The Sistren: Their Words Filled Me

“The Sistren: Black Women Writers at the Inauguration of America’s First Sister President.” Photo: (c)
Susan J. Ross. 1988. Used by permission.

Can you name these women?

I cannot remember life without these sister-poets and writers. It seems their words have been with me all my life.

I was young–a preteen in most cases–when I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mari Evans, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Cade Bambara. I don’t remember how I came to meet them, other than through my thirst for books, which often led me to my mother’s or older siblings’ book collections.

I encountered others later–when I was in college and in graduate school. I even met some of them in person.

Their names and words became part of my literary vocabulary, reserved for sacred moments, quiet time. Me and my sister writers. Their words filled me and spoke to an experience akin to my own–of black women speaking, loving, empowering–alive and thriving in their own spaces.

Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’ —Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South, 1892


How many did you know? Top Row: Louise Meriwether, Pinkie Gordon Lane, Johnnetta Cole and Paula Giddings. Middle Row: Pearl Cleage, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Toni Cade Bambara. Bottom Row: Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Mari Evans

Many thanks to photographer Susan Ross [website] who gave me permission to share her photo on my blog. You can find also find her on Instagram and Twitter @photogriot.

#ChooseToChallenge | International Women’s Day 2021

#ChooseToChallenge. That is the theme for International Women’s Day 2021.

It is imperative that we challenge the status quo and archaic ways of thinking and doing life and obliterate systems that keep women from being their best selves, but we must also take to task the everyday affronts—byproducts of the system—slights we experience in our homes, in our churches, at work, in the grocery store, while pumping gas, even while sitting alone with our thoughts.

Today, I invite you, yes, to challenge larger systems, but also take stock of your immediate environment, including yourself, and challenge those things that thwart your efforts toward being a whole person.

Challenge individuals who judge you and place you in the tiny box they’ve carved for themselves; challenge those fearful thoughts that keep you incapacitated, those debilitating ideas that creep inside and stall every movement forward; challenge self-consciousness, feelings of inadequacy and invisibility, fear of rejection, and pull up a seat at the table. You don’t need an invitation. You belong there, sharing your grace, your strength, your knowledge, your unique bent.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Berries.

I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them reason enough and–I wish to live. –Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

Unbought and Unbossed | Black Women Who Ran

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. —Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005).

Today is President’s Day, but I’m not thinking about the dead white men who are featured on U.S. currency; I’m thinking about the Black women who ran for President of the United States.

I drafted a lengthier [not published] post on this topic four [plus] years ago when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic presidential candidate. At the time, I was annoyed because in some media circles there was almost an erasure of the women who paved the way for Clinton. She did achieve some firsts–first to win a major party nomination by winning a majority of the delegates in the Democratic Party primaries and the first to win the popular vote–but obviously Clinton was not the first woman to run for president.

Among the many women who preceded Clinton’s first bid for the presidency in 2008 were more than a few African American women: Charlene Mitchell (1968); Margaret Wright (1976); Isabel Masters (1984, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004); Lenora Fulani (1988); Monica Moorhead (1996, 2000, 2016); Joy Chavis Rocker (2000); Carolyn Moseley Braun (2004); Cynthia McKinney (2008).

Peta Lindsay (2012) and Kamala Harris (2019) followed.

Besides our current Vice President, perhaps, the most celebrated Black woman who ran for President of the United States is the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm, who began her career as a teacher, became the first African American woman to be elected  to Congress. She served seven terms for her New York district. Four years into her service as Congresswoman, Chisholm became the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for President of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). You can read all about Chisholm’s bid for the presidency in the April 2016 Smithsonian Magazine article.

These women ran on various party tickets–the Communist Party, the People’s Party, the Green Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Looking Back Party, the Workers World Party, the Independent Party, and of course, Republican and Democratic parties. Despite their diverse approaches, the platforms of these women were similar; they focused on education, social justice, and economic and racial equality.


About the Image: Like the image in last Monday’s microblog, this image is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Does the yellow and red remind you of anything? 😉

“A Valentine”

A Valentine (1906)
Priscilla Jane Thompson

Out of the depths of a heart of love,
     Out of the birth-place of sighs,
Freighted with hope and freighted with fear,
     My all in a valentine, hies.
     Oh, frail little missive
            Of delicate texture,
     Speed thee, on thy journey,
            And give her a lecture! 

Fathom her heart, that seems to me, cold,
     Trouble her bosom, as mine,
Let it be mutual, this that I crave,
     Her ‘yes’ for a valentine.
     Oh, frail little missive,
            In coy Cupid’s keeping,
     Oh! speed back a message,
            To set my pulse leaping.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Focus on Black: Click the link and learn a bit about Priscilla Jane Thompson.

Afraid of Nothing

“Girl Bandz” by Céleste Wallaert

I am deliberate
and afraid
of nothing.

–Audre Lorde, last lines of poem “New Year’s Day” from A Land Where Other People Live


About the Image: The postcard above was sent to me by my literary twin and Love Notes pal, Bianca. She always sends the perfect cards with notes written in her impeccable handwriting, embellished with cute or sophisticated washi tape and stickers. The card features the artwork of illustrator and graphic artist, Céleste Wallaert. You can find out about the artist and see more of her work by following the link. The women’s stance exude Audre Lorde’s words, “I am deliberate/and afraid/of nothing.”

About Love Notes: Speaking of Love Notes, the final round for this year begins October 11th. You need a happy mail distraction to counteract all the madness we’re experiencing, so click the link and get signed up today: Love Notes.

Soar, Sister!

Believe it or not–I actually made a general plan of poems/poets to share on the blog this month. However, I can count on less than one hand the number of times I stuck to the plan. Today, my plan for sharing a longish poem by Nikky Finney transformed to sharing the shortish poem below by George Douglas Johnson (1880?-1966).

Johnson was one of the writers featured in my [so-far-unfinished] Women of the Harlem Renaissance series a couple of years ago. The poem seems fitting for my present circumstance and mood–cooped up in a small space in my home office–cornered by books, research, notes, and creative projects–working feverishly toward freedom from all the demands, ready to fly.

Your World
Georgia Douglas Johnson
Your world is as big as you make it.
I know, for I used to abide
In the narrowest nest in a corner,
My wings pressing close to my side.

But I sighted the distant horizon
Where the skyline encircled the sea
And I throbbed with a burning desire
To travel this immensity.

I battered the cordons around me
And cradled my wings on the breeze,
Then soared to the uttermost reaches
With rapture, with power, with ease!


About the image: The postcard featured in this post was sent to me a decade ago by a swapper named Noni, an artist who seemingly no longer participates on swap-bot. I don’t know much about the art, but I assume Noni made the postcard. She wrote on the back of the card our beloved Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,”–a poem that doesn’t feel as hopeful as Johnson’s but is nevertheless moving.

“I Am Becoming My Mother”

“Flowers of North America” by Lou Paper

Today’s offering comes from Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison. I am currently reading I Am Becoming My Mother, her second collection of poetry. I struggled with the decision over which poem to share. I would have been satisfied with any poem in the book, but was literally torn when it came to works like “Guinea Woman,” “We Are the Women,” and “Garden of the Women Once Fallen.” I was driving myself crazy, so I decided on the one below on the basis that it is the title poem.

“I Am Becoming My Mother” by Lorna Goodison

Yellow/brown woman
fingers smelling always of onion

My mother raises rare blooms
and waters them with tea
her birth waters sang like rivers
my mother is now me

My mother had a linen dress
the colour of sky
and stored lace and damask
tablecloths
to pull shame out of her eye.

I am becoming my mother
brown/yellow woman
fingers smelling always of onions.

I am drawn to Goodison’s writing for a few reasons. Among them the cadence that makes me want to sing rather than just read the words and her masterful use of imagery, which makes the ordinary deeply striking.


About the image: The postcard above came from my swap-bot pal, EricB. I was randomly selected to receive this postcard via a giveaway on Instagram. Yay, me! The postcard was designed by Lou Papers, and was bedecked with even more flowers on the back.

Woman Inspired! | Stella Gibbons and Carson McCullers

One of my favorite bookish swap series to host is “Literary Wisdom” on swap-bot. Through the swaps, participants select a bookish postcard and write on the back a quote which inspires them. The quote must come from imaginative literature (poetry, prose, plays)–not sacred texts, self-help books, or non-fiction. For Women’s History Month, I decided to dedicate the swaps to women writers, since, unsurprisingly, male writers often dominate the swaps.

I created swaps for the Cup and Chaucer and Book Lovers Congregate groups. Lucky me! My randomly chosen partner for both swaps was Geraldine J (Nannydino). I always enjoy receiving postcards from Geraldine. Not only are the postcards well-selected with my varied interests and tastes in mind but the presentation of the written side of the postcard is always clean and inviting–very neat handwriting and unique placement of stickers, stamps, and postage. Somehow, Geraldine packs a lot of information on the 4×6 postcard backs, always including the date and weather.  Bonus–we have some of the same postcard collections so I get back the very postcards I love.

Now, for the literary inspiration:

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989). Photograph, Mark Gerson/National Portrait Gallery, London

Stella Gibbons was a British writer with poetry, short stories, and 25 novels to her credit. The inspired quote Geraldine chose to share comes from her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which is a parody of the “loam and lovechild” rural genre.

Every year, in the fulness o’ summer, when the sukebind hangs heavy from the wains. . .’tes the same. And when the spring comes her hour is upon her again … ‘Tes the hand of Nature and we women cannot escape it.

What seems to be most inspiring here–besides the hilarious novel itself–is “sukebind,” a word Gibbons coined. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “sukebind” is an “imaginary plant associated with superstition, fertility, and intense rustic passion.”

Check out two of The Guardian‘s reviews of Cold Comfort Farm:

If you’re interested in reading the novel, you should have no problems borrowing it from many of the e-libraries.

Carson McCullers (1917-1967). Photograph, Bettman/Corbis

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, also wrote in many genres–plays, essays, short stories, poetry, and (of course) novels. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, her debut [though not first] novel (at the age of 23), remains her most popular work.

The inspiration Geraldine shared actually comes from McCullers’ commentary on her characters. “She felt her characters powerfully, once stating:”

I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.

And one of the inspired quotes form The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

My advice to you is this. Do not attempt to stand alone. …The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.”

For more about Carson and her works, see the links below:

The postcards come from the collection, Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics: One Hundred Writers in One Box. I actually have the collection and mentioned it [or its lack of diversity] in a post on Eileen Chang. Despite the shortcomings of the collection, the photographs are stunning, and I’m happy to have two of the women writers “return” to me

Before I go, I leave you with a little homework. On the back of the McCullers postcard was an equally stunning fierce and inspiring woman postage stamp–featuring Elsie MacGill. If you don’t know who she is, you must do a little “research” and come back and report [in the comments] three things you’ve learned about her.

Until next time…

International Women’s Day | Keep Showing Up

You might have heard about Aleta, my amazing bestie, in earlier posts. Well, she once again sent me a fierce, woman-empowering package. This one for my birthday (in October)–which her hubby delivered to me early December when he visited.

Three of the items rest in “my happy place.” One of the items has a quote on the front that I am compelled to share today:

There are women who make things better…simply by showing up. There are women of wit and wisdom who–through strength and courage–make it through. There are women who change the world every day…women like you.  –Ashley Rice

In your search for whatever it is you’re searching for, remember there is greatness in you. Through the ordinary of your every day, you do amazing things. Keep showing up. Keep showing out. Chin up, shoulders back to tackle the daily grind, the little things you do that make a world of difference in a life or two or maybe 100.

Happy International Women’s Day!