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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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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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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Unlearning British Biphobic Bias with “The Bi-ble”

Gemma Avens

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by @worthdrawingwell

Unsurprisingly, most of the authors in The Bi-ble wrote of feeling silenced and isolated around their bisexuality, convinced that their struggles were unique to them. In fact, similar feelings are what led me to find the anthology and tear through it at breakneck speed. The Bi-ble discusses the authors’ experiences of bisexuality in Britain: of marginalisation, exploring their sexuality, and reclaiming their identity — finding power and joy in the process. The collection is an extremely valuable academic resource and one of very few books about bisexuality in Britain — bisexuality, here, being romantic or sexual attraction to multiple genders.

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