In this old interview with Charlie Rose, Toni Morrison responds to a past question about if/when she will stop writing novels centered around race. She then responds with a bold answer about centering Blackness. Morrison explains that African writers, like Chinua Achebe, helped her to see the perimeters of writing without being consumed by the white gaze and how this was liberating.
The quote below hit home the most for me:
The problem with being free to write the way you wish to, with out this other racialized gaze, is a serious one for an African American writer.
Thanks to Anti-Intellect for posting this on Youtube!
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of Our Legaci Press. To reach Jessica, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.
I started this blog in 2009 with one intention – write about issues pertaining to people of African descent from a place of love. It’s been a long time since my very first blog post and I’m happy to say that along this journey over 2 million people have read the articles on Our Legaci.
Though I’ve had marginal success with this blog. I’ve felt restricted in a way by the digital landscape. Though blogs are great mechanisms for sharing thoughts and ideas quickly – I feel that they are not the best mechanisms for enduring topics that require more in-depth discourse. I’ve also found that while whatever you post on the internet lasts forever – blog posts and their responses are often fleeting. Especially when discussing a hot topic or current event. The internet pretty much goes with the tide.
Additionally, I’ve found that countless Black writers are sharing amazing stories and driving intellectual thought online with little to no historical account or credit. Meanwhile, writers previously approved by gatekeepers analyze/recap these thoughts and reap the benefits of “credibility” and academic acclaim. Though much of the internet’s pool of ideas drives pertinent discussions – physical books published by reputable publishing houses ultimately hold more clout in the long run.
Due to its relatively easy accessibility, the internet has all but trampled traditional literary gatekeepers – except for with print books (though it’s trying). After much research I’ve found that Black voices are at a severe disadvantage in the publishing industry. The literary world is already tough and full of competition for authors. But for Black authors, it’s even more difficult.
Publishers often focus on stories that they believe are most likely to sell. Many people of African descent have stories that often fall outside of the perceived traditional / easy to compartmentalize/ mass appeal boxes. There are Black literary agents that help to soothe this gap by introducing publishers to promising Black writers. However, this is an extremely small pool of agents that are often overwhelmed by a flood of inquiries. Similarly, the pool of independent Black owned publishing houses is also very small and at capacity. Thus, generations upon generations of Black writers go unpublished, unheard and forgotten.
So what is a Black writer to do? Where do we go and who will publish our stories?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
It’s time to take Our Legaci to the next level. So I’m launching Our Legaci Press. The goal of Our Legaci Press is to support, publish and promote Black storytellers from around the world. We will specialize in non-fiction anthologies that showcase various aspects of the Black experience.
Stories by Black writers are essential to the development and growth of upcoming generations. Thus, we need more stories, more dialogue and definitely more books.
I will continue to use OurLegaci.com to promote the initiatives of Our Legaci Press and share information about our upcoming books and events.
I hope you join me on this new journey. I’m looking for potential editors, affiliates, outreach coordinators, partners and of course writers! We’d also love to partner with organizations and initiatives that align with our goals.
Learn more about the next chapter of Our Legaci Press at OurLegaciPress.com. If you have any questions or want to learn how you can support this initiative email info@OurLegaciPress.com.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com. To reach Jessica, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.
There are so many different rivers to cross for writers. Writing is a field that presents rejection as a rite of passage. At every turn, writers are expected to present our work to gatekeepers for approval, acknowledgement, and accolades. The chase to be accepted is never ending and at times can be overwhelming. This, in turn, can halt progress. So much looming rejection, can lead us to forget why we’re writing in the first place. Truth be told, most writers didn’t first pick up a pen thinking about whether or not their structured thoughts would be accepted into a literary journal.
We started writing because we had a passion for something. We had a voice that needed to be released. We had a purpose that needed to be fulfilled. In the digital age, there is more flexibility than ever for writers to both hone their skills and move forward with their careers, without first needing the approval of gatekeepers. Some see this new found freedom negatively, desperately touting the need for restrictions. However few acknowledge that the current publishing industry is built on exclusionary, elitist practices that traditionally marginalize writers from under-privileged groups.
Are we to stop writing if our work is not welcomed with opened arms into prestigious literary circles?
If you have an idea for a book, get started. If you want to create your own syndicated column, podcast or video series there is nothing stoping you but you. Hone your craft, listen to your gut and move forward. There will always be time to submit to journals and send out proposals. Don’t let this process halt your progression.
Stop waiting for permission to be yourself and fulfill your purpose.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci. Rant or rave to JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com. Don’t forget to join our mailing list!
The internet’s news cycle moves in waves. When news hits, there is often so much to cover over a short period of time, that topics are easily considered old before you even press the publish button. Every few weeks a celebrity dies, a political scandal unfolds, racism rears its ugly head and the world keeps spinning. We’re operating on a 24 hour news cycle. Consequently, our minds don’t have enough time to rest.
Furthermore as writers, there’s an almost never ending pressure to comment on the latest drama. We’ve been trained to be “outraged” about almost everything. There are a million voices all chiming in at once, all clamoring to be heard. Everyone is pressured to say something or go unnoticed and nobody wants to be unnoticed.
It’s tiring. It’s a creativity drainer. Most of all it’s wasteful. Perhaps time would be better utilized focusing on issues we enjoy writing about the most.
Before your next think piece ask yourself, “Do I really care about this…right now? Do I actually have anything of substance to contribute to this conversation that needs to be said? Has enough time passed to actually have a nuanced discussion about this? Are there other writers already articulating a similar perspective as me, possibly better than I would?”
For me, these questions have resulted in NO to articles about: Tyga, Nicki Minaj vs. Taylor Swift and Black feminists defending her, Rihanna’s so called violence against women music video with Black vs. White feminists (again), anything about Riley Curry (cute but only 3 years old), and finally Bill Cosby (because the internet has this covered in great abundance, from almost every angle). There are many other subjects that I also have on pause.
I’m not saying no to these topics forever, just for right now.
After making it a practice to ask myself this series of questions, I’m glad to report that I’ve been saved from spending a lot of unnecessary time and energy on “hot topics.” Yes, I have opinions on them. However I’ve learned from experience that opinions and or critiques aren’t always worthy of an article.
Plus, I’d rather have more practice with being creative than trendy.
It may work in your favor to resist getting swept up in the fury of the interwebs. Only write about what you’re really passionate about. Your energy is better suited on work that builds towards your future, instead of trying to feed the internet beast. Because as we all know, the internet beast is never satisfied.
Release yourself from the digital hamster wheel.
“We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.” – Nikki Giovanni
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.
There’s something magical about writing and sharing the inner workings of your mind instantly. That’s how it works in the digital space. We’re constantly sharing, breathing new life into old words. Yet, at the same time there’s a fleeting feeling.
Another case of police brutality…write a think piece.
Another person says something racist…write a think piece.
Another person does something sexist…write a think piece.
I’ve actually come to hate think pieces. I can’t help but feel like a rat on a wheel. There’s this constant spinning motion pushing you to stay writing, stay hitting that publish button in hopes of likes or some monetary gain. I’ve heard it referred to as “feeding the beast.” The internet is never satisfied. What’s popular today is gone tomorrow, almost as if it never existed. Old suddenly takes on new meaning. Content often focuses on who can break it faster and hinders most real possibilities of in-depth analysis or nuanced discussions.
Everyone must ride the wave. Or be deemed nonexistent.
I’ve often wondered how potent their words would have been if Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston spent hours on Facebook and Twitter instead of penning poems and writing books. Perhaps they would have gained a “following.”
Yet, would we value their work the same? Would their words have been added to the endless stream of brilliant yet easily discardable “latest posts?” Would we still value their time?
The problem with digital writing is there is nothing to hold on to. It’s not the same feeling as having a physical book or magazine. It’s digital, cloud based, and light like air. Thereby making digital writing feel temporary, like a fleeting gust of wind.
Though nothing ever really disappears on the internet, the quick natured environment of digital communication makes important dialogue get quickly discarded in exchange for the latest controversy.
Everyone feasts upon it, dining on every piece, tearing apart every strip. Then, on to the next one. Lack of substance becomes reality. Quick witted pseudo scholars, psychologists and self help gurus dominate droves of gullible minds simply because they’ve found the key to social media. They’ve learned to ride, even manipulate the waves.
Even with well meaning publications, writing becomes another day, another click bait. Always striving to be ahead of the page view curve makes substance secondary. Everyone is striving to be memorable without memory.
Where do we go from here?
How do we deal with the issue of disappearing words? (The fleeting times, the missed moments, the badly deconstructed ideas, and the incessant desire to be noticed.)
There are no real answers to this question. Perhaps our only choice is to be inventive: push the limits, dig, write, erase, write again, breakdown, and build up in ways that haven’t been done before. Maybe then, our words will serve more as a reference point than some random page, that once was skimmed and forgotten.
Nevertheless, we will do what writers do. We’ll keep writing, hoping the digital swindlers leave enough room for us to make an impact before our words disappear.
Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Growing up as a Black girl writer, various books and writers sustained me. One such writer was Zora Neale Hurston. I lived by her. Her robust unveiling of Black human experiences were the literary nourishment to my young mind. I read over and over again her short story, The Gilded Six Bits.It was like I was there. I could feel the spirited home of Missie May and Joe. I could taste the molasses kisses Joe bought for their new born baby boy. I was literally wrapped up in the entire story.
Yet what intrigued me the most about Zora as a writer was her free spirit. As a folklorist and anthropologist, she saw the world and soaked up its wonders. This captivated me. As I grew older, the list of Black women writers that ruled my universe expanded. In college I was enamored with Ntozake Shange, then in graduate school mesmerized by June Jordan. They all knew a part of my soul, they all held pieces of me in their words. It was a long running connectedness. With each page turned, I saw myself.
When it seemed like the world had turned against me or had become lopsided, they turned it right side up again. Through their writings they let me know, that the things I’m seeing and experiencing are real. Most of all I learned that I had the right to tell my truth, no matter how often its existence may be denied and its fullness unsuccessfully subdued.
This edging out is a tradition of oppression, while the ability to rise even in its midst is a signature testament to the dynamic tradition of literary inspired liberation through Black women writers.
Here are some quotes from legendary Black women writers that can be used as continual tools for learning, growth, confidence and fearlessness.
1. “It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say.” -Zora Neale Hurston
2. “No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much.” Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’…No woman has ever written enough.” – bell hooks
3. “I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.” -Ntozake Shange
4. “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde
5. “We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.” – Maya Angelou
6. “I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person. That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame.” -Alice Walker
7. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” -Toni Morrison
8. “The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” -Toni Morrison
9. “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
10. “Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.” – Toni Morrison
11. “Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.” – Patricia Hill Collins
12. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
13. “Writing can be a lifeline, especially when your existence has been denied, especially when you have been left on the margins, especially when your life and process of growth have been subjected to attempts at strangulation.” ― Micere Githae Mugo
14. “Sure you can do anything when talking or writing, it’s not like living when you can only do what you doing.” ― Sapphire
15. “A writer should get as much education as possible, but just going to school is not enough; if it were, all owners of doctorates would be inspired writers.” – Gwendolyn Brooks
16. “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” ― Octavia E. Butler
17. “I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think.” -Ntozake Shange
18. “Let woman’s claim be as broad in the concrete as the abstract. We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country, or condition. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken.” – Anna Julia Cooper
19. “I don’t want to be limited or ghettoized in any way.” -Sista Soulja
20. “Discomfort is always a necessary part of enlightenment.” ― Pearl Cleage
21. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” -Maya Angelou
22. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ― Octavia E. Butler
23. “Many times, what people call ‘writer’s block’ is the confusion that happens when a writer has a great idea, but their writing skill is not up to the task of putting that idea down on paper. I think that learning the craft of writing is critical.” -Pearl Cleage
24. “Shakespeare wrote about love. I write about love. Shakespeare wrote about gang warfare, family feuds and revenge. I write about all the same things.” -Sister Souljah
25. “Putting words on paper regularly is part of the necessary discipline of writing.” -Pearl Cleage
26. “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” -Alice Walker
27. “You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts because if you write with someone looking over you shoulder, you’ll never write.” ― Nikki Giovanni
28. “Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. …If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.” ― Nikki Giovanni
29. “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.” -Lorraine Hansberry
30. “People who want to write either do it or they don’t. At last I began to say that my most important talent – or habit – was persistence. Without it, I would have given up writing long before I finished my first novel. It’s amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up.” ― Octavia E. Butler
31. “People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that’s a mistake. One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated.” –Lucille Clifton
32. “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” ― June Jordan
33. “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” -Angela Davis
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Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of Our Legaci Press and the National Black Cultural Information Trust. To reach JAM, email her at email@example.com. Follow Jessica @JAMAiwuyor.