26 July 2009

what about july?

My friend and I have this running joke about the perils of July as graduate students and then newly-minted PhD's starting first jobs and such - especially if we get no summer teaching. If you are in the education profession, then you too might know about the dreaded nine-month contract. Yes, we are supposed to save enough for the summer months, but that rarely happens... and maybe we can make it through June, but what about July?

So July is a rough patch - even for those of us who plan plan plan... I thought with my first job and all, I would be okay, but living in NYC is hella expensive and then there was re-paying money I borrowed to live through summers in grad school & relocating after graduation... right... and so I ended up scraping by & wondering once again, what about July? (and let's not even talk about August) But no matter these trials, I still love my job and I love the work :) And this July brought me new opportunities & many blessings - I completed my postdoc year at NYU and so I was back on the job hunt - and I got a visiting gig at University of Connecticut in Women's Studies (Assistant Professor in Residence), which starts late August! (Sadly, this means I'm moving to CT, but I will still be close to NYC :)

And I had the fantastic opportunity to go home (Nassau, Bahamas) and teach for the first Bahamas Writer's Summer Institute (BWSI)(which took place from June 29th to July 31st 2009) - organized by fellow Bahamian writers Marion Bethel and Helen Klonaris. It was a five-week institute that included weekly writing workshops, as well as seminars in critical theory and the Caribbean literary imagination. BWSI also hosted several events - a reading series called "Witness" and panel conversations about craft. I couldn't be at home for the entire time, but I was able to teach three seminars on the Caribbean literary imagination. I also participated in two of the panel conversations, as a panelist on blogging and I moderated a discussion about influences beyond the word; and I read poetry for "Witness" with Marion Bethel and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming.

I was honored to share "a stage" with Marion & Lelawattee (daring & brilliant writers who inspire me so much). I read poems about Bahamian language, my grandmother, queer sexuality, healing from sexual abuse, and silences about Haitians & Haitian Bahamians. This was the hardest part - putting myself out there at home because I fear my people will not fully accept me - my queer Black light-skinned migrant self. But I put myself out there anyway. And I am happy I did. I felt such support in the room - especially from the BWSI participants. I was humbled by the responses. A number of people said that I was brave... but I often don't feel brave, I do what I do because I have to. For me, writing is literally an act of survival - as the great Audre Lorde says, poetry is not a luxury and it is better to speak. I feel that in my bones. And I work to put my body where my politics are - sometimes this means discomfort and pain. It's all worth it though.

The most exciting part for me was the teaching/lecture time and sharing community with the participants and faculty. I organized my seminars by theme: 1) race and class, 2) gender and sexuality; 3) postcolonial identity and mobility. It was my first time being able to talk about these issues in a classroom/community environment at home. We read Caribbean writers such as Michelle Cliff, Edwidge Danticat, David Dabydeen, Dionne Brand, Jamaica Kincaid, Kevin Quashee, Achy Obejas, Marion Bethel, & Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming. We talked about racial mixing and the complexity of class and color in the region. We discussed the social construction of gender and possible roots of sexism and homophobia. We had debates about Bahamian postcolonial identity and culture. We talked about migration issues and human rights in the region. And through all of our conversations, we talked about the Bahamas in relationship to the rest of the region. I made sure that each class included a queer writer so that sexuality was always part of our discussion. The discussions were lively and thought provoking. The experience was incredibly inspiring yet challenging - we always ran out of time and I left each class feeling like there was so much more to say. I sensed great urgency in our classroom to talk about these issues. I felt a part of something very important and very needed. And so I thank the students and fellow faculty - especially Helen and Marion for putting BWSI together. I feel blessed to have been a part of this. It was truly historic. And I hope to be part of many more.

I had to leave BWSI early -- rushed back to New York so that I could get myself together for the big move to Connecticut and preparing for Fall teaching. So there was my July! More than I could have wished for - a beautiful end to my year in NYC. And as I prepare to move and re-locate, I am spending my last few weeks in New York enjoying the place and thinking only of conscious vibration.

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