✿ Black History Month ✿

Hey all, sorry for not posting last week! Things got desperate in thesis-land for a bit. (Well, they still are.) Anyway, we’re coming up on the end of February, and thus the end of Black History Month. In honor of the occasion, here are some of the works by black artists that I’ve been immersed in this month:

  1. The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemison; I finally barreled my way through the third book in the series, Kingdom of Gods, and as a whole this series blew me away like little else has in recent memory. I’m not normally one to get into adult high fantasy, but NK Jemison does it as never before. These books are unspeakably rich in worldbuilding detail, and the storylines are oftentimes deeply tragic, but also hopeful. I actually wrote a post entirely devoted to Jemison’s worldbuilding prowess. Next up: The Broken Earth Trilogy.
  2. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor; An outstanding  author of many genres, Okorafor is the author of one of my favorite YA books of all time, Akata Witch. I was thrilled to see my library had Zahrah on it’s display for Black History Month, and I grabbed it immediately. It has what made me love Akata Witch so much: deeply evokative, lush, and unique worldbuilding. I haven’t yet finished it (see above thesis crisis), but when I do I plan to keep devouring all of Okorafor’s work.
  3. Black Panther dir. by Ryan Coogler! Of course! I said black artists, not just authors. Highly anticipated and even more highly received, Black Panther is easily one of the best films I’ve ever had the privilege to see. To deepen your understanding of the creation and implications of the film, The Black Panther Challenge provides a list of critical readings for before and after seeing the film. Check it out, then go see the movie.

What do all of these works have in common? For me, it is their worldbuilding: so ebullient that you leave these works with half your heart still behind. In the cases of Zahrah and Black Panther, for me this is partially due to the novel experience of being immersed in fantasy Africa, rather than fantasy Europe. It provides an entirely different set of worldbuilding tools that feel so vivid to me partially because I have experienced them so little in popular books and movies. It is enriching to both the genres themselves and to the audience consuming them.

Black History Month might be ending, but our celebration of black artists doesn’t stop for March. Go read about Afrofuturism from the Black Panther Challenge, see the movie if you have the means, and pick up a book by a black author at your local library. Enrich yourself.



The Ruse of Medusa

This semester, departments and classes across my university are devoting themselves to creating a website and producing projects and artistic works to commemorate Black Mountain College, an alternative university which ran for less than 20 years near Asheville, NC. My part in this initiative? Helping to put on The Ruse of Medusa, a surrealist play by Eric Satie performed for the first time in English at Black Mountain, the cast a host of the most famous Black Mountain teachers. It’s a surrealist play that doesn’t make much sense at first pass, and only slightly more at second, but that’s the nature of the thing.

I spent four hours yesterday in a workshop wherein fifteen anthropology majors tried to learn anything about theater. And it must have worked at least a bit, because by the end we had a host of brilliant ideas, a timeline, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. I’ve heard enthusiasm can make up for a lot, so fingers crossed.

All this to say that group bonding is important when doing a creative work, together or individually. We’ve been discussing the play in class for weeks, but the excitement and inspiration only came when we all got together and played games and brainstormed. It’s so much easier to get energized and inspired when you have other people around you wanting to be inspired. Ideas feed off each other, and we should strive not to be competitive but collaborative.

Writing Prompt: The Replacement

I have nothing interesting to talk about this week beyond my renewed obsession with knitting, so here’s a writing prompt that I did today with my writing group, from the excellent Deep Water Prompts. I posted another of their prompts I did here last year, though I usually do them weekly. Enjoy!

They took away my grandmother and sent in a replacement. She wanted something from me that I could not let her have. How did I know she was a replacement? It was in the way she talked, always recycling phrases, sentences. Ever since they swapped her I never heard her speak an original word. The same “rise and shine, dearie” in the morning, the same “sweet dreams, my sweet,” at bedtime. Her inflections never altered, nor the facial expressions which accompanied them.

My mom explained it away as getting old, but I saw further. I caught her snooping in my room, time and time again. A ninety-year old, however malevolent, could only be so stealthy. The first time I found her rustling through my sock drawer I asked what she was doing. With a smile I’d never seen my grandmother wear, she spit out the same “just tidying up, dearie” that she’d said last year, when we caught her in mom’s closet looking for Christmas presents.

Now when I catch her I say nothing, just stare her down ’til she leaves, those eyes–not my grandmother’s–glinting at me with concealed wrath.

I began locking my door from the inside before I left, but she somehow had the key. I bought a padlock and came home to find it cut clean through, lying on the ground. After that I lay string across the lock before I left every day, and after school find it fallen to the floor, a sure sign she’d been looking.

In a way, it was reassuring. So long as she kept searching my room, she didn’t suspect it was in my brother’s.

Was it cruel to have endangered him by hiding it among his action figures? Perhaps. But I couldn’t leave it somewhere easier for her to find, and I absolutely couldn’t hide it outside the house. They needed a fake grandmother to even begin to search inside. Outside, it would be easy pickings.

But my fake grandmother still had to conform to her predecessor’s life, and so could not refuse when mom took her to her doctor’s appointment. It was then that I made my move.

I entered my brother’s room, ignoring his outrage at the intrusion, and opened the drawer stuffed to the brim with his superhero toys. Before he could start throwing things at me, I snatched what I had hidden a week before and left. There was only one safe place I could take the thing now they had an an agent in my home, and that was a place I had sworn never to return to.

I grit my teeth, swallowed my pride, and descended into the cellar.