black-queer-writers

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” was a writer, feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist. For Lorde, writing proved to be her powerful weapon against injustice. Painfully aware that differences could provoke prejudice and violence, she promoted the bridging of barriers.

Lorde began writing poetry at age twelve. She was inspired by poets such as Keats, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Helene Margaret. As the first Black student at Hunter High School, a public school for intellectually gifted girls, she worked on the school newspaper and published her first poem, “Spring, ” in Seventeen Magazine in 1951.

Her homo-erotic feelings began to emerge during her teenage years, through various crushes on female peers and teachers. So after graduation from high school, Lorde left her parents’ home and attended Hunter College. She surrounded herself with leftist thinkers and lesbian friends. 

Audre Lorde dedicated her life to combating social injustice. She helped found Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the world’s first publishing company run by women of color. She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid.

In 1968, Lorde received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and published her first volume of poetry, “The First Cities” as a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She began a romantic relationship with Frances Clayton that same year that would last until Lorde’s death in 1992.

As a poet, she is best known for technical mastery and emotional expression, as well as her poems that express anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life.Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, feminism, and the exploration of black female identity. Lorde won international acclaim for her poetry and prose, and was Poet Laureate of New York state from 1990 until 1991.

As a lecturer in 1970, Lorde engaged diverse student bodies on the interlocking identities of class, race, and gender, with history and culture. 

Lorde reached audiences with her numerous writings. She published 15 books of poetry and prose, including 1984′s “Sister Outsider,” which is often included in the curriculum of women’s studies programs. In 1983, “Zami” hit the shelves. Lorde referred to it as a “biomythography,” but it was essentially her autobiography.

In addition to poetry, Audre Lorde was a powerful essayist and writer. In terms of her nonfiction work, she is best remembered for The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she documents her own struggle with breast cancer. Having undergone a mastectomy, Lorde refused to be victimized by the disease. Instead, she considered herself—and other women like her—to be warriors. The cancer later spread to her liver and this latest battle with the disease informs the essay collection, A Burst of Light (1989). This time, she chose to pursue alternative treatments rather than to opt for more surgery.

Dying on November 17, 1992, on the island of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands,  Audre Lorde spent a lifetime exploring the pleasures and pain of being a black woman in America. Lorde’s was an essential voice in African American literature.

As a lesbian woman of color Lorde asserted, “I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”

“Lorde was a woman for all times and all people.”

Some Day

She collects “some days” like pennies tossed in fountains.
These small shiny things, not worth much,
but carrying the weight of countless hopes and dreams. 
She dives in full.
Only ever comes up with handful of pretty emptiness,
and copper colored promises,
dirty metal “some days”
covered in grime and grit. 
They really only ever look good from the dry side of the water,
unattainable, on the marble mosaic fountain floor.
Still she dives in full,
every time,
wishing on a “some day.”

-a. nicole l.a 

Day 10 “Write Everyday in July”

Indra Das’s The Devourers is the feminist anti-colonialist #ownvoices queer shapeshifter novel you didn’t know you were waiting for until now, and once you’ve read it, you’re gonna want more. We asked Indra to put together an #ownvoices reading list, and here’s what he suggested:

Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories

Since comics are now a focal point of the giant, assimilated Borg-esque cube of mainstream arts/media/geek culture, I thought I’d include at least one comic book in the list—Gilbert Hernandez’s multi-generational magic realist epic about a small (fictional) town in Latin America. It’s like a pop art, comic-book version of Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, and as much as I loved the latter when I read it, it’s Palomar that sticks with me as being the more moving story. With indelible characters like no-nonsese matriarch Luba (who also has her own series) guiding the narrative, gorgeous artwork to paint its world in vivid black and white, this is a huge, rewarding book that’s weirder than it seems.

Saad Z. Hossain’s Escape From Baghdad!

Having read Bangladeshi writer Saad Z. Hossain’s urban fantastic, satirical wartime thriller (set in Iraq after the US invasion, though ancient myths bleed into the narrative) Escape From Baghdad! this year, I can’t wait to discover more of his work. Despite excellent reviews, the novel hasn’t gotten a lot of cultural mileage out in the world, and I’d love to see that change. This is at once exciting, hilarious, and topped with a frisson of exquisite mythic resonance that further complements the song of its contemporary satire.

Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox

Oyeyemi’s elegant puzzle-box of a novel, with stories within stories and genres within genres, is the kind of novel I wished I’d written as I read it. Another glimpse at the potential for wonderment when genres cross their demarcated lines and begin to intermingle in the fallow bed of prose, poetry, and the deep waters of human myth and folklore While I read Mr. Fox after I wrote the first draft of The Devourers, it’s exactly the kind of novel I’m glad exists to give my own book company of the shelves (which is not to suggest an equivalence, of course).

Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood (aka The Xenogenesis Trilogy)

An essential work of science-fiction (currently in the works for television adaptation, finally) that gets right to the labyrinthine, squirming heart of humanity’s essential strangeness by having an alien species adopt us and attempt—with great and harrowing struggles—to uplift us. Butler writes with the searing insight of someone who has been othered all her life, dissecting the grotesque anatomy of human bigotry with the assured confidence of a compassionate alien observer. Butler’s work is proof that the much vaunted ‘novel of ideas’ that sci-fi is known for can also be human, intimate, and beautifully written.

Samuel R. Delany’s Triton / Nova / Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

I came to Delany’s writing late (getting my first taste of his pungent prose during my MFA program), but it was a key late-period influence on my writing, and on The Devourers. Delany’s importance as a queer black writer is already well established; I needn’t explain that further. Not everything in his novels stands up; his treatment of women in his narratives is sometimes questionable, and his approach to gender sometimes dated despite his bold, and at the time revolutionary, open-ness in describing sexuality (queer, human and otherwise) in his books. But they are nonetheless spectacular in their uniqueness, and astounded me with their poetry and disregard for genre conventions, with their utterly personal exploration of the sensory, tactile, fetishistic side of humanity’s sense of wonder. It’s safe to say Delany’s work pushed The Devourers to queasy and unusual places that I might not have otherwise gone.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

While Rushdie sometimes comes off as the South Asian equivalent of the Great Straight White Male Novelist, there’s no denying his impact when it comes to helping legitimize brown writers within the international monopoly of Western publishing. His Booker-winning Midnight’s Children was instrumental in my creative development—a rich, literary but unabashedly pulpy fusion of subcontinental litfic, superhero stories, political satire, and dreamy fantasy inspired by South Asian folklore, mythology and history, it made me realize books don’t belong in the boxes of genre (we just put them in there to sell them). It didn’t hurt that Rushdie was a brown writer from India (albeit British as well), telling a sprawling and engaging tale of the place I come from.

We are now accepting submissions for our January issue!

Deadline: January 15th

We are especially looking for VISUAL arts and prose/essays/long-form pieces! Regular contributor applications are also being accepted (though it takes a bit for us to respond to them!) <3

medium.com
How You Are Failing Trans People of Color — Human Development Project
An Open Letter to Those Passively Supporting Oppressive Structures
By hafsa musa

this is an open letter to oppressive structures and all who support them by not explicitly fighting against them.

i am twenty, queer, non-gender conforming, trans, black, mentally ill, and despite being college educated and situated in america, i do not expect to live long.

the news reminds me to be realistic. in 2012 police officers killed an average of two black men a week. in 2013, the national coalition of anti-violence programs reported that there were over 2,000 reported incidents of anti-LGBTQA+ violence in america. 72% of lgbtqia+ homicides were against trans women. 89% of those were transgender women of color. when not consistent from previous years, these statistics rise.

i, too, am rising. every week my eyes climb higher as i watch the number of murdered black people, especially trans women of color, increase, and i see myself in their glassing eyes. i see my brother’s withering smile in the name of kamal dajani, 26, from texas, and i text him, daily, to remind him that i love him more than i know how to (more than anything else in this goddamn world) because every day could be the last day he’ll be alive to read it.

i call my father about nothing at all, closing my eyes as i listen to him chatter, trying to memorize the salt-and-pepper scruff at his chin and the way he squints in booming, heartfelt laughter. i sing my mother songs on the telephone and record conversations with her on long rides and write down the name of her favorite perfume. i write letters every day to the people i love, desperately attempting to capture enough of myself in ink so that when my time comes there will be more to remember me by than just a number, a name, a grainy photo from the seventh grade. my lack-of life expectancy comfortably simmers from pale paranoia to a hard-shelled fact. i am going to die, young. fact.

every week i watch the bodies pile up surrounded by the mourning circles of their families, friends, partners, allies. outside of myself i watch their tears climb back upwards into the corners of their eyes as they are ridiculed into silence, their lips boil down from slate into granite into hard, black lines cut into the skin where their mouths should as the media’s shadow passes over them time and time again, in favor of news anchors defaming of the women lost too soon by calling them perverse men.

we are failing to trans women of color and people of color because we do not recognize their humanity until they are already absent.

i wonder how the loved ones left behind save the dead in their heads. i wonder if the people they’ve lost expected to be taken and planned ahead, left behind boxes of perfume-tinted love notes and birthday photos and pages torn from their journals. i wonder if they did the work to make themselves real, and then i wonder why these women had to prove their existence in the first place.

and i watch the anger climb, too.

it’s a shared ascent into rage. we walk it together, because to not dare the path — to abstain from the gravel and the thistles and the hemlock choked roadside — is an act of submission. all of us hoofing it onto higher ground, every breath is resistance.

black queer anger is breathtaking by nature because the people who accept it are not to be fucked with. black anger is a middle finger in white god’s face and a million voices shouting, “you can catch these hands, too.” it is the lifeblood of movements, liquid and scalding, ripping up normative foundations and eroding away oppression disguised as tradition. it is beautiful because it is unafraid of being ugly. and in its ugliness it can be unbearably true and awesome.

there is amazing work being done by angry black people. angry black people are mobilizing. angry black people are chewing up what’s been tearing them down. angry black people always have been and will always continue to be at the heart of the onslaughts against oppressive structures, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t tired. it doesn’t mean our shoulders aren’t sore from all this lifting up. doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to lay down awhile and just breathe out all this calamity and just be.

trouble is, i fear that we are forgetting how to be. i know i am. the days i don’t write or call home the paranoia comes creeping in, cruel and kudzu-like, and strings me up by the lungs. sometimes i lay in bed all day. sometimes it’s hard to breathe from all that anticipation. when i find myself able to speak you can clearly see the crests of arcing vines and hear their restless shuffle.

i do not know if i know how not to be paranoid, and i am uncertain if it matters at all.

what does matter when every day could be the funeral? what is there for me, you, us to do than strangle rosaries and burn?

i do not know if i know how not to be paranoid, and i am certain it matters a great deal.

my question is: to who? certainly not to you. because you will read this and walk away. you will not burn. you will keep your white gods aright and breathe easy.

meanwhile we will be wrathful, watching you do nothing.


hafsa musa is a black, queer, nonbinary writer and poet. please support the artist and anti-police brutality movements by liking this article, sharing it with friends, and financially supporting them and the Black Lives Matter movement(s).

“As someone who grew up in a low-income neighborhood and with parents who barely had more than a high school education, I often feel like a fake in museums. I graduated from art school but I don’t understand that kind of art! I was a Cultural Studies major, art only started to feel accessible when I thought of it as resistance. I think of my mother, who is an excellent artist (but would never call herself one), and other people’s whose art are never seen. I really only saw graffiti or comics growing up; museums were for people with money or people who thought they were better. As an adult I really love history museums but it pisses me off what little access the public has to the artifacts, especially when we’re talking about oppressed people who might only see artifacts from their people in museums – and keep in mind many of the artifacts were stolen.

Museums have to be proactive with outreach and community education. They hold artifacts and documents of history not many of us are fortunate to know. And much of what museums have were stolen from oppressed people - we deserve to have access.

Community should be at the center of museums, and I mean, young students from public schools, working-class families, the elderly, not just artists and historians from privileged backgrounds.”

– Keisa Reynolds, Queer Black Feminist Writer, Storyteller, and Educator

Off Day Adventure: Roxane Gay

*So, I went to the Roxane Gay reading in Chicago tonight. My feelings and thoughts are everywhere but, I needed to write about this.  I’m sorry there are a bunch of grammar and spelling errors. I wrote this on my iphone, on the train ride back home. If you read the whole thing you get to see the selfie I took. I hope y'all like it.  

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when you were the sun

You’re not too good for me.

You’re not
too good
for me.

I used to swear you were,
tight roping between pride and anxiety,
showing off pictures.
Yes, this is my girl!
But in the back of my mind I knew that
one day, you would wake up.

We are not the same.
You stub out cigarettes on your bare stomach
and think no one notices the scars,
and I lose my footing between shots of jack
and bury my fist in the wall.

I’ve met your friends.
We ate midnight dinners and laughed our way
through stupid movies
while you rested your head on my lower back;
your hair smelled like summer that night.
Your hair smelled like summer that night.
Your hair smelled like summer,
and I told myself you were the sun.

I don’t remember
when I realized
that you are not the sun,
but I’d already revolved all my planets around you.
One morning I woke up,
and your hair smelled like shampoo.
Your chin dug too sharply into my shoulders. One morning
I realized
that you had stopped giving off heat.

We became just another story.
I could reduce our relationship to five funny anecdotes,
starting with You’ll never believe the time that…
and Once, I dated a girl who…
It all ended so fast.
In retrospect, it didn’t end fast enough.

I don’t remember when I realized
that you are not the sun.
But one cloudy day I rolled over,
searching for light,
and all I found were your eyes closed against my pillow.

I like it better this way.