the act of writing itself. Daily devotion to putting words on the page should bring the writer closer to a long-term goal, like completing a novel, play, poetry collection, or biography.

Write Without Restraint: Writing teachers the world over recite this sacred verse. Still, many aspiring writers, fearful of how their work may be judged by one reader or another, are nothing if not stealthy self-editors. Mosley has one suggestion for this insidious habit – stop. “Stop listening to the disapproval of man and critics. Stop keeping yourself from saying those things you feel are wrong or bad or even evil. You should edit but never censor your words.”

Voice and Point of View: The key here, Moseley says, is consistency. Once the writer has nailed down her protagonist’s narrative voice and POV, she should see it through until the end of her draft. This process will teach her something about her story. If things change during the revision stage, then so be it. Just be consistent.

Show and Tell: Mosely’s guidance here is so well-stated that it is doubtful a summary will achieve the same effect. To that end, I have left his statement in-tact for the writer who, perhaps lacking access to the text itself, might revisit this statement for inspiration and direction. “‘The words came right up off the page.’ That’s the highest possible praise for the technique of any writer. It means that, when reading the book, the reader was actually experiencing the sensations and emotions, life and atmosphere depicted. The accomplished writer achieves this level of realism by using language that is active and metaphorical, economically emotional, and also pedestrian. As often as possible, the fiction writer shows physical movement and active characters, vivid images and real dialogue rather than simply telling us what happened, what was said, or what someone was thinking or feeling. It is the difference between: His name was Ishmael and Call me Ishmael.”

And call Mosley an optimist – at least when it comes to what lies ahead for this country after Donald Trump. Despite his aversion to organized religion, he is a man of faith, faith in humanity’s capacity to, with patience and understanding, build a better world, tell a better story. He’s no saint, but, then again, he never claimed to be.


Vince OmniVince Omni is a creative writing student in the MFA program and teaches first-year composition at the University of Kansas. He manages HBW’s fiction acquisitions and helps develops content for the Black Literary Suite and blog.

“If You Trusted Love This Far, Trust It All The Way”

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Image result for if beale street could talk

Theatrical release poster

[By: Danyelle M. Greene]

“If you trusted love this far, trust it all the way.”   

A review of If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkins

The December 2018 release of Oscar-nominated If Beale Street Could Talk has garnered a deserved amount of critical praise for its poetic rendering of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. Barry Jenkins, best known for the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight, wrote and directed the adapted screenplay. The film maintains fidelity to the original novel in tone and meaning as it interrogates the corruption of the American justice system through a story of Black love.

If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James), a young Black couple torn apart by racism and injustice in Harlem during the 1970’s. Fonny, who is in custody for being falsely accused of rape, sits behind the glass that separates him from Tish and the rest of the outside world. The audience is invited into their story as Tish tells Fonny that he is going to be a father. From this moment, the story unfolds with the anticipation of the baby’s birth adding another level of complexity as Tish scrambles to prove Fonny’s innocence. Even before his birth, the heaviness of the American system of racial oppression weighs upon the shoulders of the unborn child.

True to the novel, the story shifts between the 1970s present-day and Tish’s retelling of their flowering love. The story is revealed through moments and memories with Tish as its arbiter. Moments of despair and hopelessness are interrupted by memories of love and hope. While Baldwin allows the audience access to the intimacies of Tish and Fonny’s story through descriptions of the characters innermost thoughts and feelings, Jenkins invites the audience into the film through direct engagement with the screen. As Tish and Fonny gaze at each other in the subway train, on the street, or in his apartment, Tish often narrates the scene with words taken directly from Baldwin’s novel. Along with this narration, Tish and Fonny are shown in close-ups looking directly into the camera as if gazing at the audience. These moments are slow and purposeful as the audience is encouraged to see Fonny as Tish sees him—a loving, faithful man. In this way, Jenkins’s adaptation of the novel preserves the perspective and poetry of their story. Shifting between the flashbacks of Tish and Fonny and the present-day interactions between family and friends builds a case for Fonny’s innocence. Through Tish’s eyes, we see an image that counteracts the perception of criminality and worthlessness racial stereotypes that have been placed on him from birth. It directly contradicts his placement behind bars.

If Beale Street Could Talk, then, does not solely address the physical implications of the historically biased tradition of African American incarceration. The story also demonstrates the larger weight of systemic racism on African American lives. In one scene, Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry), one of Fonny’s old friends, tries to hold back tears as he describes being falsely accused and jailed for two years. He admits to Tish and Fonny that the worst part of being jailed was the fear that had gotten so deeply ingrained into his psyche that he could no longer freely navigate his own life. This fear, meant to break Daniel, is similarly intended to overwhelm Fonny with hopelessness.

The couple’s families, clinging to faith, also bear the weight of societal fear and racial oppression. While Fonny’s mother and sisters cling to a sanctimonious sort of faith that distances them from everyone else in the family, his father along with Tish’s family relies on their interpersonal relationships to build hope and find courage. Everyone plays their part in this struggle. Ernestine (Teyonah Parris), Tish’s sister, hires an attorney to strategize for Fonny’s defense while Tish and Fonny’s fathers hustle to pay his rising legal fees. At the same time, Tish’s mother, movingly portrayed by Academy Award-nominated Regina King, comforts her daughter’s fears while organizing to prove her son-in-law’s innocence and confronting his accuser. Tish’s mother especially plays a pivotal role in maintaining this community of support both because of her own strength as an individual and also because of her intimate relationship with her everyone in her family, particularly Tish. In a moment when Tish is overwhelmed and discouraged, she encourages her daughter with the words that inspired the film’s tagline and capture a key component of the story’s central idea: “If you trusted love this far, trust it all the way.”

Ultimately, If Beale Street Could Talk celebrates the strength and vulnerability of African American men and women. The collective stories of Fonny, Tish and their loved ones demonstrates the fortitude found in family and community. 


 

Danyelle Greene is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on the politics of representation in cinema for African Americans at the intersections of race, gender, and religion.  She earned her MA in Media Theory and Research from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her BA in Communication Arts and Sciences from Adrian College.

Black Speculative Fiction On the Rise

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[By: Marcus Haynes]

In an age where Luke Cage can break Netflix, FIYAH literary magazine can win a World Fantasy Award, and speculative fiction legends Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes can give keynote speeches at the National Black Book Festival, it is clear that things are changing for creators of Black Speculative Fiction. And the fact that all of these things occurred during Black Speculative Fiction Month, a celebration of Black fans and creators of genre fiction, is even more evidence of the genre’s growth. Thanks to Black speculative fiction icons Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade, each October has been designated as a month to celebrate the accomplishments of Black people in fantasy, science fiction, horror, and alternate history. Knowing this, Due and Barnes were able to use Black Speculative Fiction Month and their platform to advocate even more for the importance of Black Speculative fiction.

Sitting in the audience of Due and Barnes’ talk, it is hard to believe how much change has happened at the festival in such a short time. In 2015, I attended the festival and was faced with outright hostility for bringing something “unholy” into a Black book festival located in a deep south church. As a Black writer of fantasy and science fiction, it is often difficult to find where you fit in. Traditional conventions (cons) are overwhelmingly concerned with whiteness, and most Black festivals, conferences, and cons do not always understand the purpose of Blackness in the speculative genres. The fact that Due and Barnes were brought on as featured authors is a testament to changing views on speculative fiction, and while a large part of this can be attributed to the massive successes of “Get Out and “Black Panther”; there is more to the cultural shift than those two films.

Until very recently, Black speculative fiction began and ended with Octavia Butler; Due and Barnes acknowledged this history. The fact that Butler was able to weave racial, gendered, and sexuality-based critiques into science fiction was considered an anomaly, despite the fact that since speculative fiction, in general, was designed to challenge world views it would make sense that Black authors would challenge perceptions about Black people with speculative fiction. The prejudice against Black Speculative Fiction was so strong that even a tale as blatantly speculative as Toni Morrison’s Beloved was denied the label of horror because it was “too good” and “too Black”. The general attitudes of Black audiences reflected this distaste with Black Speculative Fiction, and the audiences of the National Black Book Festival were unfortunately not exempt. Brandon Massey, an Atlanta-based Black horror author, faced some scrutiny as one of the festival’s earliest featured writers, and in the years that I have been aware of the festival,  fewer than fifteen Black speculative authors have attended there.   


Marcus Haynes (@LooseAsADEUCE) is a doctoral student in Humanities (English & African American Studies) at Clark Atlanta University. He is a published author, instructor, geek, and scholar in Black Speculative Fiction.

Q&A: With Nikita Haynie

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[By: Mona Ahmed]

Nikita Haynie describes herself as a Christian, an advisor to students, and writer who published her first novel “Phases” last year.  “Phases” is a trilogy, which depicts four students navigating their freshman year of college. In my interview with Haynie, she discusses how her job and faith influenced her book’s plot and what it is like to be a black woman writing Christian fiction.

What was the inspiration behind the plotline for your novel?  

So, the first thing was me thinking about growing up, I really was into book series like “Goosebumps” and “Sweet Valley High”. And just thinking like, ‘wow, you know, I really want to write something like that,’ because I was so engaged in those book series.

The second thing which probably was the most prevalent with the fact that I was working with college students and forming these relationships with students. So once you form these close relationships with students, they then confide in you about different things. So thinking about that was the inspiration for my book. College is such a powerful time in a young person’s life whether they choose to go to college, whether it is a two-year college or four-year college. I think is just a powerful time and is a transformative time. And quite frankly, I feel like it can make or break you because there are so many things happening, particularly as it pertains to a young person’s development. I really wanted to hone in on that and kind of encourage and empower students as they are going through this experience of college and hit on some of the challenges they might be going through some of the victories they might have.

What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

What I really want people to take away is just so like if you have already attended college, just kind of reflecting over your college experience. But most importantly, if you’re currently in college, that it’s okay for you to have challenges but at the end of the day is important for you to look at those challenges and those obstacles and think about how can this help me become a better person right? And then also is the undertone of the book is kind of about faith as well. So whatever your faith may be, how you can also find a balance between this experience that you’re going through it and also holding onto your faith, which is possible to do.

How does your faith play a role in your writing?

 It is the epitome of how I’m able to write because this is like something that I’ve thought about since I was a kid. But I didn’t actually bring into fruition until by my late 20s, but my faith is what kept me motivated to keep writing. When I initially started writing this book, it was in 2014, ……. then I fell off of writing it. Then I moved to Kansas in 2016. So then I was like, you know this is the perfect opportunity for me to really focus on this because I’m not distracted by all of the things I was distracted by in Atlanta. So I went on a fast and I did the fast for 40 days. And so every day I will pray about the characters and their storyline and just asking for the discernment and the ability to be able to write in those moments when you experience writer’s block. So, just kind of channeling that energy into my characters into the story.

Are there any Black authors that have inspired you? If so how?

Two black authors in particular that really inspire me are Stephanie Perrymore and then Kim Cash Tate. The cool thing about Kim Cash Tate is that I actually reached out to her on social media back in 2017. And I was like, you know what I’m going to shoot my shot and see if I can get her to respond to me. I wrote her a Facebook message and she wrote back she gave me encouragement and kind of told me about her process as a writer and author.

And so just to have that engagement with her, and then, you know a certain point in my process of writing, I will reach out to her. And she always responds, you know, and so I’m very encouraged by that. And one of the things that she told me that she does because I was like, you know, what would be your advice to a first-time author and she was like, rejection is a part of the process. So don’t take that personal and she also said I always pray, you know, pray about your book. Pray about your ideas about your characters in the images.

What have you noticed during the publishing process?

Something else I noticed in this process is that there are not just in general in the world of literature, black people don’t get the respect and notoriety that they deserve… Because the genre that I am going towards is more like Christian fiction particularly in that realm there is not a lot of black women.

Why do you think it’s so important moving forward that black women are given these spaces to showcase their work?

I think it’s important for black women and women of color to be showcased in this particular space because I think sometimes our experience with as it relates to religion, spirituality, and faith, it looks different.  

But I just think it’s important to shed light on that experience from the perspective of a black woman because as we know, in society as a whole, when it comes to like Christianity and things like that it is overshadowed more so by our white counterparts. And so I think just being able to showcase our experience is very important. Also giving people of color, particularly for my book, giving students of color, a perspective that they can relate to.

What’s next for you?

I am in the process of writing book two, because, in a book series, you kind of have to move fast before people lose interest. So I want to write that and then I also want to publish another novel. But, it’s going to be a novel about a black woman and just her evolution as a woman through the breakup of a relationship. I  also want to find more opportunities that allow them to showcase my writing, not just as a creative writer, but a writer overall.

You can purchase Haynie’s ebook on Amazon.  

This interview has been edited down for clarity.  



Nikita Annette Haynie is a proud Georgia peach. She earned her Master of Education in Higher Education from Georgia Southern University and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with a minor in African American Studies from Clayton State University. Currently, she serves as the Assistant Director for Sorority & Fraternity Life in the Student Involvement and Leadership Center advising the Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council. Her life motto is: “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Ghandi).  She also advises the new student organization G.E.M.S (Gifted Empowered Motivated Sisters) that empowers and centers the voices of black women matriculating at KU. Last year she became a published author, publishing the first installment in her book series Phases. In her spare time, you can find her writing, reading, meditating on affirmations, and obsessing over her three-year-old niece. She is a life- long learner and believes in all things positive.