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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The subversion and empowerment of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s “Black Woman”

Written by Hope Olagoke 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Sâde Popoola @shadz_art

Poetry (either reading or writing it) had always been a form of artistic expression I tried to evade – a habit I picked up from secondary school as I found poems often ambiguous. My swift decision to major in English and literary studies in university lacked a reminder that I would have to deal with poems throughout my degree. A course I took in my junior year of university introduced me to Négritude, a cultural and literary movement that laid importance on embracing African heritage and identity. Therein, Léopold Sédar Senghor’s “Black Woman” was recommended as a Négritude poem written by one of the reputable figures, who pioneered this significant cultural movement. Thus, I discovered the masterpiece that would not only ignite my love for poetry, but also awaken my sense of self as African and, above all, as a Black Woman. 

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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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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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Hope is a Nigerian citizen in ‘Of This Our Country’

Written by Oluwaseun Famoofo 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Illustrated by Grace Kaluba

I still remember the days my parents and their friends would sit in the living room, ardently discussing the politics of the land. I used to be scared someone would knock on their doors and arrest them for even daring to speak. Freedom of speech in Nigeria is an illusion, and so is the right to vote. To be a patriot or to not be, I have spent my life asking myself this question. But I ache for this country, a country where a lot of citizens keep saying their daily “what-ifs.”: what if we were never colonized, what if the amalgamation did not happen, what if we all united? Reading “Of this our Country” reminded me of  “There was a country,” by Chinua Achebe – the Nigeria he grew up in is so different from that which has been handed to us, the new generation of Nigerians.

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