“It has always been life-sustaining to me
to know that my work is used.”
Today was my talk at Rutgers; I gave a presentation in front of about 45 Gender Studies students, asking “Is POD (publishing on demand) the future of feminism?” I wanted them to think about the connection between feminist presses of the 1970s, like Kitchen Table Press (co-founded in 1980 by Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, and other feminists of color) and the new options available to 21st century feminists. The students seemed engaged, but there weren’t any questions, and no volunteers to read aloud scenes from my play, so I wrapped up by reading an excerpt from my memoir. It still amazes me how we build our own knowledge; I taught June Jordan’s 1986 essay, “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America” on Tuesday, and then used a quote in today’s presentation:
But…the difficult miracle of Black poetry in America, is that we have been rejected and we are frequently dismissed as “political” or “topical” or “sloganeering” and “crude” and “insignificant” because…we have persisted for freedom. We will write against South Africa and we will seldom pen a poem about wild geese flying over Prague…We will write, published or not, however we may…of the terror and the hungering and the quandaries of our African lives on this North American soil. And as long as we study white literature, as long as we assimilate the English language and its implicit English values, as long as we allude and defer to gods we “neither sought nor knew,” as long as we…remain the children of slavery, as long as we do not come of age and attempt, then to speak the truth of our difficult maturity in an alien place, then we will be beloved, and sheltered, and published.
But not otherwise. And yet we persist….
This is the difficult miracle of Black poetry in America: that we persist, published or not, and loved or unloved: we persist.
I think you could easily replace “Black poetry” with “Black literature” generally. And yet we persist…I wrote my play, Mother Load, after telling a 2007 class on Black Masculinities that Audre Lorde’s son had been traumatized by his upbringing in a radical feminist household. I thought I had seen evidence of this in the film about her life, Litany for Survival, but when I went home and watched the film again, I realized he wasn’t traumatized at all. So why had I said that? Likely b/c numerous men and women over time have told ME, “God–I hope you never have a son.” As though being a feminist means I couldn’t help but emasculate or otherwise destroy a male child…I think about motherhood a lot; it’s not for me, I don’t think, but I write about it again and again, and found even more material for my play by reading Rebecca Walker’s memoir, Baby Love. She feels her mother, and the Second Wavers generally, sent their daughters the wrong message about motherhood. I never felt that any feminist was telling me NOT to have kids. I felt they were trying to expose the reality of motherhood–the endless hours of unpaid labor, the sacrifices, the expense, the need for better resources in terms of health care, day care, etc. But I never felt I would be betraying the movement by having a child. When I heard Rebecca was critiquing her mother, I immediately sided with Alice, but then wondered why. Why, when I have so many issues with my own mother, wouldn’t I give Rebecca the benefit of the doubt? Mother Load was the result of all these ruminations. I’m gradually preparing my self-published books for the shift from Lulu to Create Space; the latter is Amazon.com’s POD site, and they assign your book an ISBN and make it available on their global website. I don’t expect it to increase sales substantially; I still think my best bet is to go through schools. But I like that I can hand one of my books to someone and allow that person to think of the possibilities for its use. An essay I wrote years ago for a Canadian feminist online journal (thirdspace.ca) is being taught in a Gender Studies course at Duke University. Once something exists in some form that can circulate, you have a greater chance at participating in discourse, in the conversations of the public arena. Talking feminism with my friends is one thing, but opening the conversation up really matters to me. Next step: film…