Sojourner Truth

Rivers and Mountains

Written by Olivia Jobe

In response to Dr. Kiefer Lambert

Edited by Katya Zabelski

Illustrated by Maia Walcott

Everybody wants to know your story. Where did you come from? How did someone like you get here? What rivers and mountains did you have to cross? Those who wait with bated breath to hear your tale share the same face as the ghost of your past. When they look at you, they see a miracle, an adventure, a story. They want to hear your story’s beginning (although you can never truly share those beginnings because you don’t know them.) You can’t ask your mother, just like she can’t ask hers. All you know is that life did not start here. There was a place where people the color of the deep earth spent their days under the sun. Instead of bent backs, heads were held high to keep gourds of water still. Instead of strange fruit swinging from the trees, songs of mothers and fathers were sung under the Baobab tree. They tell you that kings and ghosts traded the lives of those from the earth. Miles and miles they marched until they were greeted by the sea. One by one they walked through the door of no return into a darkness that swayed with no rhythm. Children wailed, women cursed the men above, and the men looked on at chained limbs. When they could, mothers gave their children to the sea. The next light they would see was the harsh blazes of a southern sun from bent backs. 

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Maria Stewart

Mother Of All Souls

Written by Jamila Pereira

In response to Dr. Kiefer Lambert

Edited by Katya Zabelski

Illustrated by Maia Walcott

Immeasurable and unbearable, those are our feelings. 

Not theirs to carry or theirs to scrutinise, they are ours to keep. 

These feelings of ours are as heavy as rocks and as strong as Aqueles. 

“So yes, they might doom us too.” 

Change is no longer an option at the table, so we ought to, and we will hold anger and bitterness deep within until we can no longer breathe. 

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Jarena Lee

The revolutionary nature of travel through the written word

Written by Money Mathibela

In response to Dr. Kiefer Lambert

Edited by Katya Zabelski

Illustrated by Maia Walcott

Like a great deal of black women, I have always marvelled at the well-deserved justice extended to history makers who have been dealt a great disservice due to their historical context.  Jarena Lee shifted the narrative of literary and travel culture, highlighting how pre-historical writing by black folk only carried with it trauma-inducing undertones. Dr. Kiefer Lambert did a remarkable job of showing African American women in a post-emancipation America as creatives engaging in literary works detailing travel, a mostly pleasurable activity of leisure. The report eased the overwhelming burden of having to read and write about the dreadful experiences of prehistoric black women. 

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Do Me Justice: Responses to the Literature and History of Six 19th Century African American Women

Written by Dr Kiefer Lambert

Edited by Jessica Hannah

Illustrated by Maia Walcott

Introduction

“Children, as there is no school to-day, will you read Sojourner the reports of the Convention? I want to see whether these young sprigs of the press do me justice.”

– Sojourner Truth, quoted in Anthony, Gage and Stanton, History of Woman Suffrage Vol. 2 (1881), page 926.

When, in the late 1860s, Sojourner Truth challenged the “young sprigs of the press” to do her justice, she was perhaps being a little unfair. By that time, Truth was already the legendary figure that many people are familiar with today: the tall, physically powerful, formerly enslaved woman, who had walked away from her enslaver’s plantation because he had broken an agreement to free her, had become involved in the Cult of Matthias in New York City, had shunned her enslaved name by renaming herself Sojourner Truth, had calmed a riotous mob by singing to them, had published her narrative, had begun copyrighting and selling portraits of herself to raise money, had campaigned for women’s rights, had stopped Frederick Douglass mid-speech with the question “Is God Gone?”, and had given her own famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. No one, apart from Truth herself, could ever really hope to “do justice” to her. 

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A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM PART FIVE: SUPERMAN

Written by Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

Before I delve into this part of the Utopian Curriculum series, I must offer some thanks. First and foremost, to the incredible team at Project Myopia for their patience and compassion for me as an individual. The past several years have been difficult for so many of us and it is encouraging to see a publication actually embody the ethos of care and utopianism that we collectively agreed to explore when this series was first pitched. It is rare and makes all the difference. Second, specifically to Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevodo for your feedback and nurturing editing. It has been a real joy being asked to delve deeper into my thoughts in a way that was constructive and empowering. Third, to Iara Silva for your incredible artwork. Arresting visual media is a wonderful way to express complex thoughts – all the more relevant for this particular essay given the graphic nature of the source material.

And finally, to you dear reader, for sticking with this endeavour. It feels serendipitous offering my gratitude halfway through this curriculum, especially as so much has changed since it was first pitched. Part of this change is the actual source material itself. When I first included Superman as an example of utopia, it was a more generic take on the character and his history. But Superman has evolved since then and it is the specific take on his latest iteration – an openly queer child of a refugee with intentionally inclusive politics – that I will be exploring here.

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Digital artwork - a blue background with circular shapes overlayed in yellow and black. On the left hand side there is an outline of the African continent

History as Imagination: Black Dreaming as Liberation

By Alma Alma

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Natasha Ruwona

Words are important for history as it is through words that history is told. So, what is the language of an untold history? It is the language of imagination, dreams, of interpretation of the tongue. For marginalised communities, history is the study of loss – a loss that is sometimes irretrievable. Without conventional historical sources, the past remains a locked door, but with an imaginative approach through a combination of personal experience, memory, and creativity there can be a re-construction of the past. With black history often found in oral traditions, folklore, and music, these stories are frequently at odds with more conventional historical practices such as written documents and official records, thus leaving them unexplored and untold. The work of black women writers such as Dionne Brand and Toni Cade Bambara shows how this hurdle can be overcome through an illustrative and imaginative writing practice.  

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A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM PART FOUR: VOGUING

PART FOUR: VOGUING

By Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

As I continue to write this Utopian Curriculum series, it feels important to address questions raised from previous essays. In online conversations and email exchanges around parts two (Black Panther) and three (Sultana’s Dream), a particular point raised was whether something can be truly utopian if it is only positive and ideal for a specific demographic. It is apt, then, to dedicate part four to the art form of voguing.

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An abstract, geometric representation of a human face in red, green and gold, consisting of collaged elements and textures in shades of pink. Artists description: “The idea behind it is to ask the viewer to deconstruct, enquire, and reconstruct what is being offered, especially since 'Utopia' as a topic can be a very subjective concept.”

A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM PART ONE: INTRODUCTION

Part One: Introduction

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde (1891)

This is how Oscar Wilde described utopia in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891). For him, the journey towards a better world was always a part of the human impulse, and it is in that spirit that I am pleased to offer this series with Project Myopia. Utopian Studies is often considered a niche field, but it has the potential to be a useful tool in the broader academic decolonisation movement.

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“Such Small Stuff as Letters”: The Importance of Including the Works of 19th Century African Americans in Undergraduate English Literature Courses

Kiefer Holland

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Artwork by Natasha Ruwona

Whilst the works of nineteenth-century African Americans may feature on some of the rarer undergraduate English Literature courses, or in specialist modules, I believe they should be far more prevalent. In this article, with help from Sojourner Truth and Josiah Henson, I would like to present the idea that the inclusion of works by nineteenth-century African Americans would be highly beneficial in any standard undergraduate literature course. Two of the central lessons literature students learn during an undergraduate degree are how to closely read a text, and that language itself, because it is a human construct, is rife with insufficiencies. The latter lesson ranges from the inability to truly represent human emotions with words like “love” and “hate,” to the painfully reductive terms with which we attempt to categorise people. The conditions under which the works of nineteenth-century African Americans were created means that they are some of the best texts through which to learn those two lessons. While no two nineteenth-century African Americans approached language and its applications in the same way, they were all in one way or another faced with the reality of Black literacy during their lifetimes, which carried the legacies of slavery even after the conclusion of the Civil War. Literacy was illegal for millions of enslaved African Americans, and the primary nineteenth-century audience for the writing of free African Americans was white abolitionists who demanded the truth of their lives without embellishment or interpretation. As Frederick Douglass recalled, abolitionists demanded that he “Give us the facts [. . .] we will take care of the philosophy” (My Bondage 361). For people to whom literacy was denied in enslavement and then restricted in freedom, but who were nevertheless subject, in numerous atrocious ways, to the writings of others (laws, ledgers, racist caricatures, to name a few), engagement with language was understandably complex.

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A digital illustration of an old dirty computer screen with a pac man style game on the screen.

Janelle Monáe’s ‘Dirty Computer – an emotion picture’

Cameron Perumal 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Maia Abayomi

‘Dirty Computer – an emotion picture’ is a narrative film accompanying Janelle Monáe’s 2018 album of the same name serving as a backdrop to (and catalyst for) its plot. It depicts the story of Jane 57821 – a femme-presenting, queer android – in a seemingly dystopian future. ‘Seemingly’ because the film almost scarily imitates an all too familiar contemporary political landscape and its relationship with the Other (including, as mentioned by Monáe in interviews, queerness, being minoritised, and the experience of being a Black woman). Jane 57821 is a queer android – inferred from her relationships with Zen and Ché (portrayed by Tessa Thompson and Jayson Aaron, respectively). Jane is also part of an underground resistance and is captured by the oppressive government, deemed a ‘dirty computer’ that needs to be cleaned, and has her memories deleted one by one – but not before the audience gets to relive each one. 

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