Jarena Lee

Jarena Lee and the revolutionary nature of travel through the written word during slavery

Written by Money Mathibela

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

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.

Written by Dr Kiefer Lambert

Edited by Jessica Hannah

Illustrated by Maia Walcott

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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‘On Black Sisters Street’ Showcases the Nuances of Sexual Trafficking

Written by Precious Uzoma-Nwosu

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Noella Abba


While growing up, there were rules set by my father that were never to be compromised on, and among them was not spending holidays with another family aside from our own. I was greatly disturbed by this boundary, as my friends often share tales of their visits to their relatives’ houses after the school breaks. As I became wiser, I realized that my father felt his children would be safe from sexual exploitation, including sexual trafficking, if we stayed within his watch. Therefore, it was home, school (although boarding), church, and places that were supervised by him or my mother – he did not want to leave any loopholes.

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I May Destroy You, Atlanta and Get Out: Afro-Surrealism and the everyday horror of Blackness

Written by Laura Hackshaw

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Daley North

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail

Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

–  Mississippi Goddamn by Nina Simone

‘‘Afro-Surrealism is drifting into contemporary culture on a rowboat with no oars…to hunt down clues for the cure.’’

–  D. Scot Miller – Afrosurreal Manifesto: Black is the New Black a 21st Century Manifesto (2009)

*This essay contains spoiler alerts for several TV shows and films

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Learning the Multiplicity of Being with Akwaeke Emezi

Written by Amuna Wagner

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Olamide Florence Adeoye aka Sharp Txngue

Do you believe in spirits? And does it matter whether you do? Akwaeke Emezi taught me that to Black people this question is essential for collective survival the day I stumbled upon Freshwater (2018) in my partner’s bookshelf. The novel pulled me into the life of Ada, the child of a Nigerian father and Tamil mother who suffers the pain of being a spirit trapped in flesh. An ọgbanje, to be exact. Ada is born a screaming baby “with one foot on the other side” (back cover), only a half-step ahead of madness. When she moves to the United States for college and her boyfriend sexually assaults her, spirits that have been living inside her emerge and assume increasing autonomy: the feminine Asughara, masculine Saint Vincent, and a collective “We” of brothersisters. Ada continues life as a fractured, multiple being, navigating her several selves’ desires and darkness.

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Centring Pleasure Activism with adrienne maree brown

Written by Amuna Wagner

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Olamide Florence Adeoye aka Sharp Txngue

“How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?” (back cover) asks adrienne maree brown in her phenomenal book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019). Guided by its opening chapter, Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic As Power” (27-37), the anthology explores a world that centres pleasure and care for ourselves and others. The book doubles as a collection of radical theories and a study guide of hands-on practice. I was living in Cairo in 2021 when I stumbled across a class on pleasurable feminisms; a group of people gathered weekly to intimately study the book, intrigued by brown’s question: “How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?” (back cover). Over the course of three months, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good reordered my world view and became my road map on how to live a consciously political life without guilt.

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Octavia Butler is in Defence of Failure: Kindred’s Black Grief as a New Dawn

Written by Alma Simba

Edited by Katya Zabelski

Illustrated by Sage Anifowoshe

I come to Dana through Saidiya. And Saidiya comes to Dana in relation to Venus. We all convene under a sky of grief particular to black women. Of the crushing weight of history. I pick up from where Saidiya leaves off. The archive, the futility, the resignation to language and history never being enough. Of failure as the new sky. But maybe also the new dawn.

*

I come across Kindred by Octavia Butler in a reference by Saidiya Hartman’s 2008 article, “Venus in Two Acts.”  In the article, Hartman explores how the history of domination must be accepted by black people to try and untangle it. The article functions as a continuation of her earlier book, Lose Your Mother, where she charts the journey of the middle passage, loss, and connection to history. In “Venus in Two Acts,” Hartman continues this historical reconstruction and methodological struggle when she writes of a young girl who was murdered on a slave ship with little further information cited in the records. In both, Hartman highlights the difficulty in deciphering the blankness and violence in black historical narratives, while discussing the different options in the weighted obstacle of writing black history. 

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Sisters of the Yam and (Re)politicising Mental Health with African Feminisms

Written by Michelle Udoh

Edited by Temitope Lasade-Anderson

Illustrated by F. Seck

I think of mental health as the world’s lingua franca. I hear it spoken in the kitchen when female relatives season their meat with salt, Maggi, and tales of patriarchal violence. Its cadences caress the mouth of my elders as they gather and recount harrowing memories of the Biafran War. My friends and I speak it quite fluently as well: we use it to gist and articulate the many pains and joys that come with adulthood. The fascination that I have with this language, one that entwines our psychosocial wellbeing with our lived realities, is the reason I chose to study Neuroscience for my undergraduate degree.

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What’s the price of feeling seen? Dido Belle and historical representations of Blackness

Written by Kimberley Aparisio 

Edited by Katya Zabelski 

Illustrated by Holly Summerson

In the summer of 2021, I wandered into Kenwood House, a stately home situated in the middle of Hampstead Heath, North London.  Therein, I encountered this image.

Princess Henrietta of Lorraine, attended by a page (1634) by Van Dyck

Princess Henrietta of Lorraine, attended by a page (1634) by Van Dyck

The portrait provoked thoughts about the infantilisation of black men and the reinforcement of spurious inferiority through images and media.  I continued to make my way through the gallery, where I came upon the only other historical portrait of a black person.

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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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