26 April 2013

The Spring Event - Twilight Reasoning with Carole Boyce Davies

I had the opportunity to organize a major lecture at Susquehanna University where I teach in the Department of English and Creative Writing. And I was really pleased to invite Carole Boyce Davies to the campus. Since I teach courses on Black women writers and Caribbean and African Diaspora Literatures and Cultures, among others, I wanted to have a scholar who was prominent in these fields and who would also be accessible to the students. I teach Boyce Davies' work in most of my literature courses, and so I thought she would be perfect - and she was! The event was held earlier this month on April 4th - and I had the pleasure to introduce her to the audience, which included over 100 students and faculty! I shared not only her impressive list of accomplishments and major contributions to several fields of study, but I also shared how I first met Carole. Here is part of my introduction: 

Dr. Carole Boyce Davies is professor of Africana Studies and English at Cornell University.  Her major works include the prize-winning Left of Karl Marx. The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones and Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. Her most recent book is an edition of the writings of Claudia Jones titled Beyond Containment: Autobiography, Essays, Poetry. Her current project is a series of personal reflections, and academic essays titled Caribbean Spaces. Escapes from Twilight Zones dealing with the issue of transnational Caribbean/American black identity. 

Her work examining the political life, writing, activism, and legacy of Claudia Jones (1915-1964), who was a pioneering Afro-Caribbean radical intellectual, dedicated communist, and feminist, uncovers one of the most important thinkers, activists, and organizers in African diaspora history. Boyce Davies has unearthed the work and struggles of this major figure, who might have remained in the shadows of history – buried to the left of Karl Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery. But as Carole Boyce Davies argues – this location is fitting considering the ways that Claudia Jones expanded Marxism-Leninism to include gender and race in her political critique and activism. 

I had the great privilege to meet Dr. Boyce Davies as a graduate student in 2006 at the ACWWS (Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars) conference in South Florida. I had already read her brilliant work Black Women Writing and Identity, which became not only a primary source of theoretical engagement for my dissertation and now book project, but also an affirmation of my own experience as a migrant Black mixed-race woman writer and feminist scholar. Her theoretical engagement with Black women writers I had read and studied and continue to read and study (and teach) made me a more careful and astute scholar and writer. And so I was (and still am) by all accounts a huge fan. She was the main organizer of this conference and as a result very busy – and so I never expected to meet her or even have a conversation. Much to surprise, not only did I get to meet her, she attended my panel and later asked me to submit my paper for review in an anthology (which was accepted and published in the collection Caribbean Woman Writer as Scholar). This was a major honor to be asked by a leading person in the field of Caribbean Studies to submit a piece of work. And what was even more exciting and inspiring for me as a graduate student was watching and learning from such a prominent scholar and writer who is so incredibly supportive of emerging scholars/writers. Since then, we have  stayed in touch, met up at conferences, exchanged ideas, and reasoned about Caribbean politics and culture, literature, music, and art. She continues to be a mentor and an inspiration for me and many others. 

Carole's lecture, titled "Caribbean Diasporic Circulations: Poetics and Politics," addressed the various ways that Caribbean cultures have produced and been the product of a variety of migrations, political contributions and engagements. She shared insights into the ways that Caribbean cultures have influenced diaspora and movements across the world. She discussed literature, music, art and politics and offered intriguing insights into the poetics and politics of this dynamic engagement with the Caribbean at the center. The audience was captivated with her examples of how Caribbean cultural productions - art, music, pop culture, and literature - influence and reverberate around the globe. From the Japanese woman who won the Jamaica dancehall queen 2006 title, the pop culture sensations Rihanna and Nicky Minaj, the iconic place of Bob Marley, political figures Malcolm X and Claudia Jones, the powerful poetry of Dionne Brand and Kamau Brathwaite, to the recent superbowl VW add, Carole's analysis of Caribbean diasporic circulations were poignant and resonated with contemporary points of reference for a wide audience. She moved through important arguments about the place of Caribbean history and culture as a critical center for conversations and theorizing about diaspora.     

Carole Boyce Davies - Lecture at SU

After the lecture, students and faculty asked engaging questions and then we had a lovely reception in the Department's lounge. Many of my students attended and were thrilled and honored to meet such a distinguished scholar. They told me after how excited they were.

The entire visit was a blessing for me - more reminders of how essential it is to have strong mentorships and friendships with fellow women of color in the academy in similar fields of study. She has offered me guidance over the years that continues to be invaluable for my career and well being. I appreciate her and am grateful to include her in my circle of comrades. It was a delight to share with each other about current projects. And we talked about the academy and small town USA places where some Caribbean people end up migrating and moving to - places she so powerfully calls "twilight zones" in her latest collection of essays. As she described her use of this metaphor to me, it all made sense - as we reasoned about how to stay healthy, well, and productive in these spaces that may be challenging and counter intuitive to health and well being. I am holding our reasonings close to my spirit as I wrap up another semester in a twilight zone - and meditate upon wellness and focus on productivity. With my scholarly book deadline around the corner, end of semester grading, and my summer travels on the horizon, I know that I must get it all done and get it done well. Thank you Carole for your inspiring wisdom!

22 April 2013

Earthday Reflections & Spring Catch Up!

Still riding high on the wave of the publication of my book Saltwater Healing! I'm thrilled to announce that my New York launch is coming up on May 2nd at Bluestockings! I've been blessed with help from one of my former NYU students - Jessica Lynne - who took a class with me in Spring 2009. And she offered to help me organize this event - and she has been amazing! (Thank you Jessica!) She will be the host for the event. And I'm really excited to share the stage with my fellow poet sistren - Charan P Morris and Gabrielle Civil - who will be sharing some of their work. Also Sonia Farmer - editor/founder of Poinciana Paper Press will also be there! Can't wait to celebrate with my NY community!


This winter was a rough one for my island blood - hence, I've been in hibernation mode. Although this is my fourth winter, I still ain't use to the cold... and so winters are hard for me still. And each year brings another set of challenges as the planet responds to / is deeply affected by climate change and the weather gets stranger and more severe. We are all affected yet experience it in different ways. But the reality is sinking in for many of us around the world - we in trouble. Seriously... we are at a critical juncture and finally - since Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. mass media is paying attention. I went to the climate change march protesting the Keystone pipeline on 17th February in Washington, D.C. - ironically on the coldest day ever - and in spite of the frigid weather - thousands of people marched and carried signs and participated in this public outcry calling for change - to stop the pipeline, to cut emissions, to create a carbon tax, support cleaner and greener alternative energies, etc. While I generally feel that "the march" is no longer the most effective way to create change, what I do find valuable is the sense of solidarity that can be built during such a protest. There is something magical that happens when people come together united and in solidarity around issues that are a common or shared experience and/or concern. I believe in that power and possibility. I believe it helps us to feel more united and less alone in the struggle. But I also believe the real work happens before and after the protest. 

Some thoughts and reflections during the snow and stormy madness of these winter months. I've also been hard at work on my scholarly book Resisting Paradise - revising, re-working, and editing. And then there's teaching - the day to day of prep work, reading, grading, more grading. Through all this, climate change and what are we doing and must do differently weigh heavily on my spirit. And so today - Earthday - is just another reminder, but also a moment to reflect and pour so much love and light into the earth - and use these moments to take action. We each have a part to play in how we can help save this/our planet. I've spent many years doing different kinds of organizing work, but most of all, I make great efforts to live in the most ethical and sustainable ways as I can. 

I've spent the past two years developing a social and environmental justice curriculum for high school and college courses based on Hurricane Season with a team of educators and activists. I created and taught the college course at Susquehanna University for the past three semesters - and its been a journey! There have been challenges and successes as I introduce first year college students to issues like state violence, mass incarceration, gender-based violence, the water crisis, climate change, environmental injustice, disaster capitalism, and displacement through the lens of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the earthquake in Haiti. After teaching over 120 students this curriculum, I have to say that regardless of the difficulties they have in getting some of the material, most of them leave the course understanding the environmental crisis we are in and how this affects all of us. My main goal in this course is to help them to think more critically about the world, to see the relationship between social and environmental issues, and to get them to be engaged in learning, reading, and writing about these issues in critical and solution oriented ways. Teaching and preparing for these classes keep me in up to date and in constant search for new ideas and information. 

And this year's winter hibernation kept me focused. Now I am coming up for air and spring time, ready for summer heat, and wanting to share more on conscious vibration about what I've been up to these past months.

Soon come - full report of my inspiring time with the brilliant Carole Boyce Davies, who has been an important mentor to me since I was a graduate student. I asked her to do a lecture at the university where I work - and the event was amazing!

All this and more brought me out of my winter hibernation into spring bloom!