Can a feminist reading of photographic archives from the early twentieth-century China offer an unmediated historical glimpse into the lived experiences of women? With the exception of voice recordings and skeletons in graves, photography is perhaps the closest point of contact we have with the material lives of Chinese women, before mass literacy enabled the majority of women to write. Sidney Gamble took hundreds of apparently uncontrived photographs of women, their bodies imprinted onto the negative with absolute mechanical precision. It is perhaps a potent lens for feminist reconstruction of the past.
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My research investigates the ways in which Black Lesbian writers employ experimental forms of writing to articulate their intra-marginalized positions.
I see poetry as an embodied theoretical practice and thus my work endeavors to unearth theoretical frameworks embedded in poetics and prose. Audre Geraldine Lorde is both my mother and muse, and it has been over seven years since she blessed me with my first litany.
Gumbs made the poetic and theoretical legible for me again. Her words feel like textual hugs, and I feel whole when reading them, in the same ways that I do when I engage Lorde, Clarke, and many others. This interview came into fruition during my independent study on Queer Poetics under the direction of Professor and Creative Writer, Rae Paris. Professor Paris was already working with Gumbs on a separate project and she asked me if I was interested in interviewing Gumbs because she knew I enjoyed reading her dissertation and recently published book, Spill.
The opportunity to engage with Gumbs via my connection to Professor Paris is what I consider coalition building as praxis. Black Feminists have always looked out for one another. This interview completed via email , the care, attention, and sincerity in each question and response are indicative of just that. Alexis Pauline Gumbs: I thought about a few different ways to answer this question and you know what? I think what explains my relationship to theory and poetry right now is that I am a West Indian poet and theorist, which to me means that in that tradition, in my work poetry and theory will tend to converge.
About 15 years before that Sylvia Wynter of Jamaica and born in Cuba and Edoaurd Glissant of Martinique rolled up at a conference on Ethnopoetics, some sort of anthropological conference focusing on poetry by indigenous folks as mostly studied by white folks, and just shifted the terms.
Sylvia Wynter said who cares about Ethnopoetics, what we need is Sociopoetics because the point of poetry is to find a way to say what it is impossible to say in our current society, in order which is to actually relate to each other and our environment in a non-capitalist non-genocidal way.
And the same weekend Glissant came with the idea of Forced Poetics, this colonial situation where everything you say reproduces the trap of your experience, but there is the possibility of Counterpoetics, that work of trying to say something else anyway. And before that there was my grandfather, from Anguilla who memorized every poem he loved and used poems to teach us to think. But is this any different from other Black communities? And even then it was lie. Why is poetry particularly salient for you and how has poetry served as your litany?
APG: Gloria Anzaldua describes writing as dangerous because it changes us. I write every day. Every day no matter what. And every time it changes me. Why is poetry salient?
There is some story that I live in that explains my life. I move around in the world making meaning in order to make sense to myself. Poetry has the power to interrupt the narrator in my head which is saying something like, whatever I am typing right now. The narrator says, I am Alexis and I know who I am. Poetry for me is queer in that it is not here to reproduce who I think I am.
It is here to disrupt and interrupt and offer another possibility. Can you talk more about the construction of Spill, and the book itself as Queer, in terms of its form? I love each and every one of those essays. And I love them for what they argue, prove and disavow, but I love them even more for their excess.
I love certain phrases, flourishes and word choices in her work for their own sake. The way that Hortense Spillers writes, and actually this is the way she speaks too, is so poetic, I could live in three words.
Three words, and I could live in there for the next year. And actually that is similar to what I did. I created a daily practice where every morning, every day I would wake up and live with a phrase from the essays. And live with whoever was in there. And I lived there without the need to explain something, answer something or prove something which is a very queer absence of need for a Black woman intellectual indeed.
And I was changed by that living. And if I open to a page of Spill right now, I will be changed again. And if I read it with some other person there, I will be changed again. That we could live here at all.
That we could make this place livable for each other. You could just live in here for a moment. And that would change us. And that for me is the genius of Black women and the downfall of capitalism. We who are supposed to be the most homeless, who are statistically the most evicted, are constantly, generously, queerly creating places to live, Blackspace you could say, in everything we do. As a writer, do you think we have closed in on the gap between feminist poetry as feminist praxis? How do you see Spill serving as a resource for Black Feminist liberatory practice?
People are reading it together, performing it, embodying it, using it as an oracle, gifting it to each other. People are using it to let go of compromises they made, choices they made between their intellectual work and their communities, their passions and their professional well-being.
Blood has spilled and now we are spilling words to find each other, honor our survival and make space for freedom like we been doing.
APG: Both of those writers are gifts from the ancestors as far as I am concerned. They both have made space for so many of us. I heard Audre Lorde interviewed one time and she explained that she listed many aspects of who she was because she wanted people to know.
She wrote in Sister Outsider that it was important that no one else be able to hold aspects of her being against her, and that she was not ashamed of who she was, but in this radio interview she talks about it as a communal act.
It would have made a difference to her to know that Langston Hughes was gay. But she knew Langston Hughes and was even mentored by him in the Harlem Writers Guild and he never said it. So she never knew it. And she decided that for people in future generations, for people in rooms that she moved through, they would at least know.
I am not leaving the reading of who I am only up to other people in the space. I am, like all of us, in the poetic process of making myself available to other people. All those words mean the same thing to me. But I say it in those words, and sometimes other words too, to make space for my people who might identify the same ways sometimes. How would I identify queer? I would also define Queer Black Troublemaker as whatever Cheryl Clarke says they are because she sure would know.
I am so grateful to be part of her wild and beautiful legacy. How did you come to writing about this particular erotic experience? She is observing in particular, her granddaughters video chat relationship with another Black girl who reads and she is thinking about the intimacy allows multiple generations to exist, the mothering and grandmothering she has done.
And she is also thinking about the intimacy of black girls reading books and reading each other. So yes. Lots of same sex intimacy. Has grandma had sex with the neighbor? Does she want to? Who knows. And in this case it may not matter. Can you talk more about your decision to be an independent writer, and in what ways, if any, have your Feminist foremothers helped inform your decision. APG: Space in general is especially precarious for women of color, right?
My decision to be a writer is definitely informed by many foremothers. All of those writers, publishers, activists worked in a number of settings and their work was by no means confined to the limits of the academy.
At the same time, all of those thinkers experienced violence and harm within the academy, and they built on the legacy of their own foremothers, people like Anna Julia Cooper, who saw their lives as intellectuals shaped by the needs of their communities, not the fashions of academic departments.
For me, being a Black feminist writer is a sacred trust. And what Black feminist writers have taught me is that Black feminist writers love Black women. The love of Black women comes first. And it changes everything.
The way I do my writing, teaching, living has got to be informed by the love of Black women, including myself. Being a community accountable writer and scholar is a love based path blazed by so many.
And it requires honesty, bravery and collaboration. It is a risk. But I trust Black women including myself more than I trust the endowments of slavers. And I trust my Black feminist colleagues some of whom are accessing those slave-fed endowments reparations-style too. And I trust the work, that it will continue to be a place to live, a room in which to love Black women myself included. She is currently conducting archival research on Angelina Weld Grimke who may be considered the impetus for Black Lesbian writers who emerged after the Harlem Renaissance.
Bibliography of Hortense J. Spillers
My research investigates the ways in which Black Lesbian writers employ experimental forms of writing to articulate their intra-marginalized positions. I see poetry as an embodied theoretical practice and thus my work endeavors to unearth theoretical frameworks embedded in poetics and prose. Audre Geraldine Lorde is both my mother and muse, and it has been over seven years since she blessed me with my first litany. Gumbs made the poetic and theoretical legible for me again. Her words feel like textual hugs, and I feel whole when reading them, in the same ways that I do when I engage Lorde, Clarke, and many others. This interview came into fruition during my independent study on Queer Poetics under the direction of Professor and Creative Writer, Rae Paris.
Life[ edit ] Spillers received her B. D in English at Brandeis University in However, rather than accepting the wisdom of the Moynihan Report which established the trope of the absent black father , Spillers makes two moves—one historical and the other political. First, she argues that the absent father in African-American history is the white slave master, since legally the child followed the condition of the mother through the doctrine partus sequitur ventrem. Thus, the enslaved mother was always positioned as a father, as the one from whom children inherited their names and social status. Overall, Spillers aims to draw connections between the structures of the black family that were created during slavery, and the ways in which they have manifested into contemporary familial phenomenons. Spillers also emphasizes in her work the sexualization of black bodies.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs